AD/HD (attention deficit disorder) is one of the most common mental health disorders seen in childhood. Studies estimate that between 3-7% of all children have AD/HD: approximately 2 million children in the USA alone, or one child in every classroom.
The main symptoms seen in this condition are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, however, it's important to note that not all children with AD/HD have hyperactivity. Many have the inattentive sub-type; these are the children who are often over-looked because they rarely present with behavioral problems. Rather, they are the dreamers who find it difficult to pay attention and who may instead, seem withdrawn or even depressed. It is far more likely that the hyperactive, impulsive children are identified in school for their acting out behaviors. Often times, teachers will report to the families that an evaluation for AD/HD may be indicated.
What should you do if you think your child might have AD/HD?
? Have your pediatrician give your child a complete physical to rule out any possible medical condition that can mimic AD/HD symptoms. Some children with chronic allergies, for example, simply cannot focus.
? If your child is given a clean bill of health, discuss your concerns with your child's teacher. Find out how your child is behaving in school. Some questions to ask would be:
- Is he completing homework assignments?
- Is he paying attention in class
- Is she able to make friends easily?
- Does she have materials (books, paper, pencils) handy, or do they often get lost?
- Is he getting to class on time?
Keep in mind that many children with AD/HD can do well in school and often excel in structured environments. It often isn't until the later school years- often middle school- that these children "hit the wall" and can no longer keep up. It is imperative that interventions be carried out to avoid failures.
? Note your child's behaviors at home. Does he seem more immature than other children his age? Does he have a hard time following directions? Sitting at the dinner table?
If you feel that your child exhibits many of the traits of AD/HD, then it's time to get evaluated. Schools should have psychologists on staff who can offer testing. However, many parents prefer to go for an outside evaluation. Some pediatricians feel capable of evaluating AD/HD, but many child psychologists, psychiatrists and neurologists have special training to help decipher which behaviors could indeed be AD/HD and which might be something else, such as depression, anxiety or a learning disability.
My Child Has AD/HD: Now What?
If you find that your child does, indeed have AD/HD, it's important to educate yourself as much as possible. There are numerous books on the subject. Consulting with a mental health professional to help you with the many challenges AD/HD can present, is invaluable. Finding support by attending local groups such as CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder) also are immensely helpful in not only learning more about AD/HD, but also to connect with other families who are struggling.
Since the treatment of AD/HD often includes parenting strategies, it is imperative that you work with a professional to help you learn new techniques to not only help manage your child's behavior, but to also help him learn organizing strategies, homework management, social skills and more.
Treatment also often includes medication to help quiet the hyperactivity and impulsivity and/or improve attention. Many parents are reluctant to give their child medications, but stimulants (the most common and beneficial medication for AD/HD) are safe when given as directed. Still, all parents have concerns. Here are some questions to ask your doctor to help you in making the decision as to whether medication is right for your child:
? What are the risks vs benefits?
? What side effects might I observe?
? Which medications will work best for my child?
? What options do I have if I don't want to use medications for my child?
? How will I know if the medications are working?
Since AD/HD usually impedes a child's performance in school, it is essential to work closely with teachers and staff so that your child can perform her best. Many with AD/HD qualify for special help. If the AD/HD is getting in the way of academic or social success, you can request accommodations or even special education services. In order to receive such services, you will need to have a letter from the professional who diagnosed your child. If the school psychologist administered the evaluation and found your child eligible for special help, discuss your concerns with her to see what sort of support your child needs and is entitled to in school.
Some AD/HD accommodations often include:
? Having your child sit closer to the teacher
? Keeping your child away from distractions, such as the door leading to the hallway, windows, noisy classmates
? Having a note taker, especially if your child has poor handwriting skills
? Having assignments written on the blackboard
? Asking the teacher to check for homework when your child arrives at school to eliminate the possibility of his losing it
? Have teacher maintain frequent eye contact
? Break down assignments and instructions into smaller chunks
? Give your child extra time to take tests and complete assignments
? Allow for your child to work in a quieter area of the room, as needed
? Get help with organizing books, papers, backpack, desk, locker, etc
All in all, AD/HD is a highly treatable condition and with the right support, most children will thrive and enjoy success personally, socially and academically.
Terry Matlen, MSW, ACSW, is a psychotherapist and consultant in Birmingham, Michigan specializing in AD/HD in adults. She is the author of "Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD".
Terry is the director of http://www.addconsults.com, an online AD/HD eClinic and http://www.myADDstore.com. She serves on the board of directors of the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA),
A popular presenter at local and national conferences, Terry has a passion for raising awareness of the special challenges for women with AD/HD and the unique issues parents face when both they and their children have AD/HD.