You have probably heard of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but the ins and outs of the condition are somewhat less known.
What is ADHD?
Children are, by nature, highly active. Just because your child seems to be a boundless ball of energy does not necessarily mean that they have ADHD. While most children grow out of this phase, some children may have underlying difficulties with hyperactivity and inattention which stay with them well beyond the childhood years.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can cause a variety of challenges. Some of the hallmarks include hyperactivity, trouble concentrating and acting on impulse without regard to the consequences.
We don’t know the cause of ADHD, but the tendency to develop ADHD runs in families. It may be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brains of people with ADHD or from some environmental or structural factors.
Children with ADHD may exhibit some of the following symptoms:
- Squirming or fidgeting on a consistent basis.
- Talking too much.
- Daydreaming to an excessive degree.
- Trouble resisting temptations.
- Taking unnecessary risks.
- Difficulty in getting along with other children.
Types of ADHD
Within the category of ADHD, there are three ways it can present. These include:
- Predominately Inattentive type – Children who have difficulty completing a task that is appropriate for their age or who have trouble paying attention to details or following instructions may fall into this category. They may also have trouble with remembering daily routines or details.
- Predominately Hyperactive-Impulsive type – these children may exhibit excessive fidgeting, talking and difficulty sitting still, even during meals. They tend to engage in excessive running, jumping and climbing. Impulsivity is common, as they may grab things, interrupt conversations, and struggle to wait their turn. Following instructions and listening attentively can also be challenging for them.
- Combined type – these children have both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive features. This form of ADHD accounts for at least 80 percent of all ADHD cases.
How is ADHD Diagnosed?
Unfortunately, there is no bloodwork or X-ray to diagnose ADHD.
Diagnosis involves a physical examination, as well as gathering information from different sources — usually home and school. Sometimes, diagnosing a child with ADHD involves a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Treatments for ADHD
The best thing you can do for your child is have them properly evaluated by their healthcare provider. Do not assume that your child has ADHD solely based on the above listed symptoms.
Other childhood developmental and behavioral problems can have symptoms easily confused for ADHD. After a child has been evaluated by a professional and diagnosed with ADHD, there are many treatment options available including:
- Medication – The most often prescribed medication for ADHD is methylphenidate, more commonly known as Ritalin. Other medications may be effective for your child's condition. Regular monitoring by a healthcare provider ensures there are no adverse reactions or side effects. A diagnosis of ADHD doesn’t mean that medication is the best choice for your child.
- Group Based Parental Training and Education Programs – Parenting a child with ADHD requires education, tools and skills. Connecting with other parents in similar situations can provide guidance and support — especially for those new to parenting a child with ADHD.
- Group or Individual Therapy for your Child – Both cognitive behavioral therapy and social skills training can be helpful for your child. It can help them learn social skills, listening skills, problem solving and how to manage feelings that may seem overwhelming to them.
There’s a lot of misinformation online and in social media about ADHD – especially that medication will “turn their child into a zombie” (that’ll make them dull, quiet or otherwise change the child’s personality and behavior).
If medication is chosen as a treatment for ADHD, the goal of that treatment will be medicating a child only enough to help them focus attention better without causing side effects like moodiness, poor appetite or poor sleeping.
Families shouldn’t wait to contact their pediatrician’s office if they think their child has having medication-related problems.
Teachers and families must realize that medications typically used to treat ADHD are primarily intended to address the focusing problems these children have. Many of these children also have behavioral issues along with their inability to focus, and medication may or may not address these issues.
Just because your child still has behavioral problems despite medication does not mean the medicine is not working.
Do not stop your child’s ADHD medication without talking to your provider first!
Can ADHD Be Cured?
ADHD can’t be cured. But remember that both the symptoms and severity of ADHD can change over time.
Sometimes, patients experience enough improvement as they approach adulthood that they can discontinue medication entirely or manage their ADHD with smaller doses of medication.
What Can I Do at Home to Help my Child?
Many parents may feel just as overwhelmed as their child feels, but there are some things you can do to help them.
- Having a set daily routine for your child can help them cope with day-to-day life. Consistent structure at home and school is very important.
- Having concrete instructions for a task. A good example would be instead to telling a child with ADHD to “clean up their room”, make the instruction specific. Tell them to “put your toys in the toy box” or “place your homework and schoolbooks on the shelf.”
- Reward based systems can also be helpful.
Talking with your child’s teacher and school leaders is also vital – parents should maintain close contact with the child’s school so that any problems can be addressed quickly.
When they are aware of your child’s diagnosis, they can adapt their teaching style to fit your child and develop an Individual Education Plans (IEPs) if needed. This allows for your child to receive teaching and instruction in a way that is best for them so they will not fall behind.
The most important thing to know is that fundamentally, your child processes things in a way that’s different. This doesn’t mean the way they process information is abnormal, wrong or mean that they are unintelligent – in fact, many ADHD children have above-average intelligence!
Children with ADHD have the same right as anyone else to succeed. Your child’s healthcare provider can find ways to help your child excel.