Parents often say, “If I had an ounce of my child’s energy, I would get so much done!” But how do you tell the difference between a child who is simply overly energetic and a child who might have ADHD? Or, what if your child is continually failing to complete assignments in school or stay on task? You might ask, “Why is he so lazy and unmotivated?”
The reality is both children in the scenarios above could have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They also might simply be very energetic or a bit lazy (because kids are, after all, kids).
Who has ADHD?
According to the CDC, nearly one in ten children in the United States will be diagnosed with ADHD. Fortunately, we know a lot more today about ADHD than we did just 25 years ago. We now know that ADHD is divided into three categories:
Each of these types of ADHD are different and so are their symptoms. In ADHD, the brain function is affected by emotions, learning ability, self-control, and memory. The symptoms of ADHD can change as the child develops and grows. ADHD is complex and, even today, we don’t know exactly what causes it. However, it is thought to result from a combination of genetics and environment. There is no one single thing causes ADHD.
Above, we shared a frustration that parents might have is that their child is “lazy.” Other parents might be frustrated that their child never seems to calm down and are always high energy. What most don’t realize is that the child might be just as frustrated as their parents.
Research has shown that ADHD is a problem of a child’s ability NOT their desire. Think about it, if you were trying to focus on a project at work but were repeatedly interrupted and unable to focus, you would probably get pretty frustrated. Kids are the same way. Not surprisingly, evidence has shown that, left untreated, ADHD puts a person at higher risk for anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric disorders. Getting treatment for a child with ADHD is important to helping them thrive.
How do you know if your child has ADHD?
So, how do you tell the difference? How do you know if your child might have ADHD or if their behavior is typical, albeit a bit overly energetic? The answer is you don’t have to know. Parents and caregivers are not expected to know everything about their children.
Unless you are a doctor, you wouldn’t be able to tell with 100 percent certainty if your child had an ear infection. Now, parental intuition might give you an idea that something is going on, but only a medical provider has the training and skills to make the diagnosis. Maybe your child has a sinus infection and not an ear infection at all.
Look at your child’s mental health the same way. Reaching out to a mental health provider is a great first step to determining what your child needs and IF they have ADHD. If your child has any combination of the following symptoms, it might be time to ask for help:
- Trouble with controlling impulsive behaviors
- Sustaining attention
- Following through with tasks
- Poor organization
- Losing or forgetting things
- Difficulties with getting along with others
- Talking too much
- Runs around, climbing on objects, and/or struggles with sitting still
How do you treat ADHD?
If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, the next question you might have is “How do I help my child.” ADHD is best treated with a combination of medication and behavioral therapy. Your child’s healthcare team (and that includes you, as the parent) will help determine the best route for your child.
Medication is not one size fits all. If medication is identified as a good way to help control some of your child’s symptoms, you will work with their provider to determine the best medication type and dosage. A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, like myself, can help fill that role for your child and family.
Behavioral therapy is equally as important in helping most children with ADHD. A trained therapist might recommend different strategies to help your child overcome their symptoms. The following are some tips they might suggest:
- Make reminders. Draw or write down the things that you don’t want to forget in a notebook, sticky note, or bulletin board
- Allow your child’s brain to have breaks. Break down big tasks into simpler and shorter steps. For long tasks take breaks in between steps.
- Get organized. Create color codes, lists, calendars, note cards, or picture boards. Caregivers can provide extra help with staying organized.
- Set a routine. Set up a routine for daily tasks and stick to it, it will help with staying organized and your child will feel more in control.
- Make a place for important things. Create a homework folder, put up a hook or make a spot for their backpack, and label drawers and containers.
- Provide positive reinforcement and feedback. Avoid yelling, spanking, or scolding your child. Instead use time-outs and focus on positive behaviors and provide rewards for good behaviors. If losing privileges is the consequence for inappropriate behavior, have a set time frame that is applicable for the behavior.
- Change the environment to limit distractions. Turn the TV off, limit noises, and clear off the workspace.
- Create opportunities for success. Encourage your child to do things that they do well at like sports, art, or music to help create positive experiences and build their self-confidence.
- Provide lots of physical activity, sufficient sleep, and nutritious food. This will help prevent your child’s ADHD symptoms from worsening.
- Keep it simple. Care givers should always use simple, brief directions when they need their child to do something.
Remember, having ADHD doesn’t mean that your child cannot be successful. There are many well-known and highly successful people in the world who have ADHD. Learning how to manage the symptoms of this disorder is the first step to walking in their footsteps.