First, the good news. Your child’s behavior isn’t his or her fault — and it is probably treatable. It can be confusing to deal with the massive amounts of information you will find on ADHD.
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is a common behavioral disorder that affects an estimated 8% to 10% of school-age children. ADHD affects boys 3 times more than for girls, although it is not known why. ADHD often makes it difficult for kids to control their impulses, focus, organize themselves, pay attention to detail and following through. The good news is that ADHD can be successfully treated with medicine, therapy and other support.
Symptoms of ADHD in children are generally grouped into three categories: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Given these symptoms, ADHD is broken down into three subtypes, each with its own pattern of behaviors:
Inattentive Type ADHD is often described as:
• inability to pay attention to details or a tendency to make careless errors in schoolwork or other activities
• difficulty with sustained attention in tasks or play activities
• apparent listening problems
• difficulty following instructions
• problems with organization
• avoidance or dislike of tasks that require mental effort
• tendency to lose things like toys, notebooks or homework
• forgetfulness in daily activities
Hyperactive-Impulsive Type ADHD is often described as:
• fidgeting or squirming
• difficulty remaining seated
• excessive running or climbing
• difficulty playing quietly
• always seeming to be “on the go”
• excessive talking
• blurting out answers before hearing the full question
• difficulty waiting for a turn or in line
• problems with interrupting or intruding
Combined Type ADHD involves a combination of the signs described in the above two categories. So a child can have both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms. And this is, in fact, the most common presentation of ADHD.
Unfortunately, diagnosing ADHD is not a straightforward process. Your child’s physician can’t administer a simple exam or run a simple blood test. He or she must observe, evaluate and rely on several methods of assessment before making a diagnosis. These methods may include:
• Interviews with your child, you and your spouse and sometimes other siblings
• Behavior evaluations completed by parents and teachers
• Psychological tests
• Review of school and medical records
• Intelligence testing, educational achievement testing or screening for learning disabilities
• A standard physical or neurodevelopmental screening that includes questions about any concerns and symptoms, your child’s past health, your family’s health, any medications your child is taking, any allergies your child may have and other issues
• Other screenings such as vision and hearing tests or formal speech and language assessments
To be considered for a diagnosis of ADHD:
• a child must display behaviors from one of the three subtypes before age 7
• these behaviors must be more severe than in other kids the same age
• the behaviors must last for at least 6 months
• the behaviors must occur in and negatively affect at least two areas of a child’s life (such as school, home, daycare settings, or friendships)
The information on this page is not intended to replace a formal diagnosis. Talk with your doctor if you are concerned that your child is displaying some of these symptons.
Only a trained healthcare professional can accurately diagnose ADHD.
There isn’t a simple solution for ADHD. The best form of treatment for your child involves several elements, each of which are equally important in providing the best possible results. The various modes of treatment work together to provide a unified approach for children and adolescents diagnosed with ADHD:
- Education about diagnosis and treatment. The more you know about your child’s condition, the more you can help. On this website you will find links to resources that can provide additional information.
- Behavior Management. Helping guide your child toward appropriate behavior both at home and at school is an important part of dealing with ADHD. This website contains helpful information on parenting a child with ADHD. Your child’s physician and school counselor are also good resources for additional tips.
- Medication. ADHD is most commonly treated with stimulants, which have a long history of successful treatment. These medications may help your child pay attention and decrease impulsiveness and hyperactivity.
- Educational programs and support. There are multiple programs available to help your child. He or she may qualify for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, or IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) services. Community support groups are also a very useful resource for parents of children with ADHD.
Sometimes these medications can cause serious side effects such as heart and mental problems, seizures, slowing of growth and vision problems. If medication is being considered as an option, you should talk with your doctor carefully about your child’s health conditions and your family medical history.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do as a parent to help your child manage his or her ADHD. With proper treatment of ADHD, symptoms such as short attention span, distractibility, impulsiveness and hyperactivity can be improved.
