Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a developmental problem where children have trouble focusing, can’t sit still a lot of the time, and act before they think. About 3-5 of every 100 children in Australia have ADHD.
All young children will have a limited attention span, and sometimes do things without thinking, but only a few of these children will have ADHD.
Signs and symptoms of ADHD
Inattention - difficulty concentrating, forgetting instructions, moving from one task to another without completing anything
Impulsivity - talking over the top of others, losing control of emotions easily, being accident prone
Hyperactivity - constant fidgeting and restlessness
Symptoms must be obvious in most areas of a child's life. There is no single test for ADHD. A diagnosis of ADHD is made by a paediatrician or child psychiatrist after a range of information is collected, mostly from parents and teachers. If you are concerned about your child, see your GP who can arrange a referral. For an overview of ADHD read this factsheet from Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne.
Management of ADHD
ADHD can be managed with behaviour strategies and stimulant medication. These medications improve the way the parts of the brain ‘talk’ to each other and can help children with attention and self-regulation. Behaviour strategies try to find the balance between what you expect your child to do and what your child can actually do. These strategies are great for any child, not just those with ADHD.
Behaviour strategies for ADHD
Clear verbal instructions
Keep instructions short and easy-to-follow. Ask your child to repeat it back to you to make sure they understand or show them what you would like them to do.
All children find it easier to behave well if they’re not tired. You can help avoid overtiredness by encouraging healthy food options, a regular bedtime, minimise screen time (especially before bed), and having breaks during activities eg. a bit of physical activity in-between reading and homework.
Routines help children feel safe and secure, which can encourage good behaviour. Talk to your child about their daily schedule &/or try a timetable with pictures that your child can refer to. Let your child know about changes eg. ‘In five minutes, you’ll need to brush your teeth and get ready for bed’.
Children with ADHD might need a bit of extra help learning to get along with other children. You can help your child develop social skills by rewarding helpful behaviour, teaching strategies to use if there’s a problem with another child (eg. ‘Catch & trash’, walk away, talk to a teacher), and teaching your child to keep an eye on their own behaviour (eg. ‘Stop, think, do’).
Praise for positive behaviour
Praise and encouragement for positive behaviour will make it more likely to happen again. Make a big deal when your child does well. Set your child up for success by involving him in activities where he is likely to do well.
Try talking to you child’s teacher, principal or special needs co-ordinator about getting the support your child needs for any learning, language and physical problems at school. A behaviour toolkit for school age children can be found at raisingchildren.net.au
Look after yourself
By looking after yourself and managing your own stress, you are better equipped to help and support your child. Rope in family and friends to help, try a support group, and speak to your child’s health professional about any difficulties you’re having. Consider seeing your own doctor or counsellor if things are getting too much.
NOTE: Children with ADHD can live normal lives with the right treatment and support. ADHD can be associated with other developmental challenges and health issues. This might make a diagnosis even more difficult. Trust your instincts, find the right doctors and know that there are other parents experiencing similar journeys. 'The Day' is a candid post written by a parent who struggled to reach a diagnosis for her son.
All dogs have ADHD by Kathy Hoopmann
This picture book takes an inspiring and affectionate look at ADHD, using images and ideas from the canine world to explore a variety of traits that will be instantly recognizable to those who are familiar with ADHD.
Understanding ADHD by Dr Christopher Green & Dr Kit Chee
Understanding ADHD gives a clear overview of ADHD - the causes, the behaviours and the treatments. It is full of well-tried, practical and proven strategies to help with common ADHD problems such as inattention, impulsiveness and underachievement. Drawing on the latest research, the new edition includes how to identify ADHD in your child, ADHD in the under-fives, how to encourage better behaviours at school and home, medication and alternative therapies (the pros and cons), how to deal with the stress ADHD causes for parents and siblings, how to help with reading, writing and language, and advice for adults with ADHD.