ADHD News & Research

Study: ADHD in Toddlers May Be Predicted by Infant Attentional Behaviors

Infants who exhibit behaviors such as “visually examining, acting on, or exploring nonsocial stimuli including objects, body parts, or sensory features” may be more likely to demonstrate symptoms of ADHD as a toddler, according to a new study that also found a correlation between this Nonsocial Sensory Attention and later symptoms of executive dysfunction.

August 12, 2020

An infant’s attentional behaviors can predict later symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD). What’s more, non-social sensory attention in infants — actively exploring the sensory feaures of an environment — is significantly related to later ADHD symptom severity, according to findings from a recent study in the Journal of Attention Disorders.1

Researchers analyzed data from First Year Inventory v. 2.0 (FYIv2.0) surveys completed by 229 parents when their children were 12 months old. The FYIv2.0 was considered in relation to parent-reported executive function (EF), and used to create the following three attention-based constructs representing social and nonsocial elements of infant attention that could help predict typical and atypical patterns of development:

  • Responding to Social Attention (RSA)
  • Initiating Social Attention (ISA)
  • Nonsocial Sensory Attention (NSA)

When their children were 54 months old, the same parents completed reports of their children’s ADHD symptomatology and EF abilities. The “ADHD Rating Scale IV – Preschool Version” was used to measure ADHD symptomatology and the “Childhood Executive Functioning Inventory,” at 26-item parent report inventory, was used to measure executive function.

Researchers found that all three 12-month attention variables were significantly related to EF at 54 months. Non-social sensory attention (NSA) was the FYIv2.0 attention variable most consistently associated with later ADHD and EF behaviors. Researchers stated “this may be explained by the fact that the items in the NSA construct refer to behaviors that include visually examining, acting on or exploring nonsocial stimuli including objects, body parts, or sensory features of the nonsocial environment.” Additionally, a significant difference was found between boys and girls in parent reported EF, with girls rated significantly better in both working memory and inhibitory control.

These findings contribute to professional understanding of the longitudinal relationship between infant attention and symptoms of ADHD in toddlers. Additional research that explores associations using laboratory-based measures could better inform early intervention efforts.


1Stephens, R. L., Elsayed, H. E., Reznick, J. S., Crais, E. R., & Watson, L. R. (2020). Infant Attentional behaviors Are Associated With ADHD Symptomatology and Executive Function in Early Childhood. Journal of Attention Disorders