Please do not give me your views on ADHD meds when I tell you my child has ADHD. Yes, I know all about medication, the risks and the benefits and I have done my homework on homeopathic treatments too, believe it or not. But simplifying things to such a superficial level whether to medicate or not is not helpful at all. ADHD is far more complex than the side effects of stimulant meds. Here are 10 things every parent who has a child with ADHD wants you to know.
1. They don’t need more labels.
I know it is true that up to 66% of all kids with ADHD are liable to have some other disorder as well. Things like autism, ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder), sensory disorders and anxiety, just to name a few. Let us forget the labels and look at how we are going to support them at home and at school. There are lots of ways that kids with ADHD can be helped.
2. They need help with some tasks.
People are so quick to dismiss ADHD as just too much talking, jumping off the walls and being badly behaved. These are just outward signs of having difficulty with getting tasks started and finished, following instructions and remaining focused. Technically this is known as an executive function disorder (EFD) but we don’t need another label, do we? Parents and teachers are always on the lookout for ways of helping them overcome these difficulties.
3. They are not going to become drug addicts because of their meds.
Many people believe the myth that ADHD meds are likely to lead to more substance abuse in adolescence and adulthood. Many studies show that this is just not true at all and there is no evidence to support this myth.
Time to reflect on the actual benefits of the ADHD meds. A child will start to focus better and get better grades at school. This will encourage him/her to do better. As some of the commentators in this video here on the ‘ADHD and Lovin’ It?!” remark, the good news is that ADHD meds are safe and effective. The bad news is that not many people know that.
4. They have low self-esteem.
Kids with ADHD are likely to have low self-esteem unless they are encouraged to develop certain talents they have. All too often, they are stigmatized or discriminated against because of the ADHD label. They may be good at sports, drawing, music or some other activity. It is important to help them realize their potential and exploit their abilities. They need to be reminded of the success stories and that many people with ADHD have been brilliant in many areas such as sports, photography, cooking, athletics, acting and sales.
5. They need more physical exercise.
Teachers and parents often wonder why kids with ADHD are so restless, impulsive and fidgety. Instead of grumbling about that, they should start looking at ways to overcome these problems. The importance of physical activity in helping kids with ADHD cannot be stressed too much. In fact there are studies that show mental alertness, better sleep and greater attention span are all great spin offs from doing lots of sports and other physical activity. One couple who sent their kids to a Norwegian school were able to reduce their medication when they benefited from more recesses and physical exercise. Now, why don’t more schools in the US and elsewhere follow this example?
6. They have hyperfocus which is second to none.
Everyone has talked about the lack of attention span and the distraction that ADHD kids have to cope with. But they are also capable of hyper focus when they are really into something and this can lead to many benefits. Children with ADHD can often get so involved in something that they can remain highly focused on that and get in the zone for hours. They can also pick up on a detail that many other people would miss. This is when their attention levels are best, according to Dr.Hallowell, an ADHD expert.
“Many scientists, writers, and artists with ADD have had very successful careers, in large part because of their ability to focus on what they’re doing for hours on end.” – Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D.
7. They are bright, creative, and funny.
Telling your kids they have an uphill task in front of them all the time is so disheartening for them, especially as our schools and society are so rigid about progress markers and academic achievement. It is great to discuss that openly with them when they meet obstacles and are discouraged. But it is not all bad news. The other side of the coin is that they are funny, creative and often lack inhibition which other kids have. They are quite capable of chatting away and drawing at the same time. They excel at multi-tasking too which can be exploited in many good ways in adulthood. They can use their thinking outside the box for creative problem solving. A four old girl with ADHD was told not to lift the blinds on her window because of the dangerous cord. She solved the problem by cutting a neat square hole in them. “You told me not to pull up the blinds so I cut a hole so that I could look out!”, she later explained.
8. They need to exploit their amazing energy.
Excess energy is often regarded as negative, especially if it is disruptive. The school system does not help because there are few ways that kids can let off steam in a classroom setting. Seating is not negotiable and this is a severe disadvantage for kids with ADHD. Their brains are more active when they are moving. An orderly classroom is not an ideal learning environment for them. In addition, they should be allowed to wriggle and squirm. Studies show that fidgeting or a secondary movement actually help them to concentrate.
9. They will outgrow it, so ADHD in adulthood is not a problem.
This is the most ignorant and inaccurate statement of all. Getting a proper diagnosis and starting treatment early is essential. Many teachers go overboard and try to get difficult students on meds. Others ignore it altogether, saying that they will outgrow it. This is irresponsible as adults with ADHD face enormous challenges in the workplace. Yes, they may be less hyperactive but people are less forgiving in the workplace about attention and deadline issues. Ari Tuckman is a psychologist and has outlined some of the problems in his book, More Attention, Less Deficit: Successful Strategies for Adults with ADHD. Just think that many of the problems of adult ADHD could have been mitigated, had they been given more attention at home and at school.
10. They do not need any special social skills.
While Ritalin and other stimulants can really help with getting down to homework and keeping on task at school, social skills are another matter. Many people just do not realize that pills will not teach skills, especially social skills. Because they have problems with impulsivity and reading social cues, ADHD kids will find it hard to maintain friendships and stick to turn taking when at play. These problems are often ignored and ADHD kids are socially excluded. This is why it is so imporrtant for parents to really take social skills training seriously. This is going to have a lifelong impact so it should never be brushed under the carpet.
As a parent of a child with ADHD I know that spending quality time with them and enjoying some activities together without worrying about their behavior is the most rewarding of all.
Featured photo credit: Crazy Kids/Olaf Gradin via flickr.com