Have you noticed that your child has difficulty focusing? Perhaps he seems impulsive or never able to sit still. You may be concerned that your child has ADHD.
The American Psychological Association defines Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as, “a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.” ADHD is a type “neurodevelopmental disorder,” meaning that the brain works a little differently in people with ADHD.
To be defined as ADHD according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed., 2013), symptoms must meet these criteria:
In layman’s terms, this means that the symptoms you might be seeing are not new, are not better explained by another diagnosis (e.g., anxiety), are present both at home and at school, and interfere with the person’s ability to function. This diagnostic guide is used in the United States and Canada, among other countries.
People with ADHD can have one of three presentations: inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive, or combined (showing both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms). In the past, the inattentive presentation was referred to as “Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)” and the hyperactive/impulsive presentation was referred to as “Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).” Now, scientists realize that one person can have both inattentive and hyperactive traits, or one pattern may predominate. They have also learned that a person’s presentation may change throughout his or her life. All of these presentations now fall under the umbrella of ADHD.
Often, people with symptoms of inattention are easily distracted, forgetful, and may appear careless in their work. Here are some of the symptoms of inattention that are often seen in ADHD (American Psychiatric Association, 2013):
Children who have symptoms of hyperactivity will move around excessively. This can take the form of fidgeting, talking, getting up at inappropriate times, or feeling restless. These are the typical symptoms of hyperactivity (American Psychiatric Association, 2013):
Impulsive tendencies often look like impatience, interrupting others, or recklessness. It is important to remember that children with ADHD have differences in their brain development that make these skills more difficult, and impulsive behavior is not intended to be rude or impolite. The symptoms of impulsivity are (American Psychiatric Association, 2013):
If your child is showing some symptoms of ADHD, such as inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity, it is important to take a few things into account. First, how old is your child? Much of this behavior is typical in young children. Children younger than five will typically display all of the above characteristics to some degree or another. Beyond the “preschool years” and into early elementary grades, consider what is being asked of your child. Unfortunately, many young children are expected to learn in classroom environments that are too demanding for their developmental level. For instance, kindergarteners are not developmentally ready to sit at desks listening attentively for a full school day. Consider if your child’s behavior might be better explained by developmentally inappropriate expectations.
If this is not the case, then think about what traits of ADHD you are seeing in multiple settings (that is, at home and at school) and with multiple people (that is, with the teacher, with you, with other relatives, babysitters, and so on). You may see some traits and not others. This is common. ADHD can be mild, moderate, or severe. If you are seeing a lot of symptoms, it might be time to talk to your pediatrician about an evaluation.
Technically, ADD and ADHD are not learning disabilities, but they can impact learning. In fact, 30 per cent of those diagnosed with learning disabilities also have attention disorders such as ADHD. At Eaton Arrowsmith, we believe the real issue stems from executive functioning issues or from extensive cognitive load on the brain. Difficulty with attention and focus can make many traditional classroom activities more challenging.
There are many ways to try and accommodate the environment either at home, at school, or in the community to meet the needs of children with ADHD (or traits of inattention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity). However, the Arrowsmith Program, through Eaton Arrowsmith, helps students work towards strengthening weaknesses in the prefrontal cortex that make executive functions challenging.
Try adding exercise into the morning routine for your child. This could take the form of walking or biking to school, or a classroom could implement a morning exercise routine as a group. Exercise breaks that allow children to get up and move around are also beneficial throughout the day. Classrooms could try standing desks, stress balls to squeeze during seated time, lap desks to allow movement during work, or short breaks every 30 minutes to do an activity of interest to the child (e.g., throwing a ball into a hoop for 5 minutes).
Team sports are also beneficial for children to have an energetic outlet while learning the rules of social interactions. This can be a great confidence boost for children with ADHD!
Second, minimize stimuli. That is, what is really necessary for the child to focus on? What sounds and sights might be distracting? For instance, is the television on in the background while you are helping your child with homework? Is music playing when you are trying to give your child directions? Try making the environment quiet, both visually and auditorily when you want to help your child focus.
For more information on executive functioning and how it impacts ADHD, click here.
Resource: American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
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