What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?
ADHD is a behavioural disorder that affects up to one in twenty children. It is much more common in boys than girls.
ADHD was once called hyperactivity and more recently Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Now it is recognised that the two major problems faced by children with ADHD are:
- • Not paying attention – inattentive
- • Doing things without thinking – impulsive
Children with ADHD act without thinking, can be hyperactive, and have trouble focusing. They may understand what’s expected of them but have trouble following through because they can’t sit still, pay attention, or attend to details.
Of course, all children act this way at times, particularly when they’re anxious or excited. But the difference with ADHD is that symptoms are present over a longer period of time and occur in different settings. They impair a child’s ability to function socially, academically, and at home.
The good news is that with proper help, children with ADHD can learn to successfully live with and manage their symptoms.
Understanding the child with ADHD
Your child with ADHD needs to work much harder than other children at paying attention, being organised, thinking slowly and sitting still. It does not mean that your child has an illness or is not intelligent. It often means that these children feel frustrated and worried about their abilities and what other children will think of them. Many children with ADHD say they do not understand why they behave in this way and sometimes feel out of control or very lonely. The condition is not your child’s fault. The exact cause is still unknown.
Children with ADHD have three main issues. They are:
- • Inability to pay attention to details or a tendency to make careless errors in schoolwork or other activities.
- • Apparent listening problems.
- • Difficulty following instructions.
- • Problems with organisation.
- • Avoidance or dislike of tasks that require mental effort.
- • Tendency to lose things like toys, notebooks, or homework.
- • Distractibility.
- • Forgetfulness in daily activities.
- • Excessive talking.
- • Can have a short fuse.
- • Difficulty waiting for a turn or in line.
- • Problems with interrupting or intruding.
- • Fidgeting or squirming.
- • Difficulty remaining seated.
- • Excessive running or climbing.
- • Difficulty playing quietly.
- • Always seeming to be “on the go”.
However, it is important to remember that not all children with ADHD are overactive.
These behaviours are usually much more obvious in children with ADHD than in other children their age. They may occur with a range of other difficulties such as being clumsy and having difficulty in mixing with other children. As a result of these behaviours, children with ADHD usually have difficulty in learning and may not do well at school.
The care of children with ADHD
Because there’s no test that can determine the presence of ADHD, a diagnosis depends on a complete evaluation. The symptoms must be obvious in most areas of your child’s life. General practitioners, paediatricians, child psychologists or child psychiatrists can make this assessment or arrange a referral. There are also various teaching techniques to help your child develop concentration and social skills that can be designed by teachers, psychologists and school counsellors.
Children with ADHD need to be supported at school with an educational programme designed for their specific needs. Parents may also seek counselling for the child or family to support them in their management at home. Medication is often used with children with ADHD and in most cases is highly successful. Extensive studies have shown these medications to be safe and effective. They are not a cure for ADHD but can help your child function better at school and at home. The medication can bring out your child’s natural abilities and help them make use of other learning strategies.
Common questions about ADHD
Will ADHD have long-term effects for my child?
Children do not outgrow ADHD, although many symptoms improve with maturity.
Do certain food types make a difference?
Very few children with ADHD benefit from special restriction diets low in colourings, preservatives and salicylates. It depends very much on the individual child.
How long should medication be continued?
For as long as it remains beneficial – could be a few months or several years.
What you can do at home to help
Children with ADHD can stretch the patience of all members of the family. Parents need to try a range of strategies while still being consistent and supporting each other as much as possible. Frequent breaks from the child are also valuable. Some strategies are:
- • Develop consistent routines at home and at school.
- • Keep rules clear and simple and give reminders calmly.
- • Remember your child does not intend to be difficult.
- • Make sure you have your child’s full attention when you talk.
- • Check that your child is making eye contact.
- • Give instructions one or two at a time.
- • Praise your child and look out for them doing something good.
- • Supervise closely as your child may put themselves in dangerous situations.
- • Try to ignore minor irritating behaviours.
- • Provide clear disciplinary consequences to major negative behaviours – for example time out (between the ages of 18 months – 6 years) or withdrawal of privileges (over six years).
Things to remember about ADHD
- • Not all children who are inattentive, impulsive and overactive have ADHD.
- • No single test can diagnose ADHD. Assessment by a doctor or psychologist involves putting together lots of pieces of information for diagnosis to be made.
- • Medication, positive parenting strategies, school support and counselling can greatly help most children with ADHD and their families.
- • Children with ADHD need support and understanding from family and teachers.