Before doing anything else, it is critical to understand what ADHD is and how it affects your child. With knowledge, you can better help your child.
Rather than go through all the complex medical information, my aim is to help you understand the key pieces of ADHD. There is a lot to know, but this will cover the critical information parents and teachers should know.
There are three types of ADHD. First, those that are mostly hyperactive (e.g., move constantly, talk nonstop, have trouble sitting at meals). Second, those that have most difficulties with attention (e.g., seem like they don’t listen, are bored easily, have trouble finishing things) and avoiding distraction. And third, those who are both hyperactive and inattentive.
Kids CAN Pay Attention…
…when they are interested. The name “Attention Deficit” confuses many parents because they say that their child can easily spend hours playing video games or doing anything they love.
So yes, the name is misleading because it’s not really an attention deficit. These kids can attend, but perhaps not to the things we want or need them to be paying attention to. That’s where things get difficult.
ADHD delays the development of the front part of the brain; the area that controls pretty much everything kids are expected to do day in and day out. Remembering rules, thinking about their behaviours, controlling their emotions, remembering where they put their school agenda, thinking about what they want to write, keeping their room clean, listening to the teacher, how to play nice with others, and finding the motivation to do homework.
Kids with ADHD not only have difficulties with these activities; they also often seem much younger than other kids their age. Many parents get frustrated when their younger child can get ready for school on their own; whereas their child with ADHD can’t. Kids with ADHD can also seem socially and emotionally immature. Makes sense; that part of their brain is not working great and they need to work harder to control themselves than other kids their age.
Rest assured: ADHD has nothing to do with bad parenting. And, it has nothing to do with your child being lazy either.
ADHD is considered a lifelong condition: Most kids with ADHD also have ADHD as adults. Hyperactive behaviours tend to diminish with age, but they will likely still have difficulties with attention, organization, and time management (and even impulsivity).
Disorder of Performance
ADHD should be thought of as a disorder of performance. These kids know they shouldn’t yell, kick, or slam the doors. They know they should do their chores and homework before they watch TV. And yes, they do know all the things they need to do to get ready for school in the morning. Knowing what to do is all taken care of in the back part of the brain.
The problem is ADHD affects the front part of the brain; the part of the brain that takes care of the doing. Being able to do what they know they need to do when they need to actually do it is the problem.
Clash of Time Zones
The other thing the front part of the brain does is help keep track of time. Kids with ADHD have a real hard time knowing how long 5 minutes is because they live in the NOW. The only other time they are aware of is NOT NOW.
So, when you tell them they have 5 minutes to finish getting ready before they have to catch the bus, well, that’s NOT NOW, so they keep doing what they are doing. And not what they should be doing. But, when that 5 minutes is up and you yell at your child in exasperation, she gets to it. Because now it’s NOW and time to get ready. Procrastination happens a lot.
Difficulty Controlling Themselves
Kids with ADHD have difficulty controlling their emotions and behaviours over long periods of time. Even if you tell them they get to go to their favourite place in the whole world at the end of the day if they are good, they might have difficulties keeping it together that long.
The problem is that something else often happens in the moment that they think is a really good or funny idea – whether it is the chance to push Billy’s head in the fountain when he is drinking, blurting out the answer or class, or pushing a kid who took the ball he was playing with – that make kids temporarily forget their goal to behave. As soon as they act, it’s too late to take it back.
Kids with ADHD are drawn to immediate impulses and rewards in the NOW, temporarily forgetting about the future reward. This makes it difficult for kids to maintain accountability for their actions on their own; and to learn from their mistakes (which is really frustrating for parents!).
More than just ADHD!
Most kids with ADHD also have underlying difficulties, which you must be aware of. Common related conditions include learning disabilities, social communication difficulties, behavior issues, and difficulties regulating their emotions. Understanding your child’s needs in all areas is critical to ensure he or she gets the appropriate support.
ADHD is AWESOME!!!
Above all, it is important to remember that ADHD is awesome! While it may seem hard in the early years, ADHD is an asset when managed properly and can greatly contribute to your child’s lifelong success. Great energy, great loyalty, great ideas… there’s lots of greatness to come. We just need to allow these kids to shine!