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Why are toddlers being medicated for ADHD?

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

Too young for a diagnosis

ADHD typically cannot be diagnosed until a child reaches around age 7. So why are toddlers being medicated for ADHD-like behavior?

A disturbing trend is playing out at pediatricians' offices around the U.S. unfortunately. Doctors are prescribing stimulant medications, like Adderall, to toddlers.

ADHD medication and toddlers

A new report says that over 10,000 2- and 3-year-old children are currently being medicated for ADHD. The American Academy of Pediatrics only approves stimulant meds, like Adderall and Ritalin, for kids 4 years and older, which means these kids are receiving drugs that are not suitable for them.

And when you consider what it takes to correctly diagnose a child with ADHD, you realize that it's difficult — if not impossible — to distinguish normal toddler behavior from symptoms of ADHD.

Our experience with ADHD

My oldest child was the sweetest, happiest, friendliest baby on the planet. He was easygoing, slept great and ate well. He was an early talker and learned to read at an early age. But while he was beginning to display his intellectual prowess, I began to realize how active he was. He got into everything, he ran away from me in stores (and even once in a parking lot), he climbed on everything and he was generally a massive handful.

He was my first child, though, and I didn't think that he had behavior issues that differentiated him from his peers. I figured his behavior was normal, and while he was a toddler, it was. It wasn't until he got into preschool and elementary school that I started to get an inkling that there was something else at play.

In the second grade, he was diagnosed with ADHD after a comprehensive evaluation that included extensive questionnaires that his teachers and I were required to fill out. It was no easy diagnosis to get, and the medication he was on for a few years wasn't handed out lightly.

Medicating kids over typical toddler behavior?

A pediatrician who writes under the pseudonym Russell Saunders addressed this issue in his column at The Daily Beast, and writes, "Behaviors that would indicate ADHD in a 9-year-old are completely normal in a 2-year-old. Some of those very busy toddlers may go on to be diagnosed with the disorder in due time, but many others will outgrow them with nothing more than parental guidance."

I share his concern that the medication given to these 10,000 children has side effects that can negatively impact a toddler's growth and development. Stimulant meds can disrupt sleep patterns and suppress appetite — both vital for a little one to experience, and experience as normally as possible.

Diagnosing a child that young with ADHD and medicating them with stimulants is scary. I know from experience that toddler behavior can be hard to deal with, but as I've been through toddlerhood four times now, there really wasn't a ton of difference between the child who was eventually diagnosed and the others who were not. Hopefully with the publication of this information, there will be fewer physicians apt to hand out ADHD medication to our smallest family members.

More on ADHD

Art therapy to treat ADHD in children
How video games may help treat ADHD
Moms, don't freak out about the Tylenol/ADHD study yet

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