Q&A: Is inattentiveness in preschoolers normal or a sign of more problems to come?
My daughter will be four in July. She attends preschool two afternoons a week. She is a very loving, non-aggressive girl who has inherited her mom's unfortunate melodramatic emotions. Her preschool has told me they feel she needs to be evaluated for "early intervention". They have come to this conclusion because of her lack of attentiveness, and her difficulty in "transitioning from one task to another". "In a one-on-one environment, she's right on the ball," they've said. But when they address the class to do something (i.e. clean-up, sit for circle time, etc.), she exhibits little or no focus and has a problem with attentiveness. Are my preschool's expectations of a three-and-a-half-year-old reasonable? On paper, they say, she will have no problem entering kindergarten at five years old; however, they said that she will "fail miserably" in group activities. Isn't it a bit too early to make that prediction?
The two comments about your daughter, that she is inattentive and has difficulty transitioning, need to be taken separately.
The first is inattention. The type of inattention that brings up the concern of ADHD doesn’t just surface in group activities, but in all activities (except highly stimulating ones like TV and video games). All two-year-olds have very short attention spans. Most eight-year-olds can sit for at least 45 minutes and focus on a task, and the kids between those ages vary, depending upon their rate of development and maturity. While you can look back and find that eight-year-olds with ADHD were unfocused, distractable, and had poorer attention spans than their peers at four or five, you can’t look at the unfocused four-year-olds and guarantee that they will have problems at eight.
Some children ‘settle down’ later than others.
As for the concern about your daughter’s ability to transition, this is a different issue altogether. This trait forms part of a person’s overall temperament. Just as some children are inherently outgoing while others are shy, some are flexibile while others need more time to make a switch from one activity to another.
So, is it a bit too early to predict that she will ‘fail miserably’ at anything in one and a half years’ time? Of course. But preschool teacher observations are important, since they observe children together and can compare them easily.
What you need to do next is make your own observations. Observe your daughter with cousins, reading quietly with an adult, playing at a playground. Ask your parents or other experienced adults for their impressions. Inatteniveness or difficulty transitioning, if extreme, can make school harder, but see what you and others find first. If you ultimately agree with these opinions, bring them up to your pediatrician to determine whether a developmental evaluation is in order.