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ADHD - how to recognize it and when to treat it

Posted on August 15, 2017 at 7:15 AM

What is ADHD?

- A neurodevelopmental disorder

- Impairs a child’s ability to function normally

- Not just “extra energy” or hyperactivity - a true medical diagnosis

- Difficulty filtering what is important

- 6 out of 9 symptoms must be present most or all of the time (without medication) to be diagnosed


Attention deficit (inattentive type)

- Poor attention to details or making careless mistakes

- Difficulty sustaining attention to tasks/activities

- Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly

- Does not follow through on instructions / fails to finish tasks (despite being cooperative and able to understand)

- Trouble organizing tasks and activities

- Avoids engaging in tasks that require sustained mental effort

- Loses things necessary for tasks or activities (school supplies, sports equipment, etc)

- Easily distracted

- Forgetful


Hyperactivity (hyperactive type)

- Fidgets with hands or squirms when seated

- Leaves seat at inappropriate times / without permission (when expected to stay seated for a reasonable amount of time)

- Runs around or climbs excessively at inappropriate times

- Has difficulty playing quietly or engaging in quiet activities

- Is “on the go” or “driven by a motor”

- Talks excessively

- Blurts out answers before a question has been completed

- Inability to wait in line

- Interrupts adults who are in conversation or children who are playing


Mixed type

- Has 6/9 features of both inattentive and hyperactive type


How to help?

- For inattentive type, allow child to engage in a mindless activity to keep them focused (fidget toy, doodling, etc.)

- Help child through processes that require multiple steps; don’t expect them to be able to remember/complete several steps on their own. Make charts / photo lists to explain common processes (such as a step-by-step photo on how to wash hands).

- Maintain eye contact when speaking with the child, and keep conversations short and simple (avoid long-winded explanations)

- Keep the environment organized and clear as possible, so it is harder to lose things

- Help children put toys away after playing with them, before moving onto the next toy

- Keep outside stimuli to a minimum; turn off background music / TV, close curtains if necessary, and maintain a clear work space

- Allow children enough time to play/run, do not expect them to stay seated for too long

- Let child sit on a yoga ball when they must remain seated, so they can wiggle

- Teach children to breathe 3 times or count to 10 in their head before interrupting

- Give children mental exercises for when they are feeling bored (think of as many things as you can that start with the same letter as your name, think of all the red objects you can, try to remember the names of everyone in your class, etc).


When a child might need medical treatment

- When they are impaired in daily activities (when you feel they are not functioning normally because of their symptoms)

- When they are falling behind their peers due to their inability to complete tasks

- When they expresse to you that they feel like they need help (they feel behind, different, or unable to live the way they think they should)


How ADHD medications work

- Stimulant medications activate the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain used for organizing thoughts, maintaining focus, deciding what is important, and overriding urges

- Stimulant medications do NOT cause children to be sedated or turn them into “zombies”

- Other medications (antidepressants, anti-anxiety medicines, neuroleptics, and others) are more for the symptoms that go along with ADHD. They don’t treat the ADHD symptoms directly and are often sedating.

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