It’s normal for children to occasionally forget their homework, daydream during class, act without thinking, or get fidgety at the dinner table.
But inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity are also signs of attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD) ADHD is the abbreviation for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
ADHD is one of the most common childhood behavior disorders. Of all children referred to mental health professionals about 35% are referred for ADHD, more than for any other condition.
When Hal Meyer learned that his son, 5, had ADHD, he couldn’t believe it. When his child was at school, “He was rambunctious, he couldn’t stay in his seat, he was going around, helping everybody,” Meyer recalls.
But to him and his wife, these were signs of brightness and curiosity, not symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. But experts told them, “You don’t understand. These are not typical of a 5-year-old.”
After they explained the disorder, the couple took a long time to accept the news. “We went through a year or two of denial,” Meyer says. That was 20 years ago. Since then, Meyer has learned a lot about raising a child with ADHD.
He shares those lessons with other parents who are dealing with the power struggles, tantrums, low self-esteem, and school problems that often come with the disorder. Shortly after his son’s diagnosis, Meyer co-founded the New York City chapter of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), a nonprofit education and advocacy group.
He also founded the ADD Resource Center in New York City, which provides parenting classes and support groups, among other services. In New Jersey, Eva O’Malley also knows the challenges first-hand. She has ADHD and so do her daughter, 22, and son, 17. O’Malley founded the Monmouth County CHADD chapter.
When O’Malley’s son was diagnosed at age 12, her husband worried about his son being “labeled.” Would people see the ADHD and not the boy? The children have grappled with school problems, forgetfulness and disorganization, O’Malley says. Sometimes, ADHD makes both offspring live only in the moment.
“You don’t learn from your past, and you don’t have a vision to the future,” O’Malley says. But there have been bright spots, too, including her son’s improved grades.
WebMD asked these parents, as well as a developmental pediatrician, to share insights on raising a child with ADHD.
1. Be honest with your child about ADHD.
Meyer never thought about keeping the news from his son. “I told him exactly what was going on,” he says. In contrast, some parents hide the disorder by telling their child, for example, that their ADHD drug is a “magic vitamin,” he says.
But Meyer has done ADHD coaching with kids who have confided that they aren’t fooled: they know that it’s medication. ADHD isn’t a child’s fault. It’s a brain disorder that causes youngsters to have trouble with concentration, ability to complete tasks, or plan for the future.
By being open, Meyer lessened the stigma for his son.
Once, he took his son, who was 7 or 8 at the time, to a restaurant where they spotted a youngster in perpetual motion — so much, in fact, that one parent had to hold him down. “My mouth must have dropped,” Meyer says. “And my son said to me, ‘Don’t look at him as hyperactive. Look at him as being in a hurry to see the world.”
2. Don’t turn ADHD-related problems into a character issue.
Children with ADHD may not perform as consistently as peers who have no problems with focus and concentration. “I don’t expect consistency from a child with ADD,” Meyer says. “One day, a child may come in with a 90 on a test.
The next day, it may be 60. The next day, 70. The next day, it might be 95.” When grades bounce around, “It’s typical for any [parent] to say, ‘Well, you did so well yesterday. Why aren’t you doing it today?’” he says. “Often, kids with ADHD are very bright,” Quinn says.
“They know what to do, but they simply don’t know how to get started, they don’t stick with it, and people may misinterpret that.”
3. Don’t let ADHD become a convenient excuse
Yes, ADHD makes many tasks harder, but children should learn to take responsibility, Meyer says. “Don’t let them make ADHD an excuse for something.,” Meyer says.
“For example, many young children quickly learn to say things, such as, “I don’t need to do my homework because I have an attention deficit disorder,” Meyer says. “That’s not going to cut it.” The reality? “It may be harder for me to do my homework because I have an attention deficit disorder.”
4. Enforce rules and consequences calmly.
For a child with ADHD, it helps to have verbal and written expectations. For example, parents could post a chart that lists the child’s responsibilities and the house rules. Rewards are fine, Meyer says, but make them immediate, such as TV time or gold stars that can be redeemed for prizes.
Since children with ADHD have trouble with planning for the future, it may not work to offer a new bike for a year’s worth of good grades. Parents must be clear about consequences and enforce them right away, calmly and clearly. While parents may often feel frustrated, avoid punishing in the heat of disappointment or anger, Meyer says.
That can be hard when a parent has ADHD, too, Quinn says. The disorder can run in families. Parents with ADHD might yell because they have trouble with impulsivity, according to Quinn.
“We really do try to help the parent remain in control in these situations,” she says. “Often, I say that the child doesn’t need a time out — sometimes the parent needs a time-out before they discuss the situation.”
Parents need to get their own ADHD under control so that they can model appropriate behavior, Quinn says.
