At what age should I have an ADHD assessment for my child?

Many doctors and psychologists refuse to conduct an ADHD assessment for children before the age of 5 or 6, and they have good reason. ADHD is a developmental disorder, and when a child is still in preschool or kindergarten they still have a lot of developing left to do. Not only that, labeling a child too early may create unnecessary worry for parents, and runs the risk of impacting a child’s self-esteem.

What about the other side of the argument? What about the children under the age of 6 who are already exhibiting concerning or disruptive behaviour?

For some families, waiting until elementary school for an assessment might feel like wasting time, time they could be using to start helping their child and improving their family life.

To the parents who ask, “Why wait if there’s something we can do now to support our child?”, we say, “Good point.”

We do, however, recommend that you exercise caution when seeking help. Assessments for preschoolers and toddlers should not be about labeling or diagnosing. Instead, the process should focus on helping you understand your child’s strengths and difficulties. By doing so, you can begin nurturing the strengths and exploring strategies for tackling the difficulties before they become bigger problems. This does not mean medication – most doctors, including Dr. Gray here at Springboard Clinic, will not prescribe ADHD medication for children under the age of 6. Instead, we focus on building skills. This could mean parent coaching for you, play therapy for your child, or help with school selection.

Deciding whether or not to have your child assessed is a very personal decision. Testing for ADHD is not an exact science. There is no blood test or single assessment tool that provides a definitive answer. At any age, an accurate assessment requires a clinician or team trained in mental health and cognitive ability, dedicating several hours of observation and interviews, as well as input from individuals who know the patient well, such as a teacher. So, if you’re considering an assessment for your preschooler but your doctor says it’s too soon, you may want to keep looking. Just be sure you know what you’re looking for.

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