Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

ADHD in Children Health Center

Font Size

New Guidelines: Diagnose Kids for ADHD at Age 4

American Academy of Pediatrics Expands Age Range for Diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 17, 2011 -- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) should be diagnosed and treated in children as young as age 4, according to new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Previous guidelines for pediatricians, issued 10 years ago, had limited the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD to children aged 6 to 12. The new guidelines expand that age range to include preschoolers and teenagers.

The new guidelines were released at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics in Boston. They are also published in the November issue of Pediatrics.

Currently, it's estimated that about 8% of children have ADHD.

The new recommendations say treatment for preschoolers should start with behavioral therapies geared toward teaching parents how to better control problem behaviors.

If a child doesn't improve, then the guidelines recommend escalating to medication with methylphenidate (Concerta, Metadate, Methylin, Ritalin).

"We're not recommending that you just put 4-year-olds on meds right away," says Karen Pierce, MD, a child psychiatrist who helped develop the guidelines. Pierce is also a clinical associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

"The kids that I put on meds, the preschoolers, have been kicked out of three or four preschools. They've had broken legs or broken arms. I have a 4-year-old who just choked his 2-year-old brother so severely because he was impulsive. Those are the kinds of kids we're talking about," Pierce says.

Evidence for Medicating Preschoolers

The committee's recommendation to use Ritalin to treat young children is in part based on the results of a study of 165 young children who were assigned to take Ritalin or a placebo. In that study, about 21% of kids on the best dose of the medication, and 13% of the kids taking the placebo, achieved remission of their ADHD symptoms.

Researchers said that overall, they found "strong positive effects" in about half the preschoolers who took Ritalin. Those improvements were generally not as large as the benefits seen in older kids who take that drug.

Mark L. Wolraich, MD, chairman of the committee that developed the guidelines, says he doesn't think the new guidelines will encourage more prescribing of medications. Instead, he says, the update and evidence-based recommendations are important because so many primary care doctors are already treating ADHD without much guidance about what works.

Today on WebMD

doctor writing on clipboard
mother with child
disciplining a boy
daughter with her unhappy parents
preschool age girl sitting at desk
Child with adhd
father helping son with homework
children in sack race