Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is usually diagnosed in the first years of a child’s education, when he or she is unable to cope with schoolwork and the challenge of sitting still in class for 45 minutes. However, symptoms of ADHD can already be seen in infants. What could be signs of hyperkinetic disorder in toddlers just after birth? What are the symptoms of ADHD in infants?

Diagnosis of ADHD

Nowadays, the acronym ADHD is overused. When a child is unmanageable, too lively, boisterous, shows behavioural problems and learning difficulties, it is easy to label him or her as a “child with ADHD“. However, not all “bullies” in the popular perception must suffer from hyperkinetic disorder. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to the ICD-10 classification, is a behavioural and emotional disorder usually beginning in childhood and adolescence. The symptoms of ADHD are generally located in three spheres of the child’s functioning – the emotional sphere, the cognitive sphere and the motor sphere.

  • emotional sphere

excessive emotional reactivity; emotional reactions inadequate to stimuli; hypersensitivity; emotional instability – from laughing to crying; irritability, irritability; anger, aggression; timidity; short duration of feelings; lack of patience; impulsiveness; low self-esteem

  • cognitive area

cognitive dysfunctions; attention deficit disorder; rapid disorientation; memory problems; learning problems; failure to complete homework; chaotic responses; language disorders; delayed speech development (failure to follow grammatical and stylistic rules, losing the train of thought, difficulty in using prepositions, failure to follow conversational rules, interrupting others); parietal deficits – dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia; motor coordination disorders; spatial orientation disorders; speaking too fast and too loud; stammering; excessive verbosity; lack of persistence in the execution of tasks; switching from one activity (play) to another without finishing any of them; increased orientation reflex; superficiality of thinking; rapid fatigability; difficulties in planning activities; problems in establishing contacts with peers; sleep disorders.

  • motor area

increased motor excitability; psychomotor hyperactivity; excessive motor expression (the child jumps, runs, spins); aimless and disorganised behaviour; inability to sit still; motor restlessness in the area of large and small motor skills; making a lot of movements within one’s own body (waving legs, biting nails, moving arms, etc.); constant haste; desire to dominate in a group.

ADHD is present when the above catalogue of symptoms is presented by a child in all or almost all situations and circumstances. Hyperkinetic syndrome appears very early, usually in the first five years of a toddler’s life. ADHD is more common in boys than girls.

Signs of ADHD in infants

Although the diagnosis of ADHD is not possible in early childhood, there are some harbingers of hyperkinetic disorder already in the infant period. More often than not, the first observers of disturbing signals in a toddler’s behaviour are their caregivers and parents. What are the axial symptoms of ADHD in infants, such as hyperactivity, violent behaviour or attention deficits? How can they be detected? Toddlers are not usually able to learn from their mistakes, e.g. when a child, while perfecting the skill of walking on their own, hits the edge of the bed, they do not learn to pass that piece of furniture or to step more carefully afterwards. The baby is constantly on the move, both in the area of small motor skills (vivid gestures and facial expressions, fast movements, constant waving of the arms and legs, strange tics) and large motor skills (fast crawling and walking).

Parents of such babies usually complain about their child’s difficulty in falling asleep, waking up several times during the night with shouting, crying and screaming, and the cause is not due to intestinal disorders or colic. Sleep disorders refer to shallow sleep, very restless sleep. Accelerated or delayed speech development is also observed. Children show developmental stuttering and have difficulty articulating sounds. Toddlers are emotionally agitated, easily angered and upset. It is possible to observe aimlessness of their movements, variability of interests, rapid boredom with toys. Infants with symptoms of ADHD may show problems with eating. The child does not have time to eat. Sometimes a weak sucking reflex, vomiting, diarrhoea, colic attacks due to greedy eating and swallowing breast milk too quickly with air are observed. Sometimes ADHD in infants can overlap with symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, as toddlers may not want to be cuddled due to tactile hypersensitivity.

To date, there is no consensus on the genesis of hyperkinetic syndromes. Some see the causes of the disease in CNS microdamage, e.g. due to perinatal complications. Others locate the source of the disorder in biological factors and disturbances in the production of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine. Still others suggest that the onset of ADHD symptoms is fostered by an inconsistent educational environment or the use of corporal punishment. Regardless of the aetiology of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, any symptoms that may indicate ADHD should not be ignored. If your child manifests any of the above symptoms from a young age, it is worth consulting a developmental psychologist about your concerns