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ADHD and Your Child

Updated: Jan 8

For years, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been mostly associated with children, fidgety students disrupting the class, talking, and throwing paper airplanes. Or, in some people’s minds, a condition that is exaggerated and stems from normal child behavior. As we learn more and more about ADHD, we begin to see that it is not just kids acting out. It’s a serious condition that requires developing new ways of thinking, processing, and working.

While ADHD has been around for centuries, although not formally named until 1987 by The American Psychological Association (APA), the past few decades have seen more awareness of the condition. A few years after being named, the term neurodivergent was also coined. Neurodivergent means to think and process information differently than what is considered typical. Around 20-30% of individuals are thought to be neurodivergent, and the condition covers quite a few conditions, including ADHD, ASD, Dyslexia, Tourette syndrome, Down Syndrome, anxiety, and many more. ADHD can present itself long before a child starts school, showing signs as young as two. It can also hide in plain sight, causing many people not to get diagnosed until adulthood. The symptoms of ADHD may resemble other medical conditions or behavior problems. Remember that many of these symptoms may occur in children and teens who do not have ADHD. A key element in diagnosis is that the symptoms must significantly impair adaptive functioning in home and school environments. Elementary School  ADHD can be seen in children as young as two, but often, the symptoms are more easily recognized when they get to a classroom. Is their schoolwork performance problematic — such as not finishing homework or always forgetting it? Other things to look for are, do they have trouble sitting still and are constantly fidgeting? Do they blurt out answers or continually interrupt others? Do they have problems listening or seem like they are always daydreaming? It’s important to note that those behaviors can also stem from other reasons, like chronic anxiety, past trauma, trouble at home, and immaturity (taking into account their age and where they should be developmentally with those skills). And not every high-energy or impulsive child has ADHD — some are just really energetic — something I envy from time to time. Children are diagnosed with ADHD only if they demonstrate these symptoms so often that they are causing real difficulty in at least two settings — e.g., at school and at home — for at least six months. High School  As children mature, school becomes even more critical as they begin to think about college and their future. Focusing on tests and organizing homework can be very challenging for students with ADHD, especially as their classes get more complex. High school is also where most teachers begin to think all students should have these basic skills. Some kids may not want you to talk to teachers, and this is a decision you and your child should make, but it never hurts to let them know your child has ADHD and what helps them focus. It’s also important to note that some teens may be able to hide or manage their symptoms better, but teens with ADHD are also known to take frequent risks and act without thinking. They may exhibit impulsive, dangerous behaviors, including substance use and unsafe sexual activity. College Parents always worry about their children, but once kids enter college, parental support diminishes as they navigate the world independently. They also face more academic and social demands, elevating their risk for anxiety, stress, and mood disorders. It used to be rare to find a college that focused on services for students with ADHD or any neurodiversity  — luckily, that is changing. Look for student resources, groups, and programs that deal with ADHD specifically or ones that focus on neurodivergence. Note that sometimes these programs are found in the diversity offices, other times in learning centers, and others may be their own department. Call the school if you are not finding what you need. Inattention, restlessness, and impulsivity continue into adulthood for many individuals, but in some cases, they may become less severe and less impairing over time. Ways to Help Early detection, diagnosis, and treatment can reduce the severity of symptoms, decrease problematic behavior, strengthen social development, aid in their daily education, and improve the quality of life for children or adolescents with ADHD. For school work, speak to their teachers (at any grade) and explain their situation. The right tutor may also help them keep focused and motivated. Take a look at our school guide for more information. Also note, all people are different, so it may take some trial and error to find what works best for your child. Anticipate Stressors You may or may not have heard the term frontloading — what it entails is properly preparing your child for changes before they happen. Because ADHD is a type of neurodivergence, unexpected changes can exacerbate problematic behavior. Talk through situations that may occur and help them practice coping techniques — such as counting to ten, naming types of animals, or taking deep breaths. When One Door Opens Controlling situations is a best-case scenario. More times than not, the unexpected is … unexpected. Children are always learning new life lessons, and one that will help a child with ADHD is showing them they can control life when it throws them a curveball. Show them that they still have choices, and by choosing a direction, they are in control. This control can help ease some minds and lessen the stress. Visual Planning  One way to lessen anxiety about the day and help keep them on track and focused. An excellent visual planner will also offer tools for emotional regulation. The THRIVE app is a comprehensive visual planner that can be used by any child who can use a smartphone or smartwatch. It also allows parents to help build and plan their days and set reminders and has a messaging feature to keep in contact with your child and their caregivers and vice versa. Focus on Success Sometimes, we forget that through all the problems children (their peers, teachers, parents) encounter with ADHD, they are still just that — kids. Don’t focus on what they did wrong — focus on what they are doing right. Use behavior problems as learning opportunities instead of punishments. Every child deserves opportunities to thrive. Some just need extra tools to get there. If you think your child has ADHD, please contact your primary care physician for next steps.

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