Your Child Has Been Diagnosed With ADHD…..What now?
Don’t Panic….don’t despair.
That’s the first thing I tell parents whose child has received a diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder).
ADHD is not a death sentence or a dread disease. With a little help, some care and understanding your child will be just fine and sometimes even better than fine, they’ll be fantastic!
That’s not to say that there aren’t challenges. There may be some tough work ahead for you and your little one, there might also be tears and frustration. However that’s all part of life and a part of growing up whether or not you have ADHD.
So, what can YOU as a parent do to make things a little easier for your son or daughter now that you know they are coping with ADHD?
Firstly, before you do anything else, ensure that you have a correct diagnosis. The school may have phoned you and said they suspect your child has ADHD, and please can you take him to the GP for medication. Unfortunately, this scenario is far too common in South Africa and completely the wrong way to approach a proper diagnosis
Schools are often the place where behavioral issues are first observed and detected but this does not mean that they have the medical knowledge or expertise to diagnose your child. Neither in fact does you GP. Once your son or daughter is suspected of having a developmental issue that presents as ADHD, you need to get a formal diagnosis. To do that, it is recommended that you make an appointment with a paediatrician or Neuro-paediatrician who can guide you through the process. This process should include a full medical evaluation, including a hearing test, as well as an evaluation with an educational or clinical psychologist. You can contact ADHASA via firstname.lastname@example.org for a list of medical professionals in your area. Before you make any appointments however, ENSURE you have an evaluation document from your child’s teacher or from the school.
There are a number of conditions and issues which can present similar symptoms as ADHD, so it’s always important to rule these out before settling on an official diagnosis. Also ADHD may often come with co-existing diagnoses such as dyslexia, ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) SPD (sensory processing disorder) anxiety or depression. It’s important to know exactly what you are dealing with before treatment so you know which treatments will be the most effective to assist your child.
2. Defining ADHD
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) is a developmental brain disorder that presents with a number of commonly recognised symptoms. Those with ADHD may have problems regulating their attention, their focus, their emotions, they may also have issues with impulsivity and working memory. Often parents will say, “But my daughter is not hyperactive at all, she daydreams all day how can she be ADHD?” There are currently 3 recognised sub-categories of ADHD: 1. Hyperactive 2.Inattentive and 3. Combination — hyperactivity is only one symptom that may or may not be present in a ADHD diagnosis
Watch this video for more info:
Although it may often present differently in girls, ADHD is not strictly gender-specific. Girls often do go undiagnosed however because they are typically not causing issues in the classroom or picking fights on the playground (although that does happen to!) Watch this video to see how ADHD can appear different in girls.
Having a correct diagnosis and understanding of ADHD doesn’t mean you won’t encounter issues with stigma and misinformation that continuously surround ADHD. Here is a video from a local South African expert, dispelling some of the rumours and myths about ADHD.
For the most part, ADHD is an inherited, genetic brain difference. This is why I believe it’s important to know that if your child has ADHD, chances are quite likely that you or your spouse might have been living with your own undiagnosed ADHD. This can impact not only your child but your family life in general. Undiagnosed and untreated ADHD can lead to anxiety, depression, stress, even bad coping mechanisms like alcoholism, drug abuse, bulimia and OCD. I strongly believe that should you child receive a diagnosis of ADHD, parents should explore the possibility that they may have unknowingly been dealing with the same issues. You can check out this post to see if any of these symptoms ring true for you or your spouse before exploring a formal diagnosis. ( A Hitchhiker’s Guide To ADHD)
The first thing you learn as a parent with a child who has ADHD, do NOT Google ADHD or ADHD medication. The amount of shockingly inaccurate and bad information about ADHD is frankly disturbing. I say this as an intelligent, well-informed mom who refused to treat her son for ADHD or acknowledge his diagnosis for years as a result of the stigma and shame that surrounds it. After nearly three years of trying every supplement, homeopathic remedy, dietary change I could find, I finally admitted that perhaps the ‘popular opinions’ about ADHD were wrong and it was time to try medical treatment.
