This article is the second entry in our Resources for Parents series. If there’s a topic you’d like to see covered in a future Resources for Parents article, please let us know in the comments.
Attention-deficit hyperactive disorder, or ADHD, affects at least 5% of children in the United States. The disorder has three subtypes, each with its own set of challenges. Those with inattentive-type ADHD (formerly known as ADD) have trouble paying attention in many situations, are often forgetful, and often have difficulty with organization. Those with hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD are physically restless and often very talkative, with a tendency to interrupt. Those with combined presentation ADHD display both sets of symptoms. In all three subtypes, symptoms may range from mild to severe, and the impact of the disorder varies accordingly.
For parents, a child’s diagnosis with ADHD is often a mixed blessing. On the one hand, a diagnosis identifies the causes of inattentive and/or hyperactive behaviors which may have caused concern for parents, and creates hope that these behaviors can be successfully altered through interventions. On the other hand, though, it’s definitely scary. When your child is diagnosed with ADHD, there’s a lot to learn about what the disorder means for your child, both at home and at school, and what can and should be done to help.
This article is intended as a resource for those dealing with the challenges of parenting a child with ADHD.
If You Think Your Child May Have ADHD
Once ADHD has been diagnosed, a strategy can be formulated for managing it; but what about children who haven’t been diagnosed yet? If your child has begun to show symptoms associated with ADHD, at home or at school, you may be wondering what to do next. What is the likelihood your child’s symptoms actually result from ADHD? At what point should you consult a doctor? And what kind of doctor should you consult?
This guide from Healthline provides a detailed list of symptoms associated with each subtype of the disorder. It also emphasizes, importantly, that it is not enough just to have one or two symptoms; children under 16 must show at least 6 distinct symptoms, sustained over a period of time and in multiple settings. If symptoms are not present to that extent, a diagnosis of ADHD is unlikely.
(Note that symptoms may present somewhat differently in teens; this guide from help4adhd.org provides a useful description of how ADHD affects teens.)
If your child does not have 6 distinct symptoms, but the existing symptoms are sufficiently problematic that you feel your child needs help, it’s worth looking into other possible diagnoses. These guides from WebMD and Healthline give overviews of other conditions which may present similarly to ADHD.
As with any medical condition, of course, home diagnoses from Internet checklists should be treated as no more than a guideline for what topics to raise when discussing the matter with a physician. If signs indicate that your child has ADHD or a similar condition, you should consult a doctor. For many parents, the child’s pediatrician is the first point of contact on potential learning differences like ADHD. As discussed in this post from the Child Mind Institute, some pediatricians will make the diagnosis themselves and provide help and support on an ongoing basis; others, however, are reluctant to diagnose or treat behavioral disorders, and will simply refer you to a specialist. If you have friends who use the same pediatrician, it’s worth asking around to see if any of them know how this particular doctor approaches ADHD. If your child’s pediatrician has a history of sending prospective ADHD cases to specialists without much investigation, it might be best to skip the middleman and consult a specialist as your first step. Physicians who are specially trained to diagnose and treat ADHD include developmental-behavioral pediatricians, many child psychologists and child psychiatrists, and neurologists. The Child Mind Institute guide linked above includes several useful tips on finding a suitable doctor for your child.
Understanding What ADHD is Like for Your Child
Parenting a child with ADHD can be frustrating. It’s harder to manage a child who zones out when you are talking or forgets your instructions, or a child who just can’t seem to sit still or stop talking. As with any medical condition, though, it’s important to have patience and try to understand the reasons for the behaviors in question.
Many children who are fidgety or highly talkative can train themselves out of these behaviors; for children with ADHD, however, it would be much more difficult to do so. If parents, teachers, and peers are frequently angry or frustrated at behaviors the child cannot easily control – behaviors the child may not even realize are present – the result is often a difficulty in maintaining social relationships, accompanied by feelings of inadequacy, isolation, and anger. To help your child navigate the social side effects of ADHD, you can talk about socially appropriate behavior, model it yourself, and reward your child for acting in accordance with social norms. More importantly, though, you can help by not being a source of negative social experiences for your child – by not becoming overtly angry or frustrated, and by calmly and respectfully discussing behavioral issues with your child rather than simply telling them to stop.
It’s easier to be patient if you understand what your child’s experience of ADHD is like. This article from The New York Times and this post from parenting.com, as well as this one from healthcentral.com, describe ADHD as experienced by a child and the disorder’s impact on a child’s daily life. This post on help4adhd.org gives insight into the specific experiences of teens who have the disorder.
To Medicate or Not to Medicate?
Upon learning that their child has a learning difference, many parents’ first question is whether medication exists to help the issue, and if it does, whether or not it would be right for their child.
In the case of ADHD, this question can really only be answered on a case-by-case basis. Each child’s experiences and needs are different – for some, medication may be enormously helpful in maintaining normal functions, but for others, symptoms may be so mild that negative side effects of medication could outweigh the benefits.
When deciding whether medication is the right choice, consult with a healthcare professional who has experience treating ADHD. Read up on any proposed medication – its benefits and side effects – before getting a prescription. And above all else, bear in mind that medication does not cure ADHD, it merely suppresses some of the symptoms. These matters, and many more, are discussed in this article from chadd.org, which takes a close and thorough look at the decision to medicate for ADHD and everything that goes into that decision. It is a truly indispensable resource for parents who are considering medication as an option.
