Most people are familiar with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
People picture kids who have ADHD as unable to focus on anything and constantly moving around. They imagine that doctors are quick to diagnose children with ADHD and quick to put them on medication to control it. That’s why I was surprised when my own son was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 9. I knew he had some behavioral and social issues, but he didn’t fit with my idea of ADHD. During the diagnosis process, my son and I met with a psychologist several times and I learned so much about ADHD.
Impulsivity is a symptom of ADHD.
My son had always struggled with impulsive behavior, but I had no idea it was a symptom of ADHD. There have been many times when my son did something so strange that he couldn’t even explain why he did it. One of his teachers had mentioned during a parent-teacher conference that it seemed like his brain moved so fast that he acted before thinking. Some other signs of impulsivity are having trouble waiting for a turn and interrupting others. I had wondered why my son was still struggling with these things at the age of 9 when we have worked so hard as a family to address them. It’s all part of ADHD.
Nonstop talking can be a sign of hyperactivity.
Once my son learned to talk, it seems like he has never stopped. He will gladly talk to anyone who will listen, no matter what their age or if they are friends or strangers. My husband and I are both on the quieter side, and we always wondered how we could have such a gregarious son. Now, I know this is one type of hyperactivity. It fits in with the more classic signs of ADHD, such as fidgeting and being constantly on the move. My son rides his bike so incredibly much and never seems to run out of energy. He also struggles to stay seated during mealtimes.
Some people with ADHD experience hyperfocus.
Hyperfocus is deep and intense concentration on a task. As Healthline explains, ADHD isn’t necessarily a deficit of attention, but rather a problem regulating attention span to desired tasks. Mundane tasks can be difficult to focus on, but other tasks can be completely absorbing. I assumed that my son couldn’t have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder because he could spend hours watching videos on his tablet. Video games are often an area of hyperfocus for children with ADHD. Now, I understand why my son can spend hours making detailed drawings of tanks or boats, but he struggles to focus on learning Bible verses for church.
Children with ADHD are capable of sitting still at school and doing their schoolwork.
It’s just a whole lot harder for these children than for their peers. My son works so hard to follow expectations at school that he struggles to behave when he gets home afterward. My son also focuses better after he has been physically active. I have him bike or walk every day to and from school and I also send him early in the morning so he can run around on the playground before the school day starts. Recess and movement breaks are really helpful ways to help spend some of my son’s excess energy so he can sit still and focus in class.
Schools will not necessarily catch signs of ADHD in children.
My son wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until he was 9 years old, even though he had struggled with behavior problems in school starting way back in preschool. Even though the preschool teachers suggested observation of his behavior, the conclusion was that he was just an active little boy who was immature for his age. My son’s behavior struggles continued in elementary school. He was on a check-in/check-out behavior plan for several years, yet no one had an answer to why my son was struggling. I was prompted to seek answers from my pediatrician after my son had a meltdown about a tiny problem. I felt like he was too old for that kind of behavior and he wasn’t growing out of his immature behavior. I was surprised when we reached the diagnosis of ADHD. The psychologist suggested that one reason the school had missed the diagnosis was that my son is bright enough to stay on grade level despite his struggles with ADHD. If he had fallen behind, it would have probably prompted an earlier search for some answers.
A diagnosis of ADHD does not automatically come with a prescription for medication.
Medicine is available to help with symptoms of ADHD. Other treatment options include behavioral therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy which can help children learn how to better monitor and control their behavior. Family therapy and parenting skills training can help parents learn how best to support their children. At school, my son is on a check-in/check-out behavior plan where he earns points for meeting expected behaviors throughout the day. He is highly motivated to earn enough points for a small prize at the end of the week. Kids with ADHD can also benefit from social skills groups at school. Having a set routine at home is very helpful for children with ADHD. I had already figured out that my son needed this kind of structure, but now I know why he needs it.
Children with ADHD are at a higher risk for depression and anxiety.
Due to the stress that ADHD causes in a child’s life, they have a higher risk of depression and anxiety. The psychologist we worked with said that we need to watch for signs of depression and anxiety in our son. If he shows signs of these problems, we need to consult with a medical provider to get treatment. She also suggested that if my son starts to fall behind in school, we need to meet with a medical provider to discuss the possibility of starting medication.