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How to Tell if Your Child Has ADHD or Autism

By Dr Evelyn Lewin

Posted  May 20 2015 | 0 Shares

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How do you know if it’s just normal toddler hyperactivity, or something to be concerned about? Does the fact that your kid throws tantrums and runs around a lot mean that he has ADHD or autism? Dr. Evelyn Lewin shares the story of how one mum found out.

Karen Davis knew from an early age that her youngest son, Nathan, was different from other children.

“His language skills developed much earlier than other children and his use of words used to freak me out just a little,” Karen says. “It’s not often you hear ‘I’m magnificent aren’t I mummy?’ from a child under 18 months.”

But it wasn’t until Nathan was a little older that Karen began to notice more unusual behaviours.

He liked to put his toys in order, for instance, but not necessarily an order that other people would choose. For example, his coins were sorted according to their ‘shininess,’ rather than the year they were made.

Nathan was also strict about adhering to rules, particularly during games. If rules were broken he would become “extremely frustrated and upset,” says Karen.

Other behaviours concerned her too, such as the fact he walked on tiptoes and chewed his clothes.

But it wasn’t until Nathan started having trouble at school (becoming physical) that Karen sought help from a psychologist.

The psychologist was the first person to suggest a diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). “I had always known he was different but knew nothing of Asperger’s,” Karen explains.

After filling out the necessary questionnaires relating to these conditions, and being given both diagnoses when Nathan was six, Karen says, “Finally stuff made sense”.

“Being a parent of a toddler can be hard enough, but for parents of children who display behavioural problems the job is even tougher,” says psychologist Damien Adler, Director of Ballarat’s Mind Life Clinic.

He says the most common behavioural problems in toddlers are tantrums and lack of focus and attention.

“The good news is that between the ages of one and three there is a wide range of ‘normal’ behaviour. This means that your child will most likely grow out of most behavioural problems on their own,” Adler explains.

However, like in Nathan’s case, there are times when a toddler’s behaviour may be concerning.

Children with ADHD have difficulty focusing and paying attention and may also seem to be ‘on the go’ constantly, Adler explains. He says these behaviours are “pretty normal” up till age four, but if they significantly persist after then they may indicate a possible disorder.

Further pointers to this condition include being disorganised, avoiding activities that require sustained focus (like writing or reading), having social problems, being easily distracted and having a poor memory.

If you are concerned your child may have ADHD, or any other behavioural disorder, seek professional advice. Treatment for ADHD includes medication and psychological therapies.

A more common behavioural issue in toddlers is tantrums. These usually effect children aged one to four, and may involve varying behaviours, including screaming, kicking, hitting, biting or other “less than delightful behaviours,” Adler says.

He says they tend to occur because children at this age are developing independence and have increasing desires, but have limited ability to communicate and regulate their emotions.

“As a result the child can end up feeling angry and frustrated but without the skills required to manage such emotions.”

Adler says managing tantrums can, “Test even the most patient of parents”, but that it’s important to stay calm and demonstrate good self control during a tantrum.

“Try to wait it out, and once they have calmed down encourage them to communicate their needs with language.”

He also advises avoiding anything that “rewards” the tantrum, such as giving in to demands or using bribes. To avoid tantrums, steer clear of triggers such as tiredness and hunger.

The good news, Adler says, is that as children’s communication skills, comprehension, judgement and self-control develop, “The tantrums will typically go away on their own”.

But even if they don’t go away on their own, having a child with a behavioural issue is not necessarily a ‘bad’ thing, explains Karen.

She says Nathan is now sixteen years old and, through a combination of counselling and being on the right medication, he is thriving.

Nathan has now gained virtually straight A’s in maths and science subjects, and Karen couldn’t be more proud of him.

“He is a great kid [who] sees the world from a sometimes unique point of view.”

