When a child has ADHD and anxiety, there are several steps parents can take to make the diagnosis and treatment process as seamless as possible. Here’s a practical primer to help you navigate the landscape of a possible diagnosis of ADHD and anxiety.
How to document symptoms of ADHD and anxiety at home.
While many families rely on a teacher for their support, which is helpful, it’s also important to know what kinds of symptoms to log at home. Symptoms of ADHD and anxiety are equally important to write down, regardless of whether you understand them or can determine their cause.
Like a novelist who is embarking on a first draft, don’t be afraid to write down anything you think might help a psychologist make an accurate diagnosis of your child – even if it gets discarded later in the diagnosis process. You are your child’s best advocate, so pay attention and record what you see.
Step one: Write down any behavioral consistencies you’ve noticed about your child.
These may include symptoms of anxiety and ADHD that overlap, or they could be specific to just one condition. Look for any of the following that have been common for your child as he or she has developed and/or grown:
Resistance to switching tasks and/or difficulty with transitions. This might include switching between homework assignments, going from one chore to another, or being told to stop an activity your child enjoys going somewhere or doing a different activity.
Hypersensitivity to what others think of them. This might look like a friend being firm about not wanting to share his toy, but your child could take this in acutely and worry for hours or even days about whether that friend will abandon the friendship or remain upset with them. Perhaps your child is overly worried about not just one friend’s opinion of how he or she dresses but anyone’s opinion. If this has been a consistent theme, write it down.
Reticence to follow multi-step directions. This includes forgetting what you’ve asked him or her to do very quickly, and/or regularly getting off task with even rote behaviors such as brushing teeth, getting dressed, or preparing for bedtime.
Strong reaction that doesn’t seem to match the situation. Explosive anger, lots of teary meltdowns, or impulsive anger can be examples of these.
An external dialogue that reflects internal worries, fears, or low self-esteem. If your child regularly or repeatedly talks about himself in a negative pattern, it’s very important to take note.
These may be easy-to-overlook comments such as, “I’m so dumb” or “I won’t ever get this” to statements such as, “I’m worried I won’t make friends” or “Nobody ever picks me.” A child’s self-talk is usually much stronger than what a parent hears out loud, so documenting what you do hear becomes a significant part of assessing what your child’s normal is.
Disorganization. Consistent struggle to stay organized or understand the process of how to get organized.
Being overwhelmed. Persistent sense of being overwhelmed in large groups or chaotic environments, even if those environments are temporary or in the name of fun.
Step two: Take note of any shifts in behavior and document those.
This is where you want to look for changes that last more than two weeks. You might notice some of the following:
- Increased restlessness and inability to relax.
- A withdrawal from friends or activities previously enjoyed.
- Sudden decisions that are made with impulsivity.
- Avoidance of places that were once safe havens such as bookstores, movie theaters, or friends’ houses.
- Repeated heightened sensitivity to others’ comments or taking casual comments seriously without filtering the comments’ intent.
- Sudden drop in grades that can’t be explained by illness or travel.
- Decreased appetite, a desire to eat alone, having already eaten unexpectedly at a friend’s house (more than on occasion), or being “too busy” to eat with the family.
- Recurring fears about what was once a routine part of his or her life.
- Missing verbal instructions repeatedly.
If you notice any of the previous behavioral shifts that haven’t been consistent with your child’s norm, we recommend writing them down so that you can talk with your child’s therapist when you schedule an evaluative visit.
Step three: Talk to your child about what you’ve noticed.It is important not to get into a laundry list of changes you’ve seen or behaviors you have noticed. But you could ask a question that may invite feedback from your child or teen.
Think through how you would want to be approached by a parent when you were a child or a teenager. Tread gently and keep it simple. But not asking your child about how he or she is feeling or if he or she is struggling could backfire later.
If you decide that the symptoms you’re noticing are worth talking to a counselor about (and, by and large, many kids and teens benefit from counseling even if they don’t have an ADHD or anxiety diagnosis), you and your child must have talked at least a little bit before you just show up at the counselor’s office.
Even if it was a short check-in, the question you ask your child builds trust and care. Your child needs to know that you pay attention not because you’re judging every move they make but because you love them.
Later, you can talk about the possibility of seeing a counselor for some guidance together.
How to Cooperate with Teachers’ Evaluations and Documentation
When a teacher approaches you with concerns about your child, it’s important to be receptive and open. Parents who jump too quickly to conclusions or assume a teacher is wrong may not find out what’s going on in their child’s life.
Any parent knows how difficult it is to balance their roles as Mom or Dad with work, family, physical and relational health, etc. It’s a tall order, and no parents are perfect.
Here are some tips to help you discuss your child with a teacher or teachers.
Listen more than you talk. When a teacher comes to you or initiates a conference, it is because he or she cares about your child. Yes, it’s his or her job. But teaching isn’t a field that many go into for reasons other than a love of students and teaching.
Ask thoughtful questions after you listen. If your child’s teacher mentions a propensity to interrupt, it’s easy to jump to an assumption such as, “Well, her mother and I have taught her manners. She knows better than that.”
Unfortunately, that may not be the shortest route to understanding what’s going on with your child. Instead, asking a question such as, “Can you tell me more?” helps to communicate that you value what the teacher has to say. You can also ask for examples of the times when the behavior or struggle has been present.
Invite your child’s teacher to suggest the next step. Make sure that the step is something you understand and know how to do. For example, if you asked what a good next step is and she suggests talking to a guidance counselor, you must understand how to contact the guidance counselor, which school counselor serves your child, and how long that communication process usually takes.
Inform your teacher that you want to be an engaged parent who helps your student rather than adds to the chaos. Let him or her know that you’re willing to help your child with missed assignments, arrange after-school transportation if needed for extra academic support, or approach wellness routines with more consistency.
What next? Asking for help with your child’s ADHD and anxiety.
Another important part of the process is asking for help. ADHD and anxiety don’t just go away as children grow. They need to be approached through the lens of a trained psychologist who can help you put together a long-term treatment plan that grows with your child.
Our offices have trained counselors who specialize in ADHD and anxiety. Contact us today to get your child the help she or he needs to thrive.
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