5. Help your child discover his strengths.
Children with ADHD are often compared unfavorably to others. Hence, some develop low self-esteem and depression, Meyer says. Problems with self-esteem occur as early as age 8, says Quinn.
Many teens with ADHD, especially if undiagnosed, develop a learned helplessness. “They say, ‘Nothing ever goes right for me. Why should I even bother to try?’ There’s a lot of demoralization and depression that goes along with it,” Quinn says. Meyer wanted his son to discover his own best abilities — “islands of competency,” he says. “I would say to him, ‘Look, you have weak spots and you have strong spots.”
When his son found subjects dull, “He couldn’t care about it, period,” Meyer says. “But when he was interested in something, he would master things five years above his age [level],” he says. For example, his son knew how to wire electrical outlets and replace computer parts well ahead of peers. “That stuff stuck with him and he knew that was one of his islands of competency.
So he had things to look at other than negative things.” Meyer would offer a favorable comparison: he told his son that few people his age could master such tasks. “High expectations in the proper areas, I think, is very important,” he says.
6. Don’t overprotect your child.
As children with ADHD grow, they’ll need to learn independence. “We tend to try to solve everything for kids with issues,” Meyer says. “I’m adamantly against that. I want them to learn how to be on their own, to be successful.
I don’t want them to feel, ‘I have a disability and Mommy and Daddy are going to be there to solve all my problems, to make everything good.’”
6. Don’t overprotect your child. continued… With his son, that involved “not telling him what to do, but having him telling me what he should do,” Meyer says. “He had to learn to be able to do it by himself, which is very hard for kids with ADHD.”
For parents, that might mean allowing children to deal with their own traffic fines instead of paying on their behalf. Or letting them solve their own roommate problems when they leave home. O’Malley, the mother of a college student with ADHD, learned that lesson in hindsight.
When her daughter had dorm-mate troubles, O’Malley and her husband asked the president of the college to intervene. The couple “went to bat for her,” O’Malley says.
After they gave her some solutions, the young woman ultimately rejected the ideas. Don’t rush in and present solutions for a child with ADHD to select, O’Malley says.
Those with ADHD often have problems in most areas of their life, including home, school, work, and in relationships and neurological disorder that impacts individuals in four main categories:
Attention– causing people to have problems paying attention, focusing on a task, or finishing tasks, especially if they are not very interesting tasks.
Impulsivity – causing a lack of self-control. Impulsive behaviors, or choices, can cause havoc in relationships, work, school, or life.
- Hyperactivity – Many (though not all) with ADHD are “bouncy” and hyperactive, always “on the go” and restless.
- Easily Bored – Unless the task is very stimulating, like a video game or TV program or outside playing, those with attention disorders are often easily bored by a task – especially bored by homework, math tests, balancing checkbooks, or doing taxes, and many of these tasks just never get done.
Did you know that one of the most famous people with ADD was Albert Einstein? It wasn’t called Attention Deficit Disorder back then.
But the thought of him having it makes many wonder what our lives would be like today if Einstein, one of the greatest minds of the last century, had been prescribed Ritalin.
Would he have been creative enough to come up with the theory of relativity or discover the law of the photoelectric effect? Maybe so, but who knows?
So the next time you think of ADHD as a curse, a disease or the worst thing that could have ever happened to you or your child, think again! You’re in good company with a lot of famous people.
|Myths about Attention Deficit Disorder|
|All kids with ADD/ADHD are hyperactive.||Some children with ADD/ADHD are hyperactive, but many others with attention problems are not. Children with ADD/ADHD who are inattentive, but not overly active, may appear to be spacey and unmotivated.|
|Kids with ADD/ADHD can never pay attention.||Children with ADD/ADHD are often able to concentrate on activities they enjoy. But no matter how hard they try, they have trouble maintaining focus when the task at hand is boring or repetitive.|
|Kids with ADD/ADHD choose to be difficult and could behave better if they wanted to.||Children with ADD/ADHD may do their best to be good, but still be unable to sit still, stay quiet, or pay attention. They may appear disobedient, but that doesn’t mean they’re acting out on purpose.|
|Kids will eventually grow out of ADD/ADHD.||ADD/ADHD often continues into adulthood, so don’t wait for your child to outgrow the problem. Treatment can help your child learn to manage and minimize the symptoms.|
|Medication is the best treatment option for ADD/ADHD.||Medication is often prescribed for attention deficit disorder, but it might not be the best option for your child. Effective treatment for ADD/ADHD also includes education, behavior therapy, support at home and school, exercise, and proper nutrition.|
To be diagnosed with ADHD, a child must have displayed symptoms for at least six months and those symptoms must have started prior to age five. “If a child had ADHD at age five, he also had it at age four, and anyone who has ADHD at four had it age three, though it may not have been manifested,” says Karniski.
