“I felt like everyone in the whole restaurant had their eyes on our table,” she said, as she wiped away a tear. This wasn’t the first time she had come in and shared a story like this. We had processed many of these types of moments together.
“I still get embarrassed even though it’s been so long. He can’t sit still. He’s always fidgeting, always drumming his hands on something, always squirmy. We love to go out to dinner and it’s always stressful.” We sat together as she shared her story, her embarrassment, her frustration at raising a child whom the world doesn’t understand.
This time she made a statement that stood out, “I wish people would offer support instead of stare. I wish they’d educate themselves instead of thinking I’m a bad mother.” She is raising a child with ADHD. Her sentiments are echoed by parents of learning disabled and special needs children around the world- though not always voiced so articulately.
In today’s article, let’s talk a bit about ADHD. We will discuss what it is, ways it manifests, what parents want you to know, and ways to support them. Hopefully, it will help the next time you see a squirming child at a restaurant table or hear of a friend whose child has been diagnosed with ADHD. For parents raising an ADHD child, hopefully, this will be a resource you can share with your loved ones to help them better understand.
What is ADHD?
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It can impact adults and children alike. In most cases, it appears in childhood, but adult-onset ADHD does occur. The main impact is on the ability to focus and maintain attention. ADHD is managed by several methods which may include, medication, counseling, behavioral therapy, occupational and physical therapy, and brain-training exercises and activities.
What are the common signs of ADHD?
There are many signs of ADHD. Some of these are typical child behavior. The key to note here is that in ADHD these are pervasive and cannot be controlled no matter how much willpower or self-determination the person has.
Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms:
- Inability to focus or profound struggles with focus
- Making careless mistakes because they are rushing to finish
- Leaving tasks unfinished
- Difficulty keeping organized or following instructions
- Losing items often
- Inability to follow-through
- Total avoidance of anything requiring focus or mental work
- Fidgeting and constant movement
- Poor emotional control
- Frequent interrupting
- Difficulty reading and understanding social cues
- Relationship problems
What are the myths and misconceptions of ADHD?
Myth: ADHD is caused by bad or negligent parenting.
Fact: ADHD has a variety of causes and scientists are noticing a strong genetic link as well. While we don’t know all of the causes yet, a parent of a child with this disorder is not a bad or negligent parent.
Common contributors include environmental toxin exposure during pregnancy or early childhood (especially to lead), brain injury, food additives, and sugar (such as processed food, white sugar, and food coloring), low birth weight or premature birth, and chemical imbalances in the brain.
Myth: Only boys struggle with ADHD.
Fact: This is not at all true. Girls struggle as well. They just don’t display the hyperactive components as much, so they’re often overlooked. Unfortunately, many girls are not diagnosed until much later than boys their same age. As a result, they are more likely to deal with depression and anxiety alongside their condition.
Myth: Medication will cure it.
Fact: While medication may help some children, for many children it is not effective. Many children need various forms of therapy and adaptations made to help them learn how to focus and thrive in any environment.
Myth: My child is active; therefore, they have this disorder.
Fact: Only about 8% of school-aged children have this and about 3% of adults. Some children may “grow out” of it, but most learn to live with it. Most children are active and move around often. The main difference is that children with this disorder cannot control their actions and movement without support.
Myth: Children cannot do well in school with this struggle.
Fact: There are thousands of children thriving in school, and in homeschool. Yes, it takes some special adaptations and skills, but they can learn and do well after those have been made. Many of these children perform higher than their peers once a learning environment that works well for them is established.
Myth: Kids with ADHD will never accomplish anything because they can’t focus.
Fact: Unfortunately, this has been said to far too many parents. The following are celebrities who have, or had, ADHD, you will see they have done amazing things! Simone Biles, Terry Bradshaw, Jim Carrey, James Carville, Walt Disney, Will.i.am, Michael Jordan, John F. Kennedy, Adam Levine, Lisa Ling-Ling, Howie Mandel, Jamie Oliver, Pennington, Michael Phelps, Shane Victorino, and Emma Watson
Myth: A preschooler is too young to have ADHD, their parents are making it up.
Fact: Most children are diagnosed by age seven.
How to support parents raising a child with signs of ADHD
Here are a few ways to offer support to the parents you know raising a child with this disorder. Keep these in mind the next time you see a child bouncing around in a restaurant.
Be an advocate. Ask the parent if they need someone to advocate for ADHD kids in the school district or help to find outside resources. Sometimes it takes multiple voices to make a change in a school or a school district. Homeschooling parents often appreciate help finding resources, curriculum, outside therapy, and support.
Be a listening ear. Parents sometimes get hard on themselves and burnt out raising children with this disorder. Give them a haven to express their frustrations and share their thoughts. Remind them their child isn’t “bad,” “mean,” “rude,” or “out of control.” You might even help them find a local support group or respite program.
Give the child space to express themselves. These children often feel silenced, and so do their parents. Any way that you can find to help the child express themselves and participate is great. Especially with the assistance of a loving adult who can help them learn to do so appropriately and with grace.
Help the parents stay calm. Kids often feed off their parent’s anxiety and energy. If you can help the parent stay calm, they will be more successful in helping to calm their child.
Provide a break. Parents may get exhausted raising a child who is always on the go, always talking, and full of energy. Offer to take the child to the park or the pool, gift the family a trampoline (with parent’s permission, of course!), or head out for a bike ride or hike to help burn off some of the energy.
Recognize that dietary changes may help. For some children, eliminating certain foods or additives has a huge impact. Make sure to check on dietary restrictions anytime you have families over or bring in snacks for the classroom. Kids will feel so special when something is provided for them and parents feel relief over not having to come up with safe food for their child.
Understand the need for structure, rules, and discipline. This may look different than it looks in other homes. Some children with this disorder thrive with a rigid structure and routine while others need things to be more free-flowing and flexible. Rules often need to be much more explicit and often are displayed in the home, so children don’t forget them.
Discipline may also look different for families with an ADHD child. Parents are usually more than willing to answer your questions about these aspects. They may also provide a list of rules or suggestions for structure when their ADHD child comes over for a playdate or overnight.
Hopefully, this information has given you some insight into the world of parenting a child with this disorder. Please feel free to reach out if we can offer you any support or answer any questions.