What is ADHD?
ADHD (attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder) is a disorder that affects a person's ability to pay attention and control impulsive behaviors.
The symptoms of ADHD are organized into two categories: inattention and hyperactivity / impulsivity. When a professional diagnoses ADHD, they must also consider the intensity, frequency, and consequences of symptoms.
Inattention Hyperactivity / Impulsivity
- has difficulty staying focused on activities
- forgetful of tasks (e.g. homework, paying bills)
- misses small details / makes careless mistakes
- avoids mentally demanding tasks
- may seem to not listen when spoken to
- often loses things
- constantly moving or "on the go"
- has difficulty sitting still
- excessively talkative
- often fidgets, taps fingers, or squirms
- has difficulty with quiet tasks
- often speaks out of turn / interrupts
What does ADHD really look like?
During childhood, ADHD can be misinterpreted as intentionally "bad" behavior. Children with ADHD struggle to pay attention during school, and they frequently get in trouble for talking or getting out of their chairs. Oftentimes, even peers become frustrated by these behaviors, which can lead to isolation.
During adulthood, ADHD can damage careers, relationships, and self-esteem. Inattention symptoms can lead to forgotten responsibilities, poor organization, and difficulty completing tasks. Hyperactivity symptoms manifest as thrill seeking, a high need for stimulation, and impulsive decision-making.
Some people incorrectly believe that ADHD is made up to serve as an excuse for poor behavior. However, we know that ADHD has a very real biological basis. For example, people with ADHD have structural differences in their brains, most notably in an area that's responsible for impulse control. We also know that genetics play a role: A person is much more likely to develop ADHD if their parents have the disorder. Some environmental factors also play a role, but to a lesser extent than heredity.
Although there's no cure for ADHD, both children and adults can learn to manage their symptoms with medication and psychotherapy. Additionally, some children will simply outgrow ADHD with time.
Therapy for ADHD typically focuses on identifying strengths and weaknesses, skill building, and psycho-education about ways to reduce the intensity of symptoms. It can be invaluable to work with a therapist to learn personalized coping skills.
Although medication cannot cure ADHD, an effective treatment can help both children and adults with symptom management. The most common medications for ADHD are stimulants.
ADHD Interventions for Parents
Create a Simple List of Rules
Focus on the most important behaviors by creating a short and straight-forward list of rules. Let the small stuff slide. If your child completes their homework and chores but forgets a dirty dish, focus on the accomplishments rather than the mistake. Perfection is an unrealistic expectation.
Praise your child for simple good behaviors that you would like them to continue. A simple "good job" or a smile can go a long way. If you're finding it hard to find behavior to praise, compliment your child for extended periods where they do not get into trouble.
Create a Reward System
Rewards are more effective than punishments to motivate a child to change their behavior. Reward systems can be as simple as a token for each day of the week a specific good behavior is completed, which can then be exchanged for a reward. Talk with your child to figure out what reward they want, and how many tokens it will cost.
Children with ADHD do their best when they know what to expect. Establish a routine for homework, meals, playing, bedtime, and preparing for school. For example, your child may learn to brush their teeth at a specified time, get a glass of water, and then lay out their clothes for the next day. You can use a reward system to begin establishing these routines.
Set aside a time each school day for your child to complete homework. If there are no assignments for that evening, they can still spend the time studying or reading. This routine reduces the chance that your child will forget or avoid their homework. Additionally, homework hour reduces the reinforcement that children usually receive for completing their homework as quickly as possible.
Use Consequences Effectively
Consequences should be explained in advance, they should occur immediately after the unwanted behavior, and you must always follow through with your stated consequence. Timeout and the removal of privileges are effective. Be careful not to over punish-your child will not remember why they are grounded after 2 weeks, and you have no leverage if your child has nothing.