Fidgeting, inability to focus, impulsiveness, restlessness, disorganization - I think we all have been there at times. But...
Fidgeting, inability to focus, impulsiveness, restlessness, disorganization - I think we all have been there at times. But for children or adults with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), these symptoms present a consistent pattern throughout all areas of their lives, including school, home and relationships.
Is it ADHD?
It can be challenging to determine if a child is truly struggling with ADHD. "Difficulties with paying attention or extremely active behavior often tell us that there is a problem, but it's not necessarily ADHD," said Kathryn H. Leugers, Psy.D., M.B.A., a counselor with Meers, Inc. Consulting Psychologists in Columbus. "These difficulties can also be due to other issues such as lack of sleep, stress, medical illness, or psychological conditions such as anxiety or depression."
Professionals utilize behavioral scales to determine if a child has ADHD. "Teachers and parents are asked to fill out questionnaires," said Shivani Gopal Edwards, director of clinical development at Buckeye Ranch in Columbus. "We are looking for patterns of behavior such as inability to sit still, running around all the time, touching other kids or getting in people's faces."
Four main characteristics
Earl Oremus, headmaster at Marburn Academy in Columbus, explained that ADHD is actually a "syndrome" with a number of identified characteristics, but that a diagnosed individual may not exhibit them all. They include:
Inattentiveness Impulsiveness Disorganization Hyperactivity
Oremus said that an ADHD student is often unable to control the temptation of distractions such as paying attention to another student instead of to what a teacher is saying. "Another type of distracted student may 'tune out' the teacher and begin focusing on their own internal thoughts and feelings," he said.
Oremus said it is a misconception that those with inattentive ADHD can't focus at all. "The problem occurs when the focused attention is required for activities the child views as boring or not fun, which, sad to say, is how ADHD students often perceive many of their classroom activities."
Impulsive ADHD students often blurt out their responses without waiting for the teacher to call on them. "This behavior often results in the impulsive child being punished as if they had done it on purpose as an act of defiance," Oremus said. "One study showed that impulsive ADHD school children receive correction, admonitions, criticism and punishments 17 times more each day than non-impulsive children. Such repeated negative feedback often has devastating effects on children's self-images and motivation."
Help for ADHD
June Richdale-Robb is the volunteer coordinator of the Columbus Satellite of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Her son Brian was diagnosed with ADHD when he was in the third grade. "After Brian was diagnosed, we were able to look back and recognize some earlier behaviors that were probably linked to ADHD," Richdale-Robb said. "He had done well in school until third grade when the teacher had a more structured setting. Brian couldn't sit still and he became a behavior problem. We sought counseling to address these issues."
Richdale-Robb said that medication, along with counseling and switching to a different education environment, helped Brian. "We ended up putting him in a Montessori school for his fourth and fifth grade years where he flourished," she said. "When he hit the puberty years, his medications had to be adjusted to help with the additional chemical imbalance. It's important for parents to realize that the child's treatment may change as they grow. Parents often want to find the perfect thing to take care of the issue, but we have to be flexible."
Richdale-Robb said that kids like her son need a routine. "With Brian, I learned to become more organized. It's important as a parent of a child with ADHD to be specific and to be reasonable. The child needs to feel they can accomplish something well," she said. "Make simple requests and give them constant praise. This is important for these kids because they don't always feel equal to their peers."
Richdale-Robb established a routine for Brian that involved a balanced diet, medication and rest. "He would take his medication in the morning, at noon and again in the afternoon when he got home from school," she said. "He would usually need a bit of down time when he got home before he started on his homework. That was a good time for his snack. He wasn't a big breakfast or lunch eater, so it was important to offer him high-quality snacks like peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread, cheese and crackers, or yogurt."
"As a parent of a child with ADHD, there is a point when you hit rock bottom and need help," Richdale-Robb said. "A child who has severe ADHD really stresses the family, the marital relationship of parents, and the relationships with siblings," Oremus said. "It is very important for both parents to become well educated on the issues and the interventions proven to be successful."
Experts recommend parents seek counseling and a support group such as CHADD. "We also recommend parents receive school advocacy for their ADHD child," Edwards said. "Not all these kids need special education. They may just need flexibility in how they receive their education and help with organizational skills. Medication is not always necessary, nor is it our primary focus. But it is often utilized as part of the treatment program."
Leugers agreed. "There are several treatments for ADHD, including medication, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy or behavioral therapy for individuals and their families, and cognitive training (using computer training to build attention and decrease impulsivity). I believe that these adaptive cognitive and emotional skills, which help the child focus in a classroom and with other social situations, will help children and teens with ADHD have the most likelihood of a healthy development in childhood and in transitioning to adulthood."
"We are living proof that as parents we did survive having a child with ADHD," Richdale-Robb said. "Brian is doing well and is now a sophomore at Case Western University."
Jan Myers is a freelance journalist from Coshocton. She has a degree in psychology and natural health. She and her husband Alan have a son, Maxx, 16, and a daughter, Maggie, 11. Myers enjoys writing about parenting, travel and natural health. Visit her website at www.mylifetransformations.com.