Ask the expert: Should we get our overactive little boy assessed?
Q My youngest child is three years 10 months old and has always been very active, on the go and into everything. We have to constantly watch him and be on his case and it is exhausting. My wife and I always put it down to him being a boy – he has three older sisters who are generally calmer and organised.
However, when he started preschool last September he could not settle and we had to take him out. We tried again two months ago and though he is getting on better, the preschool teacher says he is hard to manage in the group.
She has suggested that we get him assessed and has wondered if he might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
We were a bit shocked at the teacher’s suggestion, but after we got over that we see that there may be some sense to what she is suggesting.
How should we go about getting him assessed and what should we do to help him?
A Two- and three-year-old children generally have poor attention spans and are often impulsive and very active, leading this period to get the reputation as the “terrible twos”.
Generally, as children get older they become more able to concentrate for longer periods and to begin to pause and think before they act. However, for some children this improvement is slower in coming and a small number retain impulsive, active and inattentive behaviours as they grow up.
Some of the difficulties these children have are sufficient to gain a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and they can benefit from specialist assessment and support though this diagnosis is not usually made until children are older.
In addition, there could be other reasons to explain your son’s behaviour such as specific learning, language or hearing difficulties that could be associated with his problems settling in preschool. As a result, it is important to seek an assessment so you can get a clearer picture of his needs.
Seeking an assessment
It can be confusing for parents seeking an assessment for a preschool child. Should they seek an assessment from a psychologist, a speech and language therapist, a paediatrician or a child psychiatrist?
With the implementation of the Disability Act, the process has been streamlined in the HSE. You can now apply to an “assessment of need” officer at your local health centre and they are obliged to reply within 14 days indicating which agency/
professional should help you in the first instance.
Depending on your son’s needs, the ideal is to get a multidisciplinary assessment so that you can get a good sense of his development and what is needed to help him.
In the meantime, there are lots of specific things you can do to help your son and to continue his progress in preschool.
Though all children benefit from predictable routines, this is especially the case with children with attention and other developmental problems.