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ADHD Awareness Month - October 2020

ADHD Awareness Month - October 2020

Dr Tony Lloyd, CEO, ADHD Foundation - The Neurodiversity Charity - a leading neurodiversity, mental health and education charity, and the largest ‘user-led’ ADHD agency in Europe.

Lifestyle insight
Reading time: 4 minutes

Could your child have ADHD? What do you need to be aware of?

There are several enduring myths about ADHD. Many parents will no doubt be concerned that a diagnosis of ADHD may be harmful in itself because in the past it has been associated with ‘naughty boys’, or about giving children drugs to make them behave.

This is such a tragedy because although one in 20 children have ADHD, less than half of that number are ever assessed or diagnosed - and as many as 50% of those children who are referred for an assessment don’t in fact have ADHD but instead have behaviours that are linked to trauma, anxiety or other neurological conditions. Why is this happening? Why are so many children who have ADHD being missed? And why are so many children who don’t in fact have ADHD being referred for an assessment? Sadly, because many teachers, and yes, some parents, also think ADHD is about bad behaviour.

ADHD is not a behavioural disorder - it is a neurodevelopmental condition characterised by a delay in development in certain parts of the brain. This delay often results in children with ADHD sometimes being seen as less mature than their peers.

So what do parents need to look out for?

  • Children with ADHD are often very anxious
  • Children with ADHD can be very forgetful
  • Children with ADHD find it difficult to sustain concentration
  • Children with ADHD have what is known as poor executive functioning skills - that is the ability to organise their thoughts and regulate their emotions to plan and organise ‘how’ they do their school work, resulting in difficulty with ‘task initiation’ - so they procrastinate and become frustrated and overwhelmed as they cannot ‘order’ their thinking in a linear, sequential way. On the plus side this can also be the engine of creativity!
  • Children with ADHD can be easily distracted, find it difficult to stay on task or become confused and frustrated by too much information or stimulation
  • Some children with ADHD can be hyperactive - always on the go with seemingly boundless energy, and no matter how tired they are, they still have difficulty sleeping
  • Some children with ADHD can be impulsive, so they may say and do things that they know are not appropriate, but their brain has failed to consider the consequences of their words or actions. (This is not the same as intentional inappropriate behaviour)

Let us be honest - all children find it difficult concentrating or staying on task. All children can be forgetful, impulsive and hyperactive. That is just how children are. They are genetically programmed to do two things above anything else – feel safe and secure in the care of a primary care-giver such as a parent or teacher, and to explore and understand the world around them. This exploration, this learning about their world, is a trial and error process when they do not have the self awareness, life experience or mental capacity to understand whether the environment they live in is safe. So we teach them how to ‘behave’ so they can be safe, and learn how to belong and form relationships with their world. What defines these characteristics as ‘ADHD’ is that they present in a more extreme form. This is why we tend not to diagnose children until they are at least six years of age, as every child has a unique, developmental trajectory - some mature quicker than others.

So what do parents do?

  • Be informed - ensure you know about what ADHD is and what it isn’t, and don’t be influenced by stigma or hearsay
  • Speak with your child’s school and ask if they appear to be struggling with learning and displaying anxiety, because anxiety is the main cause of distressed behaviours that are not context appropriate for the classroom
  • Ask your family if anyone in your extended family on both sides has either dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism spectrum or other learning impairments - because we know that while genetic in origin, ADHD comes under the umbrella of a number of learning difficulties which often co-exist. Did you know for example that over 40% of children with ADHD also have dyslexia?
  • ADHD is genetic in origin but how it affects the individual is determined by the environment - so how you parent your child, how your child’s needs are addressed in school and things like nutrition, good sleep and even traumatic events in childhood can cause that genetic potential to be amplified
  • Pre-term births, epilepsy and brain injury can also be factors in determining whether your child has ADHD
  • If your child’s school share your concerns then speak with the school nurse and your GP, and ask for an assessment to determine whether your child does in fact have ADHD
  • Don’t wait for a formal diagnosis before you start putting effective strategies in place at home and at school - start straight away!

Last but by no means least - ADHD is only a facet of who your child is; it does not define them. They need your love to help them learn how to manage ADHD and how to play to their strengths. Many people with ADHD lead happy, healthy, successful lives. Many achieve at school and there are many high profile role models who have ADHD from Leonardo da Vinci, to astronaut Scott Kelly and Olympic Gold-winning gymnast, Simone Biles. It is estimated that over 35% of entrepreneurs have ADHD or dyslexia - or both!

Identified early and managed well - there is no reason why your child cannot achieve their potential. On a final note - it is estimated that one in five human beings are neurodiverse - that is to say one in five have either dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism spectrum, ADHD, dysgraphia or dyscalculia. They are naturally occurring differences in human neurology. Your child is not sick or ‘disordered’, nor are they mentally ill - they are different. Yes, these differences can be very impairing, but with the right support, early intervention and informed and loving parents, your child can thrive. They just need a little bit of understanding and extra help to understand themselves and manage the challenges while playing to their strengths.

For more information about ADHD Foundation - The Neurodiversity Charity, visit the website. You can also follow on Twitter, Facebook
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