Because we expect very young children to be easily distractible and hyperactive, it’s the impulsive behaviours—the dangerous climb, the blurted insult—that often stand out in pre-schoolers with ADD/ADHD. By age four or five, though, most children have learned how to pay attention to others, to sit quietly when instructed to, and not to say everything that pops into their heads. So by the time children reach school age, those with ADD/ADHD stand out in all three behaviours: inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
It isn’t that children with ADD/ADHD can’t pay attention: when they’re doing things they enjoy or hearing about topics in which they’re interested, they have no trouble focusing and staying on task. But when the task is repetitive or boring, they quickly tune out.
Staying on track is another common problem. Children with ADD/ADHD often bounce from task to task without completing any of them or skip necessary steps in procedures. Organizing their schoolwork and their time is harder for them than it is for most children. Kids with ADD/ADHD also have trouble concentrating if there are things going on around them; they usually need a calm, quiet environment in order to stay focused.
The most obvious sign of ADD/ADHD is hyperactivity. While many children are naturally quite active, kids with hyperactive symptoms of attention deficit disorder are always moving. They may try to do several things at once, bouncing around from one activity to the next. Even when forced to sit still which can be very difficult for them their foot is tapping, their leg is shaking, or their fingers are drumming.
The impulsivity of children with ADD/ADHD can cause problems with self-control. Because they censor themselves less than other kids do, they’ll interrupt conversations, invade other people’s space, ask irrelevant questions in class, make tactless observations, and ask overly personal questions. Instructions like “Be patient” and “Just wait a little while” is twice as hard for children with ADD/ADHD to follow as they are for other youngsters. Children with impulsive signs and symptoms of ADD/ADHD also tend to be moody and to overreact emotionally. As a result, others may start to view the child as disrespectful, weird, or needy.
Just because a child has symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity does not mean that he or she has ADD or ADHD. Certain medical conditions, psychological disorders, and stressful life events can cause symptoms that look like ADD / ADHD.
Before an accurate diagnosis of ADD / ADHD can be made, it is important that you see a mental health professional to explore and rule out the following possibilities:
Think your child has attention deficit disorder? Sometimes, kids who are having trouble in school are incorrectly diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, when what they really have is a learning disability. Furthermore, many kids struggle with both ADD/ADHD and a learning disability.
In addition to the challenges, there are also positive traits associated with people who have attention deficit disorder:
Keep in mind, too, that ADD/ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence or talent. Many children with ADD/ADHD are intellectually or artistically gifted.
Whether or not your child’s symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are due to ADD/ADHD, they can cause many problems if left untreated. Children who can’t focus and control themselves may struggle in school, get into frequent trouble, and find it hard to get along with others or make friends. These frustrations and difficulties can lead to low self-esteem as well as friction and stress for the whole family.
But treatment can make a dramatic difference in your child’s symptoms. With the right support, your child can get on track for success in all areas of life.
If your child struggles with symptoms that look like ADD/ADHD, don’t wait to seek professional help. You can treat your child’s symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity without having a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder.
Options to start with include getting your child into therapy, implementing a better diet and exercise plan, and modifying the home environment to minimize distractions.
If you do receive a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD, you can then work with your child’s doctor, therapist, and school to make a personalized treatment plan that meets his or her specific needs. Effective treatment for childhood ADD/ADHD involves behavioural therapy, parent education and training, social support, and assistance at school. Medication may also be used, however, it should never be the sole attention deficit disorder treatment.
If your child is hyperactive, inattentive, or impulsive, it may take a lot of energy to get him or her to listen, finish a task, or sit still. The constant monitoring can be frustrating and exhausting. Sometimes you may feel like your child is running the show. But there are steps you can take to regain control of the situation, while simultaneously helping your child make the most of his or her abilities.
While attention deficit disorder is not caused by bad parenting, there are effective parenting strategies that can go a long way to correct problem behaviours.
Children with ADD/ADHD need structure, consistency, clear communication, and rewards and consequences for their behaviour. They also need lots of love, support, and encouragement.
There are many things parents can do to reduce the signs and symptoms of ADD/ADHD without sacrificing the natural energy, playfulness, and sense of wonder unique in every child.
ADD/ADHD, obviously, gets in the way of learning. You can’t absorb information or get your work done if you’re running around the classroom or zoning out on what you’re supposed to be reading or listening to.
Think of what the school setting requires children to do: Sit still. Listen quietly. Pay attention. Follow instructions. Concentrate. These are the very things kids with ADD/ADHD have a hard time doing—not because they aren’t willing, but because their brains won’t let them.
But that doesn’t mean kids with ADD/ADHD can’t succeed at school. There are many things both parents and teachers can do to help children with ADD/ADHD thrive in the classroom. It starts with evaluating each child’s individual weaknesses and strengths, then coming up with creative strategies for helping the child focus, stay on task, and learn to his or her full capability.