According to studies and to scientific research, ADHD medication along with behavioural therapy are the most effective treatments for ADHD. Early intervention from parents, teachers and medical professionals will help minimise the effects of ADHD symptoms further down the line, going into adulthood.
There are two variants of ADHD medication: 1: Stimulants and 2. Non-stimulants. Unless your child has a pre-existing medical condition, most doctors will prescribe stimulant medication as a first option. These include short acting and long-lasting medications such as Ritalin and Concerta, as well as the Ritalin generic, Methylphenidate. Once the doctor has given you this prescription, follow his instructions with regards to dosage. They will traditionally start on the lowest dose and ask you to very slowly over time increase the dose until the maximum benefits with the least side effects are obtained. ADHD medication is one of the few medications that is not determined by age or weight, dosage is rather determined by efficacy (or how well it ‘works’). Stay in contact with your doctor and with your child’s teacher to determine when this dosage is reached. Be sure to watch out for any unpleasant side-effects like heart palpitations, trouble breathing, loss of appetite or mood changes. Some of these will disappear in a couple weeks if they occur at all but always safest to let your doctor know anyway.
Everyone’s chemical and biological make-up is different, so some ADHD children will not respond well to stimulants, this is when your doctor may recommend other non-stimulant options such as Strattera. Strattera unlike Ritalin may take time to be effective, give it two or three weeks before you expect to see results in your child.
Omega 3 or Fish oil supplements have been recorded as helping to minimise ADHD symptoms. In South Africa we also have other available supplements such as Bio-strath and Mentat. Speak to your doctor or specialist about alternative supplements you can use to assist with your child’s brain function.
Medication should form only one part of your child’s treatment plan however. Exercise, a healthy diet, behavioural therapy, coping skills and mechanisms can all help to minimise the symptoms of ADHD in your child. There is no one-size fits all approach to treating or helping children with ADHD. Your child’s symptoms may vary greatly from mine, we as parents need to LEARN as much as possible about ADHD and about the symptoms that our child struggles with in particular. Observe your child at home and play and see what particular issues, and triggers may trip them up. Work with them to find ways to problem-solve solutions for these particular areas. For example, perhaps your son has problem controlling his temper when he’s at school, speak to him about it and find what exactly causes that ‘volcano’ feeling to boil up and over and discuss what he can do differently when he recognises that feeling. Maybe walking away, counting to ten, maybe whistling to himself (it’s hard to be full of rage when you’re whistling!) these kinds of tips and tricks can make all the difference.
4. Be patient with your child….and yourself.
ADHD kids can do the same things any other child can do. They can love, they can laugh, they can be creative, they can excel at school — it’s just not always as easy for them as it is for their peers. Acknowledge that truth and have some compassion for their struggle. They don’t want to be the one who always loses their stuff, struggles to make friends or is sent to detention — again. It’s just as frustrating for them as it is for us as parents. Instead of blame and anger, make a pact to instead become your child’s best advocate and coach. Your role is to educate and fight for you child’s right with schools, to coach and teach your child better ways to cope with their ADHD and to never forget to laugh and have a bit of fun now again. I’m serious! So many parents get so caught up in the doom and gloom that they forget that sometimes laughter is the best medicine. Fighting your child or their ADHD diagnosis will bring you nothing but heartbreak. Working with your child and their diagnosis is a recipe for success.
5. Talk to your child about ADHD
By about 7 or 8 your child may be ready to talk about ADHD and their diagnosis in basic terms. I personally think it’s great to open a dialogue about it so that they know there is no ‘shame’ in having ADHD, we need to normalise this for them as much as possible. Try to explain to them that everyone has something that makes them different or unique, some people have freckles, some people wear glasses, some people are diabetic — but they have ADHD . Here are some great videos that introduce the topic.
Here are some books you can buy too introducing the topic:
6. Reliable Resources & Support
If you are looking for reliable and FACTUAL information about ADHD and its treatment, you will have to be very choosy abut the corners of the internet you visit. Below are some great websites and info sources on ADHD.
ADHASA (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Support Group of South Africa)
CHADD (US national organisation for ADHD)
How To ADHD (Youtube Channel)