Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a complex neurological disease listed by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5) as a Neuro-developmental Disorder. It affects adults, teenagers, and children, and is defined as “a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development, has symptoms presenting in two or more settings (i.e., at home, school, or work; with friends or relatives; in other activities), and negatively impacts directly on social, academic, or occupational functioning.” Several ADHD symptoms must have been present before age 12 years.
ADHD symptoms in kids are well defined and are usually noticeable before the age of six. They are generally categorized into two types of behavioral problems: inattentiveness, and hyperactivity and impulsiveness. While many children with ADHD will have problems in these categories, this is not always the case.
Those who suffer only from inattentive-type ADHD (often referred to as ADD – attention deficit disorder) can fly under the radar as the symptoms are more difficult to detect. The term ADD is now outdated and is instead considered a type of ADHD even if hyperactivity is not present. ADHD is diagnosed as either ADHD, inattentive type; ADHD, hyperactive/impulsive type; or ADHD, combined type.
The signs of inattentiveness include having a short attention span and being easily distracted; making careless mistakes (often in schoolwork); losing things and appearing forgetful; constantly switching tasks or activities without the ability to complete ones that may be tedious or time-consuming; difficulty in organizing tasks and a seeming inability to listen to instructions and carry them out.
The term ADHD often elicits images of kids who are troublesome, difficult, or hyperactive. However, kids with inattentive ADHD may be daydreamers. They are often lost in their own world and don’t seem to hear you when you issue instructions. They are easily distracted and forgetful. They may be asked to retrieve something from their room and not return only to be found playing with something entirely unrelated to what was originally requested.
Often, it is only when one of the more tangible symptoms has a real impact – for example, a teacher who comments on a child’s inability to complete some work in the allocated time – that a clearer picture of ADHD may be seen.
Hyperactive and impulsive ADHD symptoms in kids are easier to detect; and parents will easily notice their child’s excessive physical movement, inability to sit still, and constant fidgeting (all linked to hyperactivity), along with reckless behavior, limitless conversation and interrupting, emotional outbursts, and temper tantrums (related to low impulse control) which do not appear “normal” compared to peers their age.
While children are generally active and full of energy, by the age of five or so, most have learned how to sit still and pay attention when asked to. No matter how hard they try, children with ADHD cannot do this, and can, unfortunately, be labeled as rebellious if the disorder has not been effectively diagnosed.
ADHD: The good and the bad
It’s important to remember that ADHD has nothing to do with a child’s intellect or innate talents. ADHD symptoms in kids can spur them on to greater creativity, with the child who daydreams or who experiences multiple thoughts in one moment becoming an inventor, artist, or master problem solver. They are extremely observant and may notice things that others don’t.
They can also demonstrate a higher degree of flexibility, given that they consider various options at one time, rather than becoming fixed on one idea or plan. Their energy and drive can give them great motivation to succeed. When they become focused on a particular activity it can be difficult to distract them away from it, especially if it fully grasps their imagination and attention.
Lastly, life with a child with ADHD can never be classified as dull! With their lively personalities and varied interests, being a parent to someone with so much enthusiasm and spontaneity is a good thing, once you’ve moved past feeling exasperated and exhausted!
Unfortunately, untreated ADHD can cause many problems. Children who can’t focus and control themselves end up struggling in school and find it difficult to build friendships. These frustrations spill over into family life and lead to stress and tension.
Many kids with ADHD struggle in the classroom and are misunderstood due to a lack of focus, behavioral issues, disorganization, and inattentiveness. A diagnosis of ADHD does not mean a child is not as smart, gifted, or able to succeed. In fact, it’s the opposite in some cases.
But because their behavior is often disruptive and challenging for the teacher and other students, a child’s abilities may be overlooked, and their educational needs may not be met. Kids with ADHD are often stigmatized and labeled which can have a detrimental effect on their mental and emotional development.
Over a prolonged period, ADHD symptoms in kids that are not addressed will affect self-esteem and overall character development. The good news is that the right treatment can make a significant difference and get a child on track for a successful life path. If you feel like your child may be displaying some of the above symptoms, it’s important to intervene as soon as possible to ensure your child receives the necessary support to navigate life with ADHD.
A mental health professional will do tests to eliminate other potential causes; for example, learning disabilities, psychological disorders, medical conditions, behavioral disorders, or any major life events or traumas (death, divorce, a recent move, bullying, etc.). Once ADHD is diagnosed, your child’s doctor, therapist, and school will likely work together to put together a personalized treatment plan as every case needs to be considered according to individual needs.
The plan will most likely include a combination of behavioral therapy, parent education and training, social support, and school assistance. Medication may play a part but should in no way be seen as the only solution to ADHD. Whether or not a child has been officially diagnosed with ADHD there are ways to decrease ADHD symptoms and provide support which will lead to improved functioning.
Ways to Help Your Child with ADHD Succeed
Focus on consistency and structure in the home
Routines are crucial to ensuring your child feels a sense of control and calm in their otherwise chaotic world. Aim to create a solid routine for meals, bathing, chores, homework, extracurricular activities, bedtime, and so forth, so that your child’s home life is as predictable as possible.
Most often, children with ADHD want to do the right thing, and a stable framework enables them to do this. Implementing a healthy diet and regular exercise (if they are not already in place) is also something that will help.
Visual reminders are also an excellent way to help your child be organized and informed of what is expected. They can help make transitions smoother as kids with ADHD often break down when they are not informed of transitions or changes in schedules and routines. Illustrated routine cards depicting tasks for the day can offer guidance and a sense of control for your child.
Teaching and implementing the zones of regulation is also beneficial when helping your child with ADHD identify and verbalize how they are feeling. Articulating heightened emotions is often difficult for kids with ADHD and can lead to meltdowns that are preventable with guidance and education about how to verbalize feelings.
Keep rules clear and within the child’s reach
Some children can listen to a lengthy list of instructions and carry them out, but kids with ADHD need house rules and expectations to be explicit and understandable, and well within their grasp. Do not set them up for failure with unrealistic demands (for example sitting through a long concert).
As with all children, failure to stay within the limits needs to result in a proper consequence. Praise and encouragement when rules are kept also go a long way towards building a healthy parent-child relationship.
A joint parenting front
Parents of a child with ADHD need to be united in their approach, and this can take tremendous effort to ensure that both are well-informed and on the same page. Use the many resources available to educate yourself on the disorder and be sure to explain to grandparents and other caregivers what the disorder is, how it presents and how it needs to be managed.
Single parents need to ensure they are surrounded by a network of support and provided with respite and time away to rest as raising a child with ADHD is often demanding and exhausting.
How We Can Help You and Your Child
For Christians who are dealing with a child with ADHD, a Christian counselor can offer invaluable support, not only by supplying a comprehensive treatment plan as mentioned above but also by giving spiritual guidance and support.
Prayers for ADHD symptoms in kids should be at the heart of therapy, as it is God who is the Great Physician, and who made our children for a purpose. Not only can He heal them, if He so desires, and bring about the improvement needed for them to function at school, home, and in their future, but He can also work in the hearts of parents and caregivers, to grow in patience, understanding, and love while surrendering to the plan He has for our families.
The wonderful news is that God is in control, and He works all things together for the good of those who love Him, even in our difficult circumstances.
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