If your child has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and you are confused about what it is, you are not alone. In fact, there are still many things we don’t know about ADHD, including its root cause, exactly which areas in the brain are involved (although we have some idea about it having to do with the frontal lobe and executive functioning), and why it is more commonly diagnosed in some states than others.
Common symptoms of ADHD (hyperactive type) include:
Fidgeting or squirming in seat at school
Leaving seat when they are expected to sit
Blurting out answers
Climbing on furniture
Difficulty waiting for their turn
Often “on the go” or acting as if “driven by a motor”
What we do know is that about 5% of children are diagnosed with ADHD. We also know it tends to run in families, is diagnosed more often in boys than in girls, and that there are two prevailing types: overactive (hyperactive) and underactive (deficit). More often than not, parents and teachers are more concerned with the hyperactive type because the associated behaviors tend to be more disruptive, obvious, and difficult to manage.
The first time parents start to hear about ADHD related to their child is usually in preschool or kindergarten. Teachers may mention that your child is more hyperactive than other students, has a hard time sitting still, blurts out answers, or cannot focus for long periods of time. This can seem strange to parents, because how long is a 4 or 5 year old supposed to be able to focus on a task?! Well, surprisingly, we would expect them to be able to sit and learn for about 10 minutes at a time at the beginning of kindergarten.
As a psychologist, I get a lot of questions about ADHD and related behaviors. One of the most confusing issues related to ADHD is that parents will often report their child demonstrates hyperactive behaviors at school, but will be able to watch TV or play video games for hours at home without any problem. We refer to this as the difference between a child’s behavior related to non-preferred vs. preferred tasks. Interestingly, the neurological mechanism that makes it difficult for a child to focus on non-preferred (ones they may report as boring) may be the same thing involved in their ability to hyperfocus on preferred tasks.
Regardless of the cause and when your child is diagnosed, there are therapies that can help! We recommend you consult with a psychologist for an evaluation if you have concerns. Once confirmed, talk to a psychologist about how they can help. Also, talk to your child’s teacher or school psychologist about the type of help they can provide your child in school. Psychologists can also help you and your child with the following research-based approaches:
Setting up the environment with cues to help prompt appropriate behavior
Implementing a reward system specifically geared to your child’s needs
Altering task duration, frequency, and type
Communication logs between home and school
Bottom line - help is available! Be sure to ask a psychologist how they can help your child meet their goals and achieve success.