Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common disorders to impact young people. The average age of onset is seven, and the symptoms can continue into adulthood.
Those symptoms include difficulty in maintaining focus and controlling behavior—including over-activity. The disorder has three key types, two of which are defined by which side of hyperactive/impulsive versus hyperactive/inattentive scale the patient falls. Patients who are in the third type—primarily inattentive—tend to have less difficulty socially (because they do not “act out”), and are thus more likely to be overlooked and undiagnosed by teachers and parents.
Medications and ADHD
Researchers continue to develop new medications for ADHD. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), medication works best when treatment and dosage are regularly monitored by the prescribing doctor. This is a great opportunity for parents to work closely with their care team of doctors, pharmacists, school nurses, and other caregivers to help monitor a regimen’s impact and effectiveness. Here are some side-effects you should watch for:
- Decreased appetite or concerns about weight loss or weight gain
- Sleep routine disruptions, including trouble falling or staying asleep
- Irritability and anxiety
- Mild stomachaches or headaches
- Repetitive movements or sounds (tics)
Tips for parents
- Diffuse difficult situations. Monitor your own reactions and try not to engage in a tug-of-war that will only escalate the situation. Use immediate reward as a consequence for behavior you want to encourage and redirect attention during difficult episodes.
- Advocate for your child. Build a team in the school system to help advocate for your child’s best interests when forming and implementing an educational and behavioral plan.
- Create structure—but avoid pressure. Clear rules, reward systems instead of punishments, and setting a consistent time and place for homework are a good start.
- Prepare yourself for the breakdowns. Children will break the rules. Be matter-of-fact—it’s not personal. Prioritize behaviors that you want to help reinforce, and recognize that every behavioral concern can’t be fixed at once.
- Discover your child’s inner ‘schedule.’ Just as adults have certain times of day that they are more focused and productive, so does your child—to the nth-degree.
- Help your child adjust to change. Vacations, new babysitters, and even a new puppy are big changes for a child with ADHD. Talk them through changes and give them the time to mentally adjust to what’s going to happen.
- Teach decision-making skills. Psychologists suggest a technique called “structured choice," which provides two choices (that are both acceptable to you) to steer the child in the right direction.