You've noticed your child struggling to focus with excessively restless behavior for a while now. After speaking with their pediatrician and being tested, a formal diagnosis has been given; Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Whether or not you and your family were expecting this ADHD diagnosis, knowing what to do next may seem confusing, challenging, and stressful.
First things first, take a deep breath and let out a sigh of relief. Second, know your child, and you aren't alone in this journey. According to the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, an estimated 6.1 million American children (2-17 years old) have received a diagnosis of ADHD, representing 9.4% of this entire age group nationwide.
We put together this guide to help you know what steps to take to set your child up for success and find the best treatment options available to meet their individual needs.
What is Childhood ADHD?
ADHD is one of the most common childhood neurodevelopmental disorders. While diagnosis usually happens in childhood, symptoms can continue into adulthood. Some people are also not diagnosed until they are adults.
Children with ADHD may experience trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (acting without thinking), or be overly active.
Symptoms of ADHD in children
Unable to pay attention to details/making careless mistakes in schoolwork or other activities.
Difficulty focusing on tasks or activities
Hard time listening when spoken to directly
Trouble with following directions leading to not completing schoolwork, chores, etc.
Trouble organizing tasks and activities
Avoids or is hesitant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period (such as schoolwork or homework).
Loses or misplaces things necessary for tasks and activities
Forgetful in daily activities
Hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms
Unable to sit still or stay seated in situations when remaining seated is expected
Runs or climbs in cases where it is not safe or appropriate
Inability to play or take part in activities quietly
Often "on the go" acting as if "driven by a motor"
Blurts out an answer before necessary
Trouble waiting their turn
Often interrupts or disturbs others
Based on the types of symptoms, three kinds or types of ADHD can occur in children:
Inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive (the most common form of ADHD).
Inattentive, but not hyperactive or impulsive.
Hyperactive and impulsive, but able to pay attention.
Symptoms can change/increase/decrease over time. Therefore, the type of ADHD may change as well.
Tips to help your child with their ADHD diagnosis
Acceptance and support
It can be hard to swallow that your child has ADHD. Yet acceptance is essential to moving forward and being there for your child. Accepting the diagnosis will set you on the path to finding the best ways to help manage symptoms of your child's ADHD and be their biggest advocate.
At the same time, you may want to talk with parents who also have a child or children with ADHD. Often, people with the same experiences can offer the best support. Ask your pediatrician about ADHD support groups in your area or online resources for ADHD.
Learn everything you can about ADHD
The more knowledge and understanding you have about your child's new diagnosis, the better equipped you will be to help them thrive.
A good start is to ask the doctor or clinician that made the ADHD diagnosis. Ask questions until you're comfortable understanding not just about ADHD but also how it affects your child. Some questions to ask are:
Which type of ADHD does my child have?
What symptoms do you see in my child?
Are there any long-term effects ADHD can have on my child?
What types of treatments are available?
What treatments do you think would benefit my child?
What other specialists should we see?
There are also endless options of resources online. Just be sure if you are using the internet to research ADHD, you are using credible sources. Some websites we recommend are:
Discuss the diagnosis with your child
Talk to your child about their ADHD diagnosis using words and terms they can understand. This discussion will help them know more about their medical condition and empower them to better manage their symptoms.
It may seem terrifying to start the conversation, but here are a few talking points and tips to assist you both in creating open communication about ADHD:
Talk about the human brain and the role it plays in learning. Dive into how everyone's brain functions a little differently, and while their brain moves fast, it's not a negative thing, just something that needs management from time to time.
Be honest about what the diagnosis means. You may want to explain that while symptoms may not go away, you and your child's healthcare team will work with them to create a plan to reduce symptoms that are causing them stress.
If your child is taking medications as part of their treatment, never speak about it as though medicine is negative. Talk about all the positives that can come with their prescription.
Know available treatment options for ADHD
Many ADHD treatments are available, but knowing which will work best for your child might take some trial and error at first. However, researching all the options will help you become familiar now and in the future.
Before trying medication, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends parent training behavior management treatment for ADHD in children under six. For children six and older, AAP suggestions include a combination of medication and behavior therapy.
Behavioral therapy is an effective treatment for children with ADHD. It can improve your child's behavior, self-control, and self-esteem by addressing common behavior issues.
Parents and children can learn how to better structure time at home, establish routines, and increase positive attention. ADHD behavioral therapy plans usually include:
Supporting good behavior with a reward system
Being consistent in approach
Discouraging negative behavior by ignoring it
Taking away a privilege if the negative behavior is too severe to ignore.
Identifying and removing triggers for bad behavior
Cognitive-behavior therapy focuses on changing the thoughts and emotions that negatively affect a child's behavior. A therapist works with your child to help them become aware of their thoughts and feelings, identify ones that might be distorted, and change emotional reactions and behaviors.
Stimulants are the most common medications prescribed to treat ADHD in children and adults. Studies show that about 90% of children with ADHD thrive with stimulants once the proper drug and dose are determined.
There are two forms of stimulants available:
Immediate-release (short-acting) medications, like Ritalin
Create a plan with your child's school
After your child is diagnosed with ADHD, they may be eligible for accommodations with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan. These accommodations include things like:
Extra time on assignments and tests
Instruction and lessons tailored to your child
Positive reinforcement and feedback
The use of technology to assist with tasks
Allowing breaks or time to move around
Changes to their learning environment to limit distractions
Assistance with staying organized.
The school will need to evaluate your child before implementing either plan.
Set up a meeting to talk about your child's diagnosis and the treatment options your child will be utilizing. Their teacher, principal, school counselor, and school nurse are all vital players in helping manage their ADHD and succeed in school.
Having your child diagnosed with ADHD may seem overwhelming initially, but with a supportive team and treatment plan in place and the necessary interventions at home and at school, kids with ADHD can flourish and succeed..
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