I occasionally catch an article or a blog comment that poses the question â€śWhen should I tell my child that they have ADHD?â€ť I repeated this question to Bell, and this is what she had to say:
Children are way more aware and intelligent than we sometimes give them credit for. A child with ADHD has known for some time that something was different. After the overheard snippets of conversations held with friends, family members, doctors, and teachers, as well as the evaluations and doctorâ€™s visits, the child is very clear that something is up, and may actually be anticipating the worse. Kids know when they are being lied to, and it is not the example we want to set for our children. Children respond better when they are respected and included in the very thing that is about them anyway. If you act like itâ€™s a tragedy, so will they. If you are positive, supportive, clear that there is nothing â€śwrong with themâ€ť and that they have done nothing wrong, they will respond accordingly. Personally, I find tremendous value in being straight up with my daughter, age appropriately, and teaching her about ADHD, the challenges and the gifts, and including her in problem-solving. Including children in finding solutions communicates to them that they are valued and loved, and it creates much better buy-in than simply being told that this is what is going to happen. Quite frankly, kids sometimes come up with much better and more creative solutions, and while an idea may be proposed that is perhaps not ideal from your perspective, if it works and is not harmful, whatâ€™s wrong with the compromise? The empowerment a child feels after having a part in the decision-making and having his idea be the answer, is invaluable and the returns come back ten-fold. We, as adults, donâ€™t always have to be right, because goodness knows we arenâ€™t.
While some are tempted to say â€śNo, way!â€ť when broached with the possibility of using medication as part of a treatment plan, it is important to stop and consider a few things. First, how much do you really know about the various medications used to treat ADHD symptoms? There is a plethora of misinformation available from many sources, including the internet, so talk with your childâ€™s doctor and locate a few reliable sources of information for research. Medication does not work well for everybody, and initially dosage must be tweaked a few times to find success. Make sure you are fully informed before making a decision.
Medication does not cure ADHD, and it does not treat all symptoms. The medications prescribed today are designed to â€śwake upâ€ť the parts of the brain that are underactive so that key functions are improved and a foundation is laid to implement other treatment and management strategies. It is important to note here that the brain is a muscle that can be worked out and developed, just as the other muscles can be developed and functionality improved. This is also known as neuroplasticity. Counseling, behavioral and cognitive therapy, social skills training, learning organizational techniques, and overall learning, are not only proven to be successful, they are more successful when the brain is chemically balanced.
Dr. Kutscher discusses ADHD medications in ADHD: Living Without Brakes, and in it he states that, in patients where medication is successful, children do not feel different on medication, they only perform differently. When asked, children are aware that they are doing certain things better. If medication does not provide an improvement in certain symptoms, namely, the ability to pay attention, creates side effects that are not tolerable or pose a health risk, or if it does create a â€śdifferent feelingâ€ť, the chances are the medication is not the right choice and a different one may be tried, the dosage adjusted, or discontinued all together.
The risks of not being on medication when warranted to help bring ADHD under control are also clearly noted by Dr. Kutscher. He reminds us that without proper medication when indicated, children with ADHD are at a 30% higher risk for substance abuse, a very high risk for dropping out of school, develop significantly diminished self-esteem, which carries its own set of risk factors, and are at a significantly greater risk for automobile accidents.
There is a menu of evidence-based and proven methods for treating and managing ADHD in addition to medication. While all of them will not be appropriate or successful for everyone, one or two can usually be easily identified that produce positive results. Three key management areas are universal to anyone diagnosed with ADHD. They are:
Sleep: sleep problems are sometimes associated with ADHD, which only exacerbates symptoms. Sleep management is made easier by getting plenty of exercise during the day, creating a bedtime routine that incorporates relaxing activities such as a warm bath, a health snack, bed time stories, a back massage or listening to relaxing music or nature sounds, such as the sound of rain falling. Avoid television and sugar late in the evening.
Diet: While a poor diet does not cause ADHD, some elements of an unbalanced diet can make symptoms works. Consider reducing processed sugar and certain food dyes, primarily reds and yellows.
Exercise: Exercise increases neurotransmitters connected with ADHD, namely dopamine and norepinephrine (remember them?), and releases energy, important especially to children diagnosed with the hyperactive ADHD.
Children diagnosed with ADHD also benefit from learning to use various tools as part of a management strategy. Simple methods such as creating to-do lists, writing things down in a notebook that is always kept handy, using a voice recorder to supplement note taking in class, the use of calendars and planners, and using timers to schedule work activities and breaks, are all proven to be successful uses of tools for ADHD management. Remember, a diagnosis of ADHD is not the end of the story; rather, it is simply the beginning of a different and interesting chapter.