Reviewed by Dr Evelyn Lewin 20 May 2015 references
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This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

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How to Tell if Your Child Has ADHD or Autism

AILMENTS

How do you know if it’s just normal toddler hyperactivity, or something to be concerned about? Does the fact that your kid throws tantrums and runs around a lot mean that he has ADHD or autism? Dr. Evelyn Lewin shares the story of how one mum found out.

Karen Davis knew from an early age that her youngest son, Nathan, was different from other children.

“His language skills developed much earlier than other children and his use of words used to freak me out just a little,” Karen says. “It’s not often you hear ‘I’m magnificent aren’t I mummy?’ from a child under 18 months.”

But it wasn’t until Nathan was a little older that Karen began to notice more unusual behaviours.

He liked to put his toys in order, for instance, but not necessarily an order that other people would choose. For example, his coins were sorted according to their ‘shininess,’ rather than the year they were made.

Nathan was also strict about adhering to rules, particularly during games. If rules were broken he would become “extremely frustrated and upset,” says Karen.

Other behaviours concerned her too, such as the fact he walked on tiptoes and chewed his clothes.

But it wasn’t until Nathan started having trouble at school (becoming physical) that Karen sought help from a psychologist.

The psychologist was the first person to suggest a diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). “I had always known he was different but knew nothing of Asperger’s,” Karen explains.

After filling out the necessary questionnaires relating to these conditions, and being given both diagnoses when Nathan was six, Karen says, “Finally stuff made sense”.

“Being a parent of a toddler can be hard enough, but for parents of children who display behavioural problems the job is even tougher,” says psychologist Damien Adler, Director of Ballarat’s Mind Life Clinic.

He says the most common behavioural problems in toddlers are tantrums and lack of focus and attention.

“The good news is that between the ages of one and three there is a wide range of ‘normal’ behaviour. This means that your child will most likely grow out of most behavioural problems on their own,” Adler explains.

However, like in Nathan’s case, there are times when a toddler’s behaviour may be concerning.

Children with ADHD have difficulty focusing and paying attention and may also seem to be ‘on the go’ constantly, Adler explains. He says these behaviours are “pretty normal” up till age four, but if they significantly persist after then they may indicate a possible disorder.

Further pointers to this condition include being disorganised, avoiding activities that require sustained focus (like writing or reading), having social problems, being easily distracted and having a poor memory.

If you are concerned your child may have ADHD, or any other behavioural disorder, seek professional advice. Treatment for ADHD includes medication and psychological therapies.

A more common behavioural issue in toddlers is tantrums. These usually effect children aged one to four, and may involve varying behaviours, including screaming, kicking, hitting, biting or other “less than delightful behaviours,” Adler says.

He says they tend to occur because children at this age are developing independence and have increasing desires, but have limited ability to communicate and regulate their emotions.

“As a result the child can end up feeling angry and frustrated but without the skills required to manage such emotions.”

Adler says managing tantrums can, “Test even the most patient of parents”, but that it’s important to stay calm and demonstrate good self control during a tantrum.

“Try to wait it out, and once they have calmed down encourage them to communicate their needs with language.”

He also advises avoiding anything that “rewards” the tantrum, such as giving in to demands or using bribes. To avoid tantrums, steer clear of triggers such as tiredness and hunger.

The good news, Adler says, is that as children’s communication skills, comprehension, judgement and self-control develop, “The tantrums will typically go away on their own”.

But even if they don’t go away on their own, having a child with a behavioural issue is not necessarily a ‘bad’ thing, explains Karen.

She says Nathan is now sixteen years old and, through a combination of counselling and being on the right medication, he is thriving.

Nathan has now gained virtually straight A’s in maths and science subjects, and Karen couldn’t be more proud of him.

“He is a great kid [who] sees the world from a sometimes unique point of view.”

Reviewed by Lisa Kelly 20 May 2015
references
  • current version

  • PEER REVIEWER

  • Doc id

  • next review

This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

make a comment

0 comments

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latest articles

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MEET THE EXPERTS

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