Written by: Alison Todd
ADHD is a condition which has only come into our field of recognition in recent years. That is not to say that it never existed before. We are now better equipped medically and scientifically to identify the symptoms of this disorder, whereas in the past many of its characteristics were simply put down to bad behaviour, laziness or poor parenting.
On the contrary, it is real. Ask any family with a member who suffers from ADHD in its most extreme form and they will tell you that it is a very real condition.
So, how do you know if your child has ADHD?
Always, it is best to seek help from a professional if you suspect your child may not be developing in the normal way. Some of the most common symptoms are: a short attention span, being constantly fidgety and restless and being easily distracted. Of course, this is tricky with very young children as these attributes are normal up to a certain age. However, if your child continues to display these characteristics when they should be progressing beyond this type of behaviour then it is worth getting the opinion of your GP.
ADHD sufferers tend to display varying levels of severity in the main symptoms of inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour. Different combinations of the three elements can manifest or sometimes all three aspects are present. The condition seems to be more common in boys, although it is suspected that it often goes undiagnosed in girls due to the overall less disruptive nature of girls with the disorder.
Usually by about the age of seven it is clear whether a child has it or not, although it can sometimes go undiagnosed until much later on, depending on how severe it is.
Sometimes the hardest aspect of the process is accepting it as a parent. It is not easy to admit that your child is not the same as other children, so it is important to first recognise that something is not quite right but don’t panic. It could be that your child only has mild symptoms or their unusual behaviour is due to something else. As a teacher, I have known cases where a child is inattentive or distracted because their eyesight is poor and preventing them from accessing learning through the normal channels, so it is important not to jump to conclusions but seek professional help.
The first point of contact should be your GP and, if your child is already at school, their teacher as well as the special needs expert within the school. They should be able to give you some insights into how the child’s leaning is being affected. Your GP will want to know whether there is a history of ADHD in the family and how your child’s behaviour affects different aspects of their and your life. You may be asked you to keep a diary of your child’s behaviour in order to monitor incidents and get a clearer picture of the situation.
It is not easy to diagnose ADHD but a definitive diagnosis can be made if the symptoms are impairing your child’s ability to function in a normal way. Getting a diagnosis can be upsetting but sometimes it can come as a relief. Even though you will have mixed feelings about any kind of label, it can be comforting to know there is a reason for what can often feel like inexplicable behaviours.
Help and treatment
You may be offered some help at this point in learning how to cope with the condition. This could come in the form of a short educational course aimed at helping parents to learn to live with the disorder and how best to work with your child to help them move forward.
Treating the condition can vary. Depending on severity, various different healthcare professionals can be involved in the care of your child’s condition, from paediatric and psychiatric experts to social workers and counsellors. There are also various medications that may be offered to treat the illness or you may just be given a care plan using different types of therapy and social skills training for your child. Some options include the use of dietary care, exercise and supplements to help treat the symptoms.
Ultimately, how you cope with the condition is down to you. If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, try to stay calm and keep things in perspective. There is more help than ever for people affected by ADHD such as support groups, charities and helplines.
In the words of ADDISS a national ADHD information body:
“ADHD has the capacity to wreck a child’s life and the lives of their family. It also has the capacity to produce extraordinary individuals.”