So, your child has just been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This can be confusing and overwhelming at first. It’s important to take some time to learn about ADHD to better understand the disorder and what it indicates. It’s also important to take time to process and feel your feelings.
What is ADHD?
ADHD (formerly recognized as ADD) is a very common neurodevelopmental disorder that occurs within the brain.There are dedicated systems within the brain that manage our attention and focus. Within these systems, we also see involvement with motivation and other executive functioning skills.
ADHD causes miscommunication between these systems. It can feel like the “telephone” game where only certain bits of information are being passed along and by the time it reaches the destination, it is distorted and the brain fills in the blanks. Effects of this include difficulty in regulating emotions, mood, and decisions.
A common misconception around ADHD is that it stems from the inability to pay attention. Supporting evidence indicates ADHD is usually the result of our brain’s hyperfocusing on certain things. Lack of attention is likely the result of them paying attention to something else in a very narrow way (like looking at a picture through a straw. You can only see a small part).
ADHD as a diagnosis can vary, and it is important to understand the type of symptoms your child is managing. Look for the signs to determine what your child is able to focus on in a dedicated way. This information can help your child’s provider determine where ADHD may have the most impact.
If you’re feeling defeated, it might be helpful to know how common attention concerns are for children. You’re not alone.
Who do you tell?
There are no rules, but it will help you and your child to share the diagnosis with those who interact with them. This can include school faculty, extended family, friend’s families, coaches, etc. Also make sure to tell your personal support network. You’d be surprised at who may also be dealing with similar challenges, and it’s nice to have someone to talk to on hard days.
Let them know that learning or processing information for your child may look different and take longer, along with any other symptoms they may notice. The logic here is that we want to ensure that they know how they can best support and understand the difference between them having a behavior challenge versus struggling with symptoms.
How should that conversation look?
These conversations can be simple - don’t overthink it. Share that they’ve been diagnosed with ADHD and communicate some of their common symptoms as it may pertain to the involvement that person has with your child. For example, share specific and detailed information with their teacher, and maybe a high-level FYI chat with their bus driver. And if you want to share more - share more. This is your journey.
An example discussion could be, “My child has ADHD and has the tendency to hyperfocus on small things. If you are trying to talk to them and they seem to not be paying attention to you, try softly getting their attention and making sure they are looking at you before giving them directions. ADHD can sometimes prevent them from hearing you the first time!”
Detail the behavior they could see, and ensure that the person you are talking to is aware that it is not the child’s choice, rather, a limitation at the moment. A provider can provide even more guidance on these conversations.
Should you tell the child?
It is very important that we talk to our children about their diagnosis! This is a common concern that we hear from caregivers, “Should I tell them about the diagnosis? I don’t want them to think something is wrong with them.”
We hear your concerns. We find that education can lead to empowerment, and actually lead to improvement of symptoms. Once a child is aware that they process things differently than other kids, it can help them to become more self-aware and therefore recognize more about the struggles they have and be able to receive ongoing support. Along with talking about the diagnosis, it is important to teach them effective communication and even mindfulness skills to drive self-awareness and advocacy!
This discussion can and should be simple too. We want them to know that we recognize some struggles they have. Normalizing what they are experiencing by sharing moments when we struggle with similar things. For example - when we are reading and sometimes have to go back to the beginning of the page because our mind is elsewhere.
Empowering them to learn more about ADHD, to be advocates for themselves and to find ways to improve their ability to learn will be much more effective in the long run. This takes time and may not immediately be positively received, however, open communication and coming from a place of support is the best approach.
Just like the ADHD diagnosis itself- treatment and intervention will vary from child to child. Most methods of treatment are focused on showing the brain how to function at a “normal” capacity.
Learning is a crucial part of managing ADHD symptoms. Help your child find their learning style and teach them to advocate for themselves.
Part of this learning includes self-awareness - another important component to understanding their diagnosis and learning where they may need further help. Psychoeducation can come in the form of reading about ADHD online, working with a mental health professional, or even watching some trusted YouTube videos outlining what ADHD is!
Everyone learns in their own individual way, including people that are neurotypical or neurodivergent. The most important thing we can do is have empathy for them and be patient as we now understand that their brain is often working against them. With that, it is crucial that we work with them and understand that inattention, impulsivity, hyperactivity is not a choice, rather, a symptom.
Medication management is also an available and common option for ADHD treatment. ADHD medication trains the brain to fall into a typical pattern of regulation. This can be an effective way to teach your child and also help them manage intense symptoms. It is common for Doctors to prescribe a stimulant to manage ADHD. This is intended to help activate the dormant area of the brain that deals with regulation, making children’s brains work more efficiently and also teaching it over time!
Want to know more?
That’s awesome, and you’ll be able to find as much information as you want. We’ve waded through a lot of it for you. There are a lot of great resources available for ADHD out there. Here are some good starting points:
At Brightline, we offer both Behavioral Health Coaching and Behavioral Therapy that can work to address ADHD concerns. Our Coaching programs also offer Parent Management Training courses that will help caregivers learn more about managing their children's symptoms and putting in new systems at home and even school.