Explain ADHD to your child. It is important for your child to understand the diagnosis in words he or she can understand. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, and it’s not something your child caused or could have prevented. Help your child understand that participating in the different methods of treatment will help him or her manage ADHD symptoms better at both school and home.
Educate yourself about ADHD. The Internet is a good place to start; there are literally thousands of ADHD-related websites out there, and many of them contain useful information. However, it is important to learn to distinguish accurate medical information from inaccurate information provided by non-professionals. How can you tell the difference? For starters, be cautious of any website or company that claims to have a cure for ADHD. And while there is currently no cure for ADHD, there are certainly many things you can do to lessen the impact of ADHD on your child.
WHAT YOU CAN DO AT HOME
Being a caregiver for another family member — whether for a child or a parent — can be very demanding. Make sure that you take care of yourself.
Consider getting help for your child, yourself and possibly your other family members. Professional counseling can help each member of the family understand how to handle the particular challenges he or she faces.
Join a community support group comprised of other parents with children who have been diagnosed with ADHD. Check with your local church, school or physician for recommendations. You can also search for local support groups online. Be sure you find one you’re comfortable with, as you will get the most benefit from being around people you can trust and speak with openly.
Develop a plan for successful behavior management. Whether you work with your physician, find a plan in a book or attend parent training classes in your community, it is important for you to learn how to present your child with a plan that will work for him or her.
Be consistent. Once you have developed a plan for behavior management, make sure everyone is on board. This includes parents, grandparents, babysitters and other adult family members that have a relationship with your child. Whether disciplining unwelcome behavior or rewarding positive behavior, consistency is a must in effectively treating ADHD.
Make sure your other children do not feel left out or neglected as a result of your attention given to your child diagnosed with ADHD. It is not unusual for siblings to feel like they do not receive enough attention. Schedule one-on-one time, or enlist the help of other family members to arrange outings or special time with all of your children.
WHAT YOU CAN DO AT SCHOOL
You are your child’s best advocate. Start with a meeting at your child’s school with your child’s classroom teacher, a special educator and the principal or guidance counselor. Discuss your child’s diagnosis and proposed treatment plan. If at any time you have concerns about your child’s treatment at school, you should speak up on his or her behalf.
Become your child’s “case manager.” You’re the only one who will have access to all of your child’s evaluations, test results, behavior records, medical history and more. It is important that the right information is shared with the right people to maximize the effectiveness of his or her treatment.
Encourage your child’s classroom teacher to keep a behavioral record that covers topics such as ability to focus, impulsivity, distractibility, hyperactivity and emotional changes. You should also ask the teacher to watch for any side effects or other concerns. Because your child’s teachers spend such a large amount of time with him or her, their observations can be crucial to measuring your child’s response to treatment.
Educate yourself about your child’s educational rights. The more you know about the two education laws — the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act — the better your chance of maximizing your child’s educational opportunities.
TIPS THAT CAN HELP YOU HELP YOUR CHILD
ADHD can be challenging for your child. Constantly reassure your child that you love him or her, and that all the unusual activities (doctor appointments, tests, counseling, medications, etc) are all to help learn how to better manage his or her ADHD.
There will be bad days. Be prepared for them, and find ways to deal with them so they don’t have a negative impact on your child’s progress. You may need to tag-team with another adult family member or caregiver to help.
Recognize the things your child is good at. Many children with ADHD excel at activities such as art, computers or sports — particularly individual sports such as swimming or tennis. When you find something your child is good at, encourage him or her to participate to allow your child to experience the positive emotions that come with success and accomplishment.
Build social skills. Other children — whether they are siblings, schoolmates or teammates — often don’t understand why children with ADHD exhibit unwelcome behaviors such as hyperactivity or impulsiveness. As a result, your child may be treated as an outsider or left out of group activities. When building a plan for behavior management, be sure to include activities that will help improve his or her ADHD symptoms such as distractibility, hyperactivity and impulsiveness — and encourage more positive behaviors.