ADHD in Babies: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Learn the ADHD symptoms that can show up in infancy.

person holding their baby in arms

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If you have concerns about your baby’s behavior, you might be wondering if your baby is showing signs of attention deficit disorder (ADHD). This might be a particular concern for you if you have ADHD yourself, your other children do, or if the condition runs in your family.

Your concerns are valid. While most cases of ADHD aren’t diagnosed until the elementary school years, research has found that signs of ADHD can be seen in young children—yes, even in babies.

Here’s what to know about ADHD in babies, including signs and symptoms, causes, and how and when ADHD is diagnosed and treated.

What to Know About ADHD in Babies

ADHD is a behavioral condition that is characterized by hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and an inability to concentrate or pay attention. It’s common in childhood and can impact school performance, relationships, and day-to-day functioning. Between 4% and 12% of children have ADHD and its two times as likely to be seen in boys than girls.

ADHD Is Harder to Diagnose in Younger Children

According to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), it’s challenging to diagnose children with ADHD when they are under the age of four because there are so many developmental changes that happen to children in their early years of life.

However, a 2019 research paper published in European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry found that signs of ADHD can be seen as early as infancy. Signs of ADHD can also be seen during the toddler years, according to the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.

Signs and Symptoms

Again, ADHD is not usually recognized as a disorder until a child is older, usually age four and up. There are no criteria as of now in terms of signs and symptoms that are present in the baby years to indicate ADHD.

However, there is limited research showing that certain characteristics in babies may indicate an ADHD diagnosis in the future. For example:

  • You may notice that your baby has a more challenging temperament
  • Your baby may show signs of a language delay, especially between 9 and 18 months of age
  • Your baby may show signs of motor delays between the ages of 9 and 18 months
  • You may find yourself describing your baby as “difficult,” fussy, or a “handful”

As your baby gets closer to their toddler years, there may be additional signs of possible ADHD:

  • You may notice that your toddler has trouble concentrating and focusing
  • You may notice that your toddler can’t stop moving and is hyperactive
  • Your may notice that your toddler is more impulsive than other toddlers their age

Causes and Risk Factors

ADHD doesn't just have one cause. Usually it’s a multitude of factors at once that cause a child to have ADHD. According to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), some of these causes may include:

Genetics

ADHD often runs in families, so genetics may be at play. For example, if your child has ADHD, there’s a 25% chance that one of their parents does as well. If one sibling has it, it’s likely that another sibling has it too.

Brain Function

Different areas of the brain control our ability to pay attention and focus. People with ADHD may exhibit lower levels of function in these areas of the brain.

Head Injuries

If your child had a significant head injury, this may contribute to their ADHD diagnosis.

Prenatal Environment and Prematurity

What happens during pregnancy and childbirth can increase your child’s risk for ADHD. Birthing parents who drink alcohol or smoke are more likely to have a child with ADHD. Babies born prematurely have an increased risk of developing the condition.

Lead and Other Toxins

In rare cases, your child’s exposure to toxins in their environment—most notably lead exposure—can increase their risk of having ADHD. According to the AAP, food allergies, food dyes, and sugar do not increase the risk of ADHD.

Diagnosis

Your baby will not be diagnosed with ADHD, even if you see possible signs. First of all, babies change and develop quite a bit in those first few years, so signs like fussiness, crying excessively, or any other troubling behaviors, may diminish as time goes on.

Although your baby can’t be diagnosed with ADHD yet, you should still bring up any concerns that you have about your baby’s symptoms with your pediatrician so that you can both stay on top of what is going on, and continue to monitor for ADHD signs as your baby gets older.

Most Kids Are Diagnosed in Elementary School

If your baby’s symptoms persist as they get older, you will eventually be able to bring them in for a possible ADHD diagnosis. Again, this will usually happen after your child reaches their fourth birthday, although many kids don’t get formally diagnosed with ADHD until elementary school.

In order to be diagnosed with ADHD, your child will be evaluated by their pediatrician or a child psychologist. There are certain criteria your child must meet to be diagnosed:

  • If your child is between the ages of 4 and 17, they must exhibit at least 6 signs of ADHD as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Signs include specific symptoms of impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity
  • These symptoms must be present in at least two settings, which may include school, home, and during social activities
  • Symptoms must have lasted more than 6 months
  • Symptoms must cause significant disruptions to your child’s life

Treatment

Infants may be monitored for ADHD, but they can’t be diagnosed or treated. If your child eventually is diagnosed with ADHD, a treatment plan will be devised by your child’s care team.

Common treatments for ADHD in children include:

  • Support for parents so that they can create an environment and structure that supports their child’s needs
  • Correct placement in academic settings so that a child’s needs are met
  • Psychostimulant medications (e.g., Ritalin, Adderall, and Dexedrine), are highly effective at treating ADHD

A Word From Verywell

If ADHD is something you struggle with or is something your other children have already been diagnosed with, you may be wondering if your new baby has ADHD as well. Or perhaps you’ve noticed troubling symptoms in your baby, and are wondering if they are signs of ADHD.

While babies can’t be diagnosed with ADHD yet, there are some signs that may be present even in infants, such as a “challenging” temperament and language and motor delays. Whatever the case, you should relay your concerns to your pediatrician, who will help you understand what may be going on with your baby, what signs to look for in the years ahead, and what treatment options may be available for your child when the time is right.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Athanasiadou A, Buitelaar J, Brovedani P, et al. Early motor signs of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a systematic review. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2020;29:903–916. doi:10.1007/s00787-019-01298-5

  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Children.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Diagnosing ADHD in Children: Guidelines & Information for Parents.

  4. Brown H, Harvey E. Psychometric Properties of ADHD Symptoms in Toddlers. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. 2019;48(3):423-439. doi:10.1080/15374416.2018.1485105

  5. Gurevitz M, Geva R, Varon M, Leitner Y. Early markers in infants and toddlers for development of ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders. 2014;18(1):14-22. doi:10.1177/1087054712447858

  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. Early Warning Signs of ADHD.

  7. American Academy of Pediatrics. Causes of ADHD: What We Know Today.