Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder from preschool to school age: change and stability of parent and teacher reports

Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2022 Jun 23. doi: 10.1007/s00787-022-02019-1. Online ahead of print.


Identifying attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in pre-schoolers may improve their development if treated, but it is unclear whether ADHD symptoms from this age are stable enough to merit treatment. We aimed to investigate the stability of parent- and teacher-reported ADHD symptoms and ADHD classified above the diagnostic symptom thresholds, including for hyperactivity-impulsivity (HI), inattention and combined presentations from age 3 to 8 years. This study is part of the longitudinal, population-based Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study. At child age 3 years, parents were interviewed and teachers rated ADHD symptoms. At age 8 years, parents (n = 783) and teachers (n = 335) reported ADHD symptoms by the Child Symptom Inventory-4. We found a significant reduction in the mean number of parent-reported ADHD and HI symptoms from age 3 to 8 years, but otherwise similar mean numbers. Parent-reported ADHD symptoms were moderately correlated between ages, while correlations were low for teachers. A total of 77/108 (71%) of the children classified with parent-reported HI presentation at age 3 years were no longer classified within any ADHD presentation at age 8 years, the only clear trend across time for either informant. There was a low to moderate parent-teacher-agreement in the number of reported symptoms, and very low informant agreement for the classified ADHD presentations. Overall, clinicians should exercise caution in communicating concern about HI symptoms in preschool children. Age 3 years may be too early to apply the ADHD diagnostic symptom criteria, especially if parents and teachers are required to agree.

Keywords: ADHD; Children; Diagnosis; Preschool.