If you decide that medication isn’t right for your child, there exist a number of non-chemical interventions which can help children learn to manage their ADHD symptoms. This article from the US News and World Report highlights some of the more common ones; this article from the American Psychological Association discusses non-medication interventions which have been shown to have significant results, including several types of behavioral intervention as well as exercise and eating well. These interventions could also be incorporated into a treatment plan that includes medication.
With non-chemical interventions, as with medication, it is important to do your research before trying a given approach. To determine whether a given method has been shown to yield results, try searching it at the American Psychological Association or the CDC, or even Google Scholar. If a treatment method doesn’t have solid science indicating that it’s effective, it’s probably not worth your time.
Managing ADHD in the Home
Many people think of ADHD as a disorder that primarily affects schoolwork, since it is classified as a learning difference. However, due to the nature of its symptoms, it can also have a significant impact on a child’s life at home and indeed on the entire family. This article goes into greater depth about how a child’s ADHD can affect the lives of parents and siblings, and suggests several strategies that parents can use to minimize the potential negative effects on household life. Another article from WebMD offers suggestions for helping an ADHD child get ready for school and out the door in a timely fashion.
This article, from psychcentral.com, details behavioral interventions which parents can use in the home to help their children manage ADHD, and this one from the Child Mind Institute goes over a number of behavioral interventions that can be used by parents and teachers. Importantly, the academic affects of ADHD are not confined to the classroom; the disorder also impacts children’s ability to focus on homework. Therefore, in order to truly minimize the disorder’s negative affects on schoolwork, parents must take care to ensure that homework is still getting done. Behavioral interventions are a very useful tool to that end.
Understanding What ADHD Means for Your Child Academically
Studies show that children with ADHD have poorer academic performance, on average, than children without ADHD. The degree to which this is the case varies according to the severity of the child’s symptoms, as one would expect. Because the level of impact varies, a diagnosis of ADHD is not enough to determine what the academic affects are/will be.
The single best way to figure out how ADHD affects your child’s schoolwork is to talk to the teacher. Who better to assess how well your child pays attention and completes assignments? In fact, teachers’ observations of inattentive and/or hyperactive behavior are a significant factor in many parents’ decisions to consult a doctor about possible ADHD. While teachers may not always correctly diagnose the disorder, they will certainly be able to identify areas where the student is struggling. A specialist can then suggest interventions that might be used to help with these problem areas.
Common academic effects of ADHD include “lower average marks, more failed grades, more expulsions, increased dropout rates, and a lower rate of college undergraduate completion,” and students with ADHD are also more likely to have disciplinary actions taken against them. In younger students, behavioral issues can cause problems for socialization in the classroom peer group.
Meeting with Teachers and Administrators about Classroom Accommodations
Fortunately, there are a number of accommodations that can be made in the classroom to help students with ADHD learn effectively. Many schools have set policies that determine how they help students with learning differences like ADHD.
If your child is in a public school, accommodations are legally mandated under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). In order to arrange for accommodations for your child, it will be necessary to obtain a diagnosis of ADHD from a medical professional or, alternatively, document that ADHD symptoms have been present over a sustained period. When you have documentation of your child’s ADHD, you can contact your school’s special needs teacher and set up an ARD meeting, wherein you will meet with your child’s teacher, a special education teacher, the school administrator, and a representative from the school district. Together, you will agree on an individualized education plan (IEP) for your child. The IEP will be renewed each year through similar ARD meetings. If your child attends an HISD school, you can learn more about the district’s policies and procedures for ADHD accommodations here.
Many local private schools have similar procedures in place for offering accommodations. However, private schools are exempt from the legal requirements for special education that apply to public schools, and as a result, some schools choose not to offer accommodations, or choose to offer very limited accommodations. In many cases, this is because the school is so small that a full special education program would not be feasible or practical. Schools which do not offer accommodations for students with special needs will generally make that clear during the application process, but if your child was diagnosed after being admitted, you should check with school officials to see what might be available. If your child’s school offers limited or no accommodations, and if your child’s symptoms are severe enough that accommodations are needed, it may be necessary to change schools.
In both public and private schools, you will want to prepare in advance for an ARD/IEP meeting. This compilation of resources from chadd.org is very useful for that purpose.
The most common institutional accommodations for ADHD include audio recorders for taking notes, extended time on tests (and potentially also some assignments), and isolated locations for test-taking, as well as (in some cases) modifications of homework assignments. In public schools and in private schools that offer accommodations, these are what will commonly be made available. Individual teachers may be willing to work with additional behavioral interventions for your child, but this varies considerably on a case-by-case basis.
If you feel that the accommodations available at your child’s school are insufficient, you might consider enrolling your child in a school with specially designed programs for learning differences. Briarwood School is a special needs school with specialized programming for learning differences as well as developmental disorders, and Crossroads School caters primarily to students with learning differences.
Resources for Further Reading
ADHD In-Depth Report – New York Times
ADD/ADHD in Children – helpguide.org
Parenting a Child with AD/HD (WWK2) – help4adhd.org
What You Need to Know about ADHD – healthychildren.org
The AD/HD Parenting Handbook – print resource
The ADHD Workbook for Kids – print resource
hat clear during the application process, but if your child was diagnosed after admission, you should check with school officials to see what might be available. If