Your kid has a classic case of ants in the pants. And he never seems to listen or follow directions. You've been hoping he'll outgrow it, but you have a nagging suspicion that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be to blame. Is it time to find out for sure? Consider these factors from Baltimore pediatrician Lawrence Pakula, M.D.:
How many red flags do you see?
Hyperactivity and impulsivity are two signs of ADHD (although not all children with ADHD are hyperactive). But other symptoms include difficulty in paying attention, completing tasks, following directions, taking turns, remembering things, or sitting still (all of which can apply to most any kid). The key: Are they interfering with his ability to function?
Does he have other developmental issues?
If he's generally immature, he may grow out of his antsiness at his own pace. But if he has marked delays in motor, language, or other skills, you may not want to wait. Those delays may be tied to ADHD, but they also can be a sign of learning disabilities, and the earlier those are diagnosed, the better for your child. If ADHD runs in your immediate family, that's another good reason to test your child earlier.
What kind of school is he going to?
There's a stronger argument to wait on testing if your child is going to a low-key kindergarten rather than a highly structured environment. But either way, consider giving him three to six months to adjust. And try simple changes, too: An assigned seat at the front of the classroom or a behavior-intervention program may be all he really needs.
Is he falling behind?
If he's lagging socially or academically, is constantly being reprimanded, or his behavior is unsafe (regular ER visits are a big clue), don't wait. Yorba Linda, CA, mom Debra Ann Afarian held off on getting her son evaluated until fourth grade; by then, he was suffering from intense anxiety from ADHD-related school problems. Looking back, she says, "I wish we would have tested earlier."