Children are by nature playful: they love to run, jump and shout. It’s not unusual to see them in constant motion, making non-stop noise and breaking stuff by accident. However, there are times when they appear to be daydreaming because they seem to be lost in their own thoughts, lose focus, or unable to pay attention. When children constantly exhibit these behaviors, their parents get exasperated and are likely to comment – my child seems to have ADHD!
What does ADHD mean? It stands for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. It is a condition of the brain that makes it difficult for children to control their behavior. It is the most common neurobehavioral disorder in children. It is estimated that four percent to 12 percent of school-aged children have ADHD, and boys are three times more likely to get an ADHD diagnosis than girls. The main symptoms of ADHD are inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.
Signs of inattention:
- Forgets things, “daydreams,” and appears to be not listening
- Finds it hard to concentrate and jumps quickly from one activity to another
- Easily gets bored with an activity unless it is very enjoyable
- Struggles to get organized and finish tasks
- Has difficulty learning new things and following instructions
- Is smart but unable to grasp things that come naturally to other children.
Signs of impulsivity:
- Is impatient and has trouble waiting for his/her turn
- Blurts out inappropriate things and interrupts people
- Overreacts to feelings and emotional situations
- Does not understand the consequences of his/her action
Signs of hyperactivity:
- Talks almost constantly
- Moves nonstop even when he/she is sitting down
- Moves from one place to another quickly and frequently
- Fidgets and has to pick up everything and play with it
- Has trouble sitting still for meals and other quiet activities
Not all children with ADHD have all the symptoms. There are three different types of ADHD.
1. Inattentive only (formerly known as attention-deficit disorder) – Children with this form of ADHD are not overly active. Their symptoms may not be very noticeable because they do not disrupt the classroom or other activities. This form is common among girls.
2. Hyperactive/impulsive – Children with this type of disorder show both hyperactive and impulsive behavior, but they can pay attention. This type is the least common but would frequently occur in younger children.
3. Combined inattentive/hyperactive/impulsive – These children show a number of symptoms in all three dimensions. This is what people would usually think of when they hear about ADHD.
During well-child visits with your healthcare provider, the following questions may be asked as a screening for ADHD:
- How is your child doing in school?
- Are there any problems with learning that you or your child’s teachers have seen?
- Is your child happy in school?
- Is your child having problems completing class work or homework?
- Are you concerned with any behavior problems in school, at home, or when your child is playing with friends?
- Is behavior management difficult at home?
- What are the problem behaviors?
Once your pediatrician has observed that your child may have ADHD, he may refer you to a developmental pediatrician for further testing and evaluation. Other conditions may accompany ADHD such as learning disabilities, social communication disorder, auditory processing disorder, motor and oral tic disorders, behavior disorders, and emotional disorders. If the diagnosis of ADHD is positive, then you will have a lengthy discussion with your healthcare provider regarding the management of the condition.
Indeed, it is a great challenge raising a child with ADHD. It is a chronic condition and the demands of monitoring a child with ADHD can be physically and mentally exhausting. Which is why Melinda Smith, M.A. and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. have compiled ADHD parenting tips as follows:
1. Stay positive and healthy yourself – As a parent, you set the stage for your child’s emotional and physical health. You have control over many of the factors that can positively influence the symptoms of your child’s disorder. Your positive attitude and common sense are the best assets to meet your child’s challenges. Stay calm and focused to be able to connect with your child well.
Keeping things in perspective and holding on to your sense of humor will help. Don’t sweat the small stuff and be willing to make compromises. Believe in your child, and trust that he or she can learn, change, mature, and succeed. Also, never neglect yourself; live a healthy life, eat right, exercise, and find ways to reduce stress as these can help further improve your ability to care for your child.
It also helps to seek support from your child’s doctors, therapists, and teachers. Join organized support groups for parents of children with ADHD. Take breaks and accept offers of friends and family to babysit.
2. Establish structure and stick to it – Create and sustain a structure in your home so that your child knows what to expect and what he/she is expected to do. Follow a routine for meals, homework, play, and bed. Use clocks and timers allowing enough time for what your child needs to do. Simplify your child’s schedule but avoid idle time. Create a quiet place where your child can have privacy. Try your best to be neat and organized so your child knows everything has its place.
3. Set clear expectations and rules – Consistent and simple rules to guide your child’s behavior should be written down. Hang them in a place where they can be easily spotted. Create organized systems of rewards and consequences. Do not forget to give praises and positive reinforcements.
4. Encourage movement and sleep – Physical activity can help your child with ADHD because he has so much energy to burn. Physical activity improves concentration, decreases depression and anxiety, and promotes brain growth. Exercise also leads to better sleep. Insufficient sleep leads to more inattentiveness. Decrease television viewing time and remove caffeine from his diet. Create a buffer time to lower down the activity level for one hour or so before bedtime. Spend at least 10 minutes cuddling with your child. Aromatherapy may help calm the child, and relaxation tapes may be played to help the child fall asleep. ADHD kids benefit from spending time in nature.
5. Help your child eat right – It would greatly help if your child is not given junk food for consumption. Instead, feed him or her with fresh food, and encourage your child to eat at regular meal times.
6. Teach your child how to make friends – Help the child develop social skills and learn social rules. Teach him to be a better listener, learn to read people’s faces and body language, and interact smoothly in groups.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a chronic condition and may persist into adolescence in 60 percent to 80 percent of children. However, with holistic management, love, care, and understanding of the parents and family, they can still be very successful in their own field that matches their strengths and minimizes reliance on weaker areas.