There are so many things I have learned since parenting my children with ADHD. It’s been a learning curve of a journey! Having children with ADHD obviously means I research, a lot. I’ve uncovered so many things I had absolutely no idea about ADHD. Learning about the physical differences in the ADHD brain. Connecting the many comorbidities of ADHD. and so much more. I cringe at some of the things I never knew, and thankfully now do. But, if I had to write a list of my top 10 things I wish people understood about ADHD I think this would be them.
1. ADHD is not a choice
ADHD is not a choice. Nor is it the result of bad parenting, too much tv or your family situation. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) is a complex neurological disorder that affects hyperactivity, impulse control, and focus. It can be extremely debilitating. What needs to be understood is it’s just as, if not more, frustrating for the child with ADHD as it is for someone dealing with them. ‘They are not giving you a hard time; they are having a hard time’.
2. ADHD is not just a school issue
ADHD is not just a classroom problem. Many people assume that a child with ADHD can just not cope with the confines, restrictions, and boredom in a classroom. They believe that this is the only place a child with ADHD will react. As a parent of three, two with ADHD I can categorically tell you it is not.
A child with ADHD can become heightened if they are triggered, and that trigger can be so small to a NT (Neurotypical) individual that it may go unnoticed. They can become overwhelmed by stimuli such as smell, noise, textures, and sounds. Today I was working with a child who become completely overwhelmed by the ‘walking’ noise of my colleague! Irritated beyond belief she had to walk on her toes till she could sit.
Restaurants, airports, shopping malls, and sports events are but a few of the areas that can trigger our children with ADHD due to over-stimulation. It is most definitely not just a school issue.
3. ADHD can make emotions extremely intense
ADHD can cause low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. Having constantly been exposed to numerous negative comments concerning their behaviour, their actions, and their performance, it is no wonder that these issues are all linked to ADHD.
Children with ADHD can also feel emotions more intensely and RSD (Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria) is very common. They pick up on our emotions too. If you are getting frustrated with the child, they will sense this. If you are on a short fuse, they will know and become agitated themselves. Likewise, if you are calm, they can feed off this. As the saying goes, don’t fight fire with fire, even when this is how you a feeling. They will feel your stress and feel like they are a burden to you.
4. Staying on task with ADHD is really difficult
Children with ADHD can have difficulty starting a project and become easily side-tracked. Alternatively, they can be fine at starting but easily distracted, losing focus and interest. Many of our children have difficulty plotting out the steps of a task and simply need a clear plan and help to stay on track. They are not being difficult. In the ADHD brain, the neurotransmitters Noradrenaline (the stress hormone) and Dopamine (the happy hormone, important for reward, motivation, and pleasure) are in low supply. Low levels of these transmitters make it harder for the brain to focus. Hence why an ADHD brain can often be extremely unmotivated, particularly when doing a boring task. When a distraction presents itself, people with ADHD find it almost impossible not to be side-tracked.
5. ADHD presents very differently in everyone
ADHD can have many symptoms which is why it presents so differently in each individual, and why it is so annoying to hear that ‘he/she doesn’t look like they have ADHD?’ What does ADHD look like? The stereotypical ‘naughty’ boy bouncing around the classroom?! No! that’s just such a generalisation of ADHD. There are three subtypes of ADHD: Hyperactive and Impulsive; Inattentive (used to be referred to as ADD); and Combined (both).
My son and daughter are both combined but present so differently, you would not assume they both had the same diagnosis. Then add to this all the comorbidities such as ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder), anxiety, depression etc you can see how one child with ADHD may appear very different to another. It’s all so individual. You can’t tell how much someone is struggling with ADHD just by looking at them.
6. ADHD can cause Hyperfocus
It is well known that children with ADHD have difficulty with focus. What is less recognised with ADHD is the child’s ability to hyperfocus. This may look to an outsider as if they are not listening to them. In reality, they simply can’t control what they are concentrating on.
Due to dopamine levels, an individual cannot cope with boredom. However, when they find something that they really enjoy, they become so focused on it that they become unaware of everything else around them. Hyperfocus can be so intense that a child can be oblivious to time and the need to move on to another task. This is great when the hyperfocus is on maths and reading, lucky you! But when it is on gaming it can cause big issues trying to wean them off a screen.
7. ADHD doesn’t = Unintelligent or lazy
ADHD does not make your child any less intelligent and they are not lazy. In fact, they must work doubly hard compared to their fellow NT children to succeed. A child with ADHD has an impaired prefrontal cortex. This means that their executive functioning is compromised affecting their focus, decision making and management of tasks. The executive load on children with ADHD is immense and very draining. Some children with ADHD are perfectionists and exhaust themselves trying to present excellence to the outside world when inside they are struggling and worn out.
8. Time Management with ADHD is an issue and Routine is essential
Routine and time management are essential. Due to the impairment of their executive functioning, they need structure to keep them on task. Too many tasks at once can make them overwhelmed. I know from my son in the mornings, I must keep prompts simple and one at a time. I want to yell, clothes on, breakfast, teeth, pack bag, shoes and coat on in one almighty rant! But no, break it down, complete one task and offer the next instruction. Keep it basic. Some parents use visuals that they tick off when each task is complete.
Time management issues are genuine. Time blindness is an inability to recognise the concept of time. Many children with ADHD suffer from time blindness, you can say you have 10 minutes till you are blue in the face, but they won’t understand that 10 minutes is a concrete thing that can’t be extended or reduced. This is all part of impairments in executive management. My son works well with a sand timer.
Another difficulty, closely associated with ADHD is dyscalculia. My daughter with ADHD and dyscalculia still at the age of 13 find’s it near on impossible to read a clock. So, analogue clock it is!
9. Medication doesn’t cure ADHD
Medication doesn’t make you have superhuman powers. Nor does it subdue or pacify a child. It simply restores balance in the brain to function as a NT (Neurotypical) child. It levels out the playing field for them but, it doesn’t make them Einstein.
I always assumed any medication for a child with ADHD would calm them. I did worry that they would become little sleepy zombies with no personalities. When I researched medications, and it said they stimulate the ADHD brain, I was shocked! The idea of my kids needing stimulants was a joke! However, when a person with ADHD is given a stimulant, dopamine levels are increased to that of a neurotypical brain. Increasing the activity in the ADHD brain helps them focus, concentrate, and be less impulsive. A child with ADHD on medication still must work hard, however. They don’t have it ‘easy’ just because they are on medication. And the parents haven’t done it for an ‘easy’ option!
10. We need