Today, it is estimated that 4%–12% of school-age children are affected by ADHD—next to autism, it is the fastest growing disability of children. It can be hard for parents to discern if their child’s behavior is that of a typical child or if it results from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). By understanding ADHD’s characteristics and treatment options, parents can successfully support their child with ADHD.
Assess your child’s behavior. A child with ADHD is constantly moving—squirming, jumping out of seats, or tapping repeatedly. They don’t pay attention to assigned tasks and often don’t finish them. Children with ADHD may not take responsibility for actions or even recognize that their behavior is wrong. Other symptoms may include boredom, withdrawal, and staring out the window. In the absence of disruptive behavior, this child’s ADHD can go unnoticed.
Contact a pediatrician or child psychiatrist. If you think your child has ADHD, contact a medical professional such as a pediatrician, psychologist, or child psychiatrist to get a referral for someone who is knowledgeable about ADHD and can work with you to provide a diagnosis and treatment plan. Schools, as well as other parents, can also suggest qualified professionals.
Realize medication isn’t the only answer. It’s important to look at all options before making a decision. Many doctors who make a diagnosis of ADHD immediately write a prescription, and while medications often work, other alternatives are available.
Parents can advocate for a more natural approach such as a vitamin regimen, which may help your child relax, focus, and function better at home and school.
Individual and family counseling is another option, as is working one-on-one with your child on behavior management techniques. Activities at home such as making the bed or helping with dinner increase your child’s focus and relieve stressors.
Ensure your child’s needs are met at school. Your child’s school is a partner in the ADHD treatment plan. Build relationships with your child’s teachers and other school personnel to make informed decisions about your child’s education and what will work best for him or her. Modifying class schedules so your child doesn’t have a heavy morning workload or rigorous back-to-back classes is best. It’s also important to schedule physical education in the morning to allow a child to release excess energy early, which can improve focus in academic classes later in the day.
You can also open a dialogue with your child’s teachers about assigning classroom tasks and responsibilities such as erasing the blackboard, handing out papers, designing a bulletin board, or running errands to the school office to help your child learn to focus while emphasizing the importance of completing a task promptly.
Join or start a support group. Many community centers and religious organizations offer groups and activities for children with ADHD and their families to burn off energy after school and on weekends. Outreach sessions allow parents to learn what’s working for other families and share frustrations.
Your child’s school psychologist or social worker can help you find ADHD support groups in your area or start one of your own. The national nonprofit organization Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) is another valuable resource.
Be patient with your child. Realize that changing behavior can take months, and even medications need time to work. Remember, ADHD is not a disease but something that can be managed if children and parents start with a positive plan and work on it together.
Dr. Barry Birnbaum is the special education specialization coordinator for the Ph.D. in Education Program at Walden University’s Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership. He specializes in special education, child advocacy, and assistive and adaptive technology for people with special needs.
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