If your child has just been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may be feeling a mixture of emotions. You may also have a lot of questions and be unsure of the next steps to take to move forward. It can all feel a bit overwhelming! Here are six things that are helpful to know as your family begins the journey in learning more about ADHD and how to best manage it.
1. ADHD is a Neurobiological Condition That May Be Caused By a Number of Risk Factors, Including a Child Having an Inherited Genetic Predisposition to ADHD
ADHD has a strong genetic component. In other words, it tends to run in families. Research suggests that ADHD is linked with differences in brain development and a deficiency in certain brain chemicals (most notably, the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine) that regulate the efficiency with which our brain helps us to inhibit behavior, sustain attention, and control mood.
ADHD is not the result of poor parenting or a lack of discipline at home. It is not caused by eating too much sugar or watching too much television. It is important to understand the neurobiological factors that contribute to ADHD. With this understanding, there is often a great burden lifted from parents who may find themselves bogged down and stuck in feelings of guilt or shame, trying to figure out what they could have done differently to prevent ADHD.
2. Learning About ADHD and How It Affects Your Child and Family Is a Process That Takes Time
ADHD is a complex and chronic condition that can present very differently from child to child, with new challenges arising as a child ages, and with symptoms that can be expressed in changing ways as the child moves through different developmental stages, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and beyond into adulthood, work, marriage, and parenting. Actively work to educate yourself, your child, and your family about ADHD. Make sure that your child is an active participant in his or her treatment planning. Encourage questions. Talk openly about ADHD. Keep a solution-focused outlook.
3. Be a Strong Advocate for Your Child and Teach Your Child These Important Self-Advocacy Skills
It is important for your child to have an accurate understanding about his or her areas of weakness, why certain struggles occur, and what strategies are most helpful in minimizing these difficulties. Teach your child early on so that he or she is better able to work on finding effective solutions, asking for help when needed, and advocating for oneself. With these self-advocacy skills, your child will be better able to be clear, assertive, and proactive in getting resources and accommodations in place as needed throughout his or her life to minimize areas of weakness and allow areas of strength to develop, grow, and shine. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the ADHD-related impairments, but it is just as important to help your child identify and understand his or her wonderful strengths and to create opportunities for success, both large and small.
4. The Most Effective Treatment for ADHD Involves a Team Approach That Is Tailored to Your Child’s Individual Needs
The treatment team will consist of your child and the people who are directly involved with his or her day-to-day care -- you and your child's other parent, your child's teachers, pediatrician, and any other adult who is regularly involved in a caregiving, teaching, or coaching role.
Team members work together in a collaborative and unified way to develop a treatment plan, support and implement treatment strategies, and monitor progress on specific goals and target outcomes. This team approach is necessary in order to ensure consistency across settings to help your child manage his or her ADHD-related difficulties.
Helpful strategies include routines, consistency, structure, external supports, clear expectations and consequences, rewards to shape desired behaviors and teach positive coping skills, and for many children, medication may also be an integral part of treatment. There is no "quick fix" or "cure" for ADHD. Know that for most people managing ADHD is a lifelong process, but it is a hopeful process and one that can be managed successfully with the right supports in place.
5. Try to Separate the Child From the Behavior
If your child experiences significant difficulties in his or her ability to control impulses or regulate activity, it can be very frustrating for those around him or her. Though children with ADHD are often very clear about what they need to do and how they are expected to behave, they may have great difficulty doing it because of ADHD impairments. Their behavior can appear very willful and purposeful and can often lead to negative reactions from others. These negative reactions can take a toll on a child.
Understanding the impairments, even taking a disability perspective in regard to the ADHD, can help parents and teachers put things in perspective and readjust thinking patterns. Though the behavior may be bad, the child is not.
When you are in situations with your child that have frustrated you beyond control, consciously delay your response and take a deep breath (or two or three). This can help you keep calm and allow you to better think through how to respond to the situation in the most effective, beneficial way.
6. Parenting a Child With ADHD Is Challenging. Consciously Work to Take Good Care of Yourself So That You Can Better Parent
Raising a child is a demanding, emotional, rewarding, yet often energy-draining task! When that child has ADHD, these feelings and your need to supervise, monitor, redirect, teach, structure, organize, reward, punish, protect and nurture are often multiplied tenfold!
Self-care is important. Carve out special time each day for yourself. Surround yourself with positive people. Join an ADHD parent support group. Nurture your marital relationship and make sure you and your spouse/partner are on the same page around parenting. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat healthily. When your body and mind are strong, you will have more patience, energy, and enthusiasm to tackle each day with optimism, joy, and creative parenting. And your children will benefit tremendously!
Mary Fowler. Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Briefing Paper. National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities, 2004.
Michael I. Reiff, MD, FAAP with Sherill Tippins. ADHD: A Complete and Authoritative Guide. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2004.
Russell A. Barkley. Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents. The Guilford Press, 2005.