Often the first suspicions of ADHD arise when children begin preschool and have to be in a structured environment for the first time, he says. As they progresses through school, other signs of the disorder may become evident. The diagnosis also requires that the symptoms be present in several settings.
There is no “cure” for ADHD, however, many treatment approaches may alleviate or significantly decrease ADHD symptoms.
As a result, improvements are evident in school/work performance, relationships with others improve, and self esteem increases Stimulant medications have been found to be effective in alleviating ADHD symptoms.
Common stimulants include Ritalin, Dexedrine, Concerta, Metadate, and Adderall.
Getting the Most out of Ritalin
Ritalin is a pretty good medication. We have seen hundreds of kids benefit greatly from Ritalin. But doctors and parents must be observant and conservative. We have also seen some horror stories with Ritalin. It must be used carefully, and started slowly and cautiously. It is not a toy. Ritalin can cause serious side-effects.
We have found that the short-acting pill is better than the timed-release pill. Patients report that the timed-release pill seems to “release” whenever it feels like it, rather then when the patient expects it. So using the short-acting pill gives most patients greater control with the Ritalin. We have found that the brand name “Ritalin” is much superior to the generic “Methylphenidate.”
Generic pills can vary is dosage as much as 20% either way, stronger or weaker. For example, what is a 10 mg Ritalin pill in the generic form may be effectively as little as 8 mg or as much as 12 mg, a 50% potential variation.
Always begin your “trial” of medication with the real Ritalin. If that works, then feel free to see if the generic will work as well as the “real stuff.” Ritalin begins to work in about 15 or 20 minutes. It peaks in effectiveness at 1.5 to 2.5 hours, and lasts for about 3.5 to 4.0 hours.
Some kids have “withdrawals” or a “trough period” from coming off of the dose at about the 4 hour mark. They may “crash” and become irritable, tearful, emotional, or bratty.
This lasts for 15 to 30 minutes, and tends to be worse with doses of 15 mg. or more. The best remedy for this that we’ve found is a 12 oz. Mountain Dew at about the 3.0 hour mark. The caffeine “deflects” or “flattens out” the angle of withdrawal. This trick works well.
The following steps are ways to help prevent ADD and ADHD and to reverse the factors that cause them:
1) Change the child’s diet to all natural whole foods. This means fruit, grains and vegetables full of natural vitamins, minerals and enzymes.
2) Eliminate dairy products and other animal products because these contain hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and the diseases of the animal itself.
3) Eliminate caffeine, sugar and other sweets, processed food, MSG, aspartame (Nutrasweet) and other sugar substitutes and any foods that contain preservatives, food dyes or other chemicals.
4) Eliminate eating at fast food restaurants as most of these apparently use MSG and preservatives, plus the food in many restaurants often contains less nutrition, but many harmful chemicals.
5) Encourage the child to eat a lot of raw fruit and vegetables because they are full of health-producing enzymes, vitamins and minerals.
6. Drink water, and fresh home-made vegetable and home-made fruit juice. Eliminate soda pop, caffeinated beverages or milk from cows or any other animal. Rice Dream (rice milk) from your health food store is a reasonable substitute.
7. No white bread. Only whole grain bread, either home baked or from a health food store.
8. No white rice. Only whole grain brown rice and other whole grains.
9. No peanut butter: It contains aflatoxin, a fungus that causes cancer. Instead use Almond butter (It spreads like peanut butter and tastes just as good) from your health food store or other store. Also you can make home-made cashew nut butter.
10. Get proper rest. Children need a lot of rest and should go to bed early.
11. Get proper exercise daily, outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine. 12. Eliminate TV watching. It is reported that children watch an average of 43 hours of TV per week, that’s longer than the average adult work week.
While watching, they rapidly become almost hypnotized. It has been shown scientifically that within minutes of beginning to watch TV, the brain changes from the alert brain waves (beta waves) to the hypnotic waves (alpha waves) where the judgment center of the brain is bypassed.
So the violence and decadence that the child sees, bypasses the judgment center in the brain and is implanted in the child’s brain without any ability on the child’s part to decide whether what they are seeing is right or wrong.
The violence and decadence are accepted by the brain without any moral judgment being applied to it. It then becomes part of the child’s permanent subconscious.
School can create multiple challenges for a child with ADHD. Luckily, teachers who understand and are knowledgeable about ADHD can make a big difference.
Back-to-school means a new year, new teachers, new situations…and for your child, a new school. In the excitement, hopefulness and anxiety of a new year, sometimes parents may neglect to openly communicate with the teacher about their child’s ADHD.
As this new school year begins (or even before it does), talk with your child’s teacher about the ADHD. Share about the strategies that worked in his previous school – as well as those strategies that did not.
If your son had a 504 plan or IEP in place at his previous school, make sure the new teacher has all of this information, too. Start the year out on the right foot. Don’t withhold information in hopes this year will be a better one.
Be proactive. Establish a trusting and open relationship early on. This partnership with the teacher – now and throughout the school year – is an important part of any educational treatment plan.
Brigham Young researchers found that when a group of kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), ages 7 to 17, listened to three 40-minute recordings of classical music a week, their brain waves moved to higher levels that allowed them to focus more on tasks while they listened.
And 70 percent of the kids continued to show improvement from regular music sessions six months later.
Rhythmic music, such as Mozart or Haydn, can help kids without ADHD settle down, too. Play a few pieces periodically throughout the day or whenever your child is restless, suggests Pratt, such as after school and before dinner. Some kids work well with music playing during homework, others don’t.
For kids who have trouble following directions, try turning directions into rhythmic, sing-songy tunes, such as Now-it’s-time-to-put-on-our-shoes, suggests Don Campbell, author of The Mozart Effect, a book about the benefits of music. Rhythm is perceived differently by the brain, he says, so kids are more attentive when you say things musically.
What is the best iPhone apps for ADHD?
For the child who hates chore lists but loves video games, EpicWin from Supermono Limited encourages kids to complete their chores by turning the list into a game.
Your child gets to pick his own avatar and, once chores are “destroyed” (completed), EpicWin rewards your child with points that can be used to improve his or her character’s stats or obtain riches before moving on to the next level.
Evernote – Making lists is a good way to make sure you complete all the tasks you need to finish, but jotting down notes or typing the information can be oh-so tedious. Evernote is an award-winning app that allows you to make notes and to-do lists by taking photos or using a voice recorder.
This is an excellent app for making lists of activities you want to complete (which can be categorized into daily, weekly, monthly, or seasonal schedules) with reminders to make sure things get done.
Wunderbear’s HomeRoutines can be edited online and synced between devices, making it a great tool for parents of kids with ADHD — you create a list and send it to your child’s linked device. He or she gets the reminders, and you can log in to see what tasks have been completed.
Ambient sounds help a lot of ADHDers relax and fall asleep by blocking out the noisy distractions around them—and in their brains.
White Noise lets you select from more than 40 ambient sounds that signal your brain to produce calming alpha waves. The options include the old standbys (Ocean, Streams, and Rain Storms) and some unusual sounds, like Tibetan Singing Bowl and Cat Purring.
Google Voice gives you a number that can be forwarded to any phone you use. It will ask the caller to state his name, and you decide whether you want to take the call or send it to voicemail.
Google Voice also allows you to receive e-mail or text transcriptions of voicemail messages. The transcripts aren’t perfect — what is, really? — but being able to read a transcript of a voicemail message is easier for us ADHDers.
I Am Going On A Journey ( by Sally Meyer)
I am going on a journey, Won’t you come along?
I need someone to help me. A person big and strong.
I’m walking on my journey But my feet are very small.
Can you stand beside me, And catch me if I fall?
At times when I can’t keep up With life and all its fears,
Can you put me on your shoulders And wipe away the tears?
When the steps I take are not big enough And it’s hard for me to grow I know I can depend on you To let me take it slow
. I’m going on a journey, Please, won’t you walk with me?
I need someone who understands The place where I should be.
I promise when the road is tough And you want to turn back home.
I will hold your hand real tight, So you won’t feel so alone.
I’m going on a journey I don’t know where it ends, But if we walk together, We can always be best friends.
And when the journey’s over And we find where we should be.
I know that you will be so glad, You took this path with me.
I’m going on a journey, Please, won’t you come along?
I need someone to guide me A parent—big & strong.
ADHD relationships can suck the joy out of life. You realize that you haven’t laughed in a month. You forgot how to smile, and you can’t remember the last time you had fun. Make time for yourself. Do something that makes you happy. Have fun again, and do it often.
Let this little story inspire you:
After she received an ADHD diagnosis for her 7-year old son, a woman went to to the psychiatrist. Frustrated and distraught that she couldn’t handle her own child, she cried, “What more can I do? I’m doing everything I can. I don’t know how to handle my own child.” He looked at her and quietly answered, “Love him more.”
That wasn’t the answer she had hoped for. Through her tears, she pleaded for answers, “Love him more? I’m giving this child everything I can. I’m empty inside. I’ve got nothing left. How can I love him more?” “Try harder. Dig deeper. You can do it,” he answered.
When you love someone who has ADHD, they are a part of you. They live in your head and in your heart. You were chosen for this task. Love them more.
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