Franz AP, Bolat GU, Bolat H 

Studies indicate children born very preterm are showing rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), three times higher than the general population, however monitoring can assist health care professionals with early intervention. 

While the rate varies across age and region, roughly one in 20 children (5%) in Australia have symptoms of ADHD, and in children born very preterm (prior to 32 weeks) in Victoria the rate is reported to be 11%. 


What is ADHD? 

ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and an inability to concentrate or direct 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 recognised in boys than girls. 

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

If you have concerns about your baby’s behaviour, you might be wondering if your child 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, but it's important to remember that ADHD cannot be formally diagnosed until your child is 4 years old. 

There is a small amount of research that suggests babies may also show signs of ADHD, but the symptoms cannot be treated with medication until the child is older. 

Again, ADHD is not usually recognized as a disorder until a child is older, usually age four and up. Currently there are no criteria in the early years to indicate ADHD. 

However, there is limited research showing that certain characteristics in babies may suggest  ADHD.  

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. 
  • You may notice that your toddler is more impulsive than other toddlers their age 

How is ADHD diagnosed?

To be diagnosed with ADHD, your child will be evaluated by their paediatrician or a child psychiatrist 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. 


Babies change and develop quite a bit in those first few years, so signs like fussiness, crying excessively, or any other troubling behaviours, 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 paediatrician 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. 

Special thanks for ADHD Australia for content sharing and providing support for families. 

Useful Links

The Royal Children’s Hospital -Melbourne 

Raising Children 

Miracle Babies Foundation 

ADHD Australia 

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Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances. To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].