Need to know: How to deal with an ADHD diagnosis in your child
For some parents getting an ADHD diagnosis for their child can be a relief, but for others it can be something that triggers grief and fear. In some communities and families, ADHD is seen as a behavioural issue.
- it’s a product of bad parenting or a lack of discipline
- it’s caused by a diet full of sugar and processed food
- it’s children being purposefully naughty or lazy
- it’s the result of too much time in front of screens
If you are surrounded by these myths, then a diagnosis can feel like a heavy burden to carry for you and your child. It’s completely valid to have overwhelming feelings as you question how much your child will struggle through life, and that is scary.
ADHD diagnosed early, with the right support and therapy, doesn’t have to be a life sentence. There are many well known and successful people who have succeeded not in spite of their ADHD, but because of it: Sir Richard Branson, Emma Watson, will.i.am, Simone Biles and Michael Phelps just to name a few.
The most important thing you can do to best raise and support a child with ADHD is to educate yourself about the condition. Understanding how ADHD affects the brain will also shine a clarifying light on their behaviours.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that impairs your ability to:
- Regulate movements and emotions – you might observe the following in your child – squirmy, sensitive, quick to anger, fidgety, clumsy, doesn’t sit still or can’t keep hands to themselves
- Sustain focus, attention and effort – you might observe the following in your child – dreamy, appears not to listen, loses things, makes careless mistakes, misses steps, forgetful
- Inhibit thoughts and actions – you might observe the following in your child – reactive, makes random noises, interrupts, talkative, says things without thinking, has trouble waiting their turn
ADHD is not an issue with knowing what to do, the problem is with the doing. The ADHD brain is an interest based brain. Your child might surprise you when they can sit still and play a game, read a book or draw. This happens because doing something of interest triggers their ability to focus.
Kids with ADHD don’t have a deficit of attention as such, on the contrary, their difficulty lies with filtering out all the sounds, sights, smells and physical sensations around them to focus on just one thing.
As you learn more about ADHD, you will also be able to identify how it impacts your child. This knowledge is invaluable in helping you advocate for your child at school, vacation camps, sports, etc.
To make home life run smoothly, you’ll find that you will need to:
- implement reliable and visible routines
- set up timers and reminders
- change how you give instructions
- assist with getting tasks started
- scaffold tasks
- help with transitions
- find creative ways to trigger their interest by playing around with rewards
- give frequent and positive feedback
Above all you’ll need to adjust your expectations so that your child can meet them using their current skills. Success is one of the most important motivators.
You might also be wondering whether you should tell your child about ADHD. Don’t be afraid to talk to your child about how their brain functions, the alternative is to remain quiet and allow them to believe the negative labels that others give them. No doubt, your child has always felt different and they have probably been told as much. Understanding that they have a different brain, can save your child years of shame thinking that they are “naughty”, “bad”, “lazy”, “rude” or “stupid”.
Tips & strategies for talking to your child
- Be calm – make sure you have processed the diagnosis yourself before talking to your child.
- Explain the science – talk about how their brain works differently, focusing on differences rather than deficits.
- Highlight their strengths – describe your child’s specific strengths and how it relates to ADHD. Sure they have challenges, but leaning into their strengths can build their confidence.
- Have a positive attitude – discuss ways to work together so that you are able to provide the support they need to succeed every day. Knowing that you are on their team is important.
- Read or let them read a book about ADHD – there are lots of great books to choose from. Keywell has created a free one that you can print out and use. Download My Fast Brain. Other great titles include:
- Sam Squirrel Has ADHD – Picture Book by Selina Lee (Author)
- Walk In The Rain With A Brain – Picture Book by Edward Hallowell (Author)
- Baxter Turns Down His Buzz: A Story for Little Kids About ADHD by James Foley (Author)
- All Dogs Have ADHD by Kathy Hoopmann (Author)
- ADHD Is Our Superpower: The Amazing Talents and Skills of Children with ADHD by Soli Lazarus (Author)
- Cory Stories: A Kid’s Book About Living with ADHD by Jeanne Kraus (Author)
- I Can Do That: A Book on Self-Regulation: 2 by Kayla J W Marnach (Author)
- Have Bees in My Brain: A Child’s View of Inattentiveness by Trish Hammond (Author)
- Attention, Girls! A Guide to Learn All About Your AD/HD by Patricia O Quinn (Author)
The conversation with your child might not end here. It is very likely they will come to you with questions, so be prepared to talk to them about everything from the need to take medication or to see an occupational therapist.
- Dr Poulton – ADHD a detailed explanation
- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry – ADHD & the brain
- ADHD Australia – ADHD Myths VS Facts
- Science Direct: The World Federation of ADHD International Consensus Statement: 208 Evidence-based conclusions about the disorder
- Talking with Your Child About ADHD
- How to Help Your Child Understand Their ADHD Diagnosis