Feb 2023 Preschool article
Missions Discipleship

Addressing Preschoolers with Special Needs: ADD/ADHD

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are terms we hear and think are interchangeable. Professionals no longer use ADD as a diagnosis, only ADHD.

ADHD is a neurological and psychological disorder. Children diagnosed with ADHD have varying degrees of the following characteristics: inattentiveness, disorganization, struggles with instructions, fidgets, exhibit high energy, and/or impulsiveness.

Clinical diagnosis does not usually happen until a child is of school age. As a chronic disorder, it follows into adulthood.

What does all of this mean to a preschool teacher?

First, it is likely that the preschoolers you will be working with are not clinically diagnosed. When parents tell you that their preschooler has ADD/ADHD, it may not be a clinical diagnosis. This raises two main questions:

    1. What behaviors concern you or the parents?
    2. How do you and the parents address the concerning behaviors?

Answering these questions helps to identify the parents’ fears and how they handle things at home and/or at childcare. This information allows you to be proactive.

Second, since this is a persistent condition and you are one of the first people to address it, you lay the foundation of how the child thinks others “see” them. Your approach will shape what they expect from future teachers. Groundwork built on love and understanding is pivotal for the child’s further development.

Things to remember about preschoolers

    • The average attention span for three-year-olds is 6–8 minutes and for four-year-olds is 8–12 minutes. Realize that these ranges are averages and do not reflect current dynamics post COVID-19.
    • Learning is a preschooler’s job. They explore, ask lots of questions, and take risks. Their senses are their main tools. Including all of the senses in your Mission Friends sessions will engage their attention for longer periods of time.
    • Preschoolers are not little adults. Preschoolers who ask multiple questions are not trying to annoy adults but are showing their focus and curiosity. A child whose mind seems elsewhere may be a child processing what they are learning or experiencing through the means they currently possess. Plan activities and expect behavior for preschoolers’ actual age and developmental abilities.
    • Focus on setting the Mission Friends classroom stage to facilitate success for preschoolers. Meet the preschoolers on their level and look through their eyes as they enter and engage in Mission Friends. Note what interests them and include it in your planning.


“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me. Don’t keep them away. The kingdom of heaven belongs to people like them.’ Jesus placed his hands on them to bless them. Then he went on from there.”

—Matthew 19:14–15 (NIRV)


Allow Matthew 19:14–15 to guide your work with preschoolers. Jesus took time to be with children, allowing us to see how important they are, regardless of their young age. We need to approach all preschoolers the same way.

The most important thing we can teach any child is that we love him or her for who they are, as they are, and where they are. Not everything is going to fall into place all the time, but by understanding preschoolers, planning appropriate activities, and using consistent discipline guidelines, preschoolers will know we love and care for them.

by Gina Smith

Disclaimer: The information shared on this page is not meant to diagnose or treat a neurological and psychological disorder. We encourage you to follow up with your health-care provider and seek a mental health professional for individual consultation and care.

This blog is designed to help leaders as they teach preschoolers with special needs. The information provided includes tips and strategies but in no way equips leaders to diagnose preschoolers, as preschoolers may not be diagnosed with special needs until they reach elementary school and then only by a health professional. Use the information and suggestions to help you lead preschoolers to enjoy Mission Friends.