Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children. In the United States, more than five million children between the ages of four and seventeen years old have been diagnosed with ADHD, with boys diagnosed at more than twice the rate of girls.The name Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder may cause more confusion than it offers clarity. Children with ADHD may not have an attention deficit, but rather they may have a surplus of attention.
They follow their attention wherever it leads them, for example, out the door on the breeze, down the path, chasing the butterflies and the birds, picking up an interesting rock, and using it to chalk-write on the asphalt, all while remaining seated in the classroom. They enjoyed a fantastic afternoon in their imagination while the teacher droned on about state capitals.
While children with ADHD can hyperfocus for inordinately long stretches of time if they find the subject at hand interesting, they will struggle to focus their attention when they feel disinterested. This can cause problems at school while waiting in line, or while attempting to do the chores their parents assigned at home.
These are the kids who will use their T-ball mitts as pillows while they cloud bust rather than anticipate when or if the batter will hit anything into the outfield. They will use the flour provided as an art supply to create a dusting of snow on their classmates. A teacher might provide them with a wiggle cushion on their chair in hopes that this will calm their wiggles and they will figure out how to wiggle the plug out of the cushion.
Children with ADHD can rank among the best and the brightest while also being those most difficult for adults to lead and teachers to teach. They will have their own ways of doing things and require their own set of motivational strategies. The challenge for adults responsible for children with ADHD is helping those kids learn to operate appropriately within life’s necessary boxes, like teams, classrooms, and families.
What are the symptoms of ADHD in children?
A common misconception about children with ADHD is that they are all hyperactive. The American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM) includes three variations of ADHD: primarily inattentive; mostly hyperactive and impulsive; and a combined type that includes inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
The variations in ADHD presentation in children can make it difficult to diagnose. One question that needs to be addressed is whether the child’s behaviors are a result of ADHD or whether they are simply symptoms of childhood.
Children need to move and some get the wiggles more than others. Children have active imaginations, some more active than others. Even among siblings, one child may present with extreme hyperactivity while the other child can sit still all day and night and both may have different types of ADHD.
Children with ADHD might be forgetful, fidgety, talkative, careless, take unnecessary risks, or overly physical. Any of those adjectives might describe any child, however, a persistent pattern of behavior that includes several symptoms can lead to a diagnosis, which is only necessary when the behavior patterns become problematic for the child.
For example, a child with primarily inattentive ADHD who consistently forgets to do or turn in school work may be in danger of falling behind academically. Another child with primarily hyperactive ADHD may have trouble getting along with other children because they get impatient waiting to take their turn in a game or they may get unnecessarily physical during playground time.
How do I know if my child has ADHD?
There is no simple test to diagnose ADHD. Instead, a diagnosis is made by gathering information from a child’s parents and teachers; depending on the child’s age, they may play a role in their own diagnosis.
A medical examination, including vision and hearing tests, should be done to rule out other physical causes for behaviors. The DSM has a complete list of symptoms, and a child who “often” presents with six or more behaviors on the list may have ADHD.
Further, while it was once thought that children would outgrow the behaviors included with their ADHD diagnosis, that is no longer considered to be an absolute fact. Children with ADHD may outgrow some of their symptoms while they simply learn to cope with others.
Children with primarily inattentive ADHD may not even be considered for diagnosis until late elementary or middle school when their symptoms become more pronounced and problematic as the demands on their executive functioning skills increase, for example, increased amounts of homework and responsibilities at school, home, and in afterschool activities.
It’s important to know that teachers and school staff – often those who first notice behaviors that may indicate that a child has ADHD – may not offer a diagnosis or require medication for a child to continue participation in their educational career.
However, a child whose physician had offered an ADHD diagnosis may qualify for special educational assistance through the school, including an Individualized Education Plan or a Section 504 plan (for children who don’t require special education). Additionally, children with ADHD may benefit from accommodations such as instruction in study skills, changes to classroom set-up (i.e., a desk near the front of the room), or a modified curriculum.
What treatments are available for children with ADHD?
ADHD in children is most often treated with a combination of medication and behavior therapy. Especially with young children, therapy with parental involvement will be the first course of treatment before trying medications.
The more parents and significant adults in the child’s life can educate themselves about ADHD, the more options families will have since ADHD can require a lot of trial-and-error to determine what helps a child feel safe and motivated. What works today may or may not work tomorrow, so adults will want to stock a toolbox full of tips and tricks to try.
Hope for parents of children diagnosed with ADHD
The God who created and loves your child is not surprised when he or she receives an ADHD diagnosis. Along with the Psalmist, you and your child can praise God together for the wonderfully unique human being God made them to be.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. – Psalm 139:13-14a, 16
God knew your child before you even dreamed of them. God planned all the days of their life and their purpose in life. His plan for your child includes their abundant energy, imagination, creativity, and strength. Everyone faces challenges in life, and no doubt your child’s ADHD symptoms will occasionally create challenges for them, you, and their teachers and leaders.Take a deep breath, teach your child to take even deeper, calming breaths, and keep going. Learn as much as you can, and create a team of supportive people who will walk alongside you and your child. The lessons you learn together now about how to manage and accommodate ADHD symptoms will hold your child in good stead throughout their lifetime.
Finally, never forget to pray with and for your child. Teach your child different ways to pray, like praying short verses of memorized Scripture (as simple as “God is love,” for example, or “Jesus said, ‘Don’t be afraid’”), or breath prayers (inhaling and exhaling as you repeat simple phrases: “God is with me, I am safe”), or create a short prayer and coordinate it with a small fidget (tapping their toes or touching their fingers as they say something to God).
These prayer techniques can assure children that God is with them wherever they go, even at school, and can help them to focus their minds on the help that comes from God whenever they face difficulties in life.
Christian Counseling for Parents and Children with ADHD
If you’re looking for additional support for your child with ADHD, feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors in the online counselor directory. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss practical techniques for ADHD management from a Christian perspective.
“Father and Son”, Courtesy of Joice Kelly, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Biker”, Courtesy of 童 彤, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Playing with Blocks”, Courtesy of Marisa Howenstine, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Girl and Dog”, Courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License