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Early Childhood (3 - 5 years)


ADHD may be harder to detect in this age group due to age appropriate short attention span and impulsivity.

Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety Disorders may be more difficult to detect at this age due to appropriate developmental variations. For instance, it is developmentally appropriate for children of this age to show distress when separating from parents and to have high levels of fear over things like imaginary creatures, animals, or the dark. Detection is also more difficult in this age group because of a lack of ability to verbally express feelings.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder can be easily overlooked in early childhood. Though some children with AS may have early language and motor development delays, children with high-functioning autism often hit most of their developmental milestones within reasonable time periods. In fact, some children with high-functioning ASD have particularly strong early skill development in areas such as letter or number recognition or rote memorization of facts. They may appear like other children, but have a socially awkward manner characterized by perseverative language and difficulty with spontaneous interactions. They may also have significant difficulties transitioning from one activity to another. Though children with high-functioning ASD may have immature social skills and peer interactions and are often viewed as “odd,” they frequently leave early childhood without being diagnosed with ASD.

Attachment Disorder

  • Delayed development of motor skills
  • Severe colic and/or feeding difficulties; failure to thrive
  • Resistance to being held, touched, cuddled, or comforted
  • Lack of response to smiles or other attempts to interact
  • Lack of comfort seeking when scared, hurt, or sick
  • Excessive independence; failure to re-establish connection after separation

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is rarely diagnosed in this age group. Early symptoms of emerging Bipolar Disorder may resemble symptoms of other childhood disorders such as ADHD. Though very young children are less likely to have clearly defined “episodes” of this illness, some early symptoms in this age group may include tantrum like rages that last for a long time, destructiveness, impulsive and/or hyperactive behavior, and mood swings that are triggered by limit setting.


Because many of the diagnostic symptoms of depression are also characteristic of typical early childhood development, diagnosing depression in children this young can be complex. Though depression symptoms across all ages are similar, they may manifest in different ways according to developmental level. For instance, sleep difficulties may manifest as frequent nightmares in young children. Depression in young children may also be characterized by developmental regression (i.e. bed wetting).

Eating Disorders

While eating disorders are not typically diagnosed in early childhood, certain psychological and environmental conditions constitute risk factors for the development of eating disorders. Some of these include poor emotional regulation, low self-esteem, perfectionism, external pressure to achieve at a high level, involvement in highly competitive situations, and having a family member with an eating disorder.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Oppositional Defiant Disorder is not typically diagnosed in the early childhood population because many of the symptoms are also part of normal early childhood development. As other children begin to develop emotional regulation, behavioral control, respect for authority, etc. the negative behaviors of children with O.D.D. continue to persist beyond the early childhood years and often worsen without treatment. Parents of children diagnosed with O.D.D. often report that these children were more rigid and demanding than their siblings, had prolonged temper tantrums, were difficult to soothe, and engaged in excessive power struggles regarding things such as eating, toileting, sleeping, and speaking.

Substance Abuse

This age group is not likely to use substances on their own, but may accidentally ingest alcohol or drugs if they are in circumstances with easy or unrestricted access.


Post trauma reactions may be more difficult to identify at this age due to undeveloped communication skills and lack of ability to verbalize social and emotional symptoms. Frustration stemming from their inability to express their needs may lead to increased temper outbursts, clinginess, and tantrums. At this age, post trauma stress may also be expressed through re-enactment of elements of their experienced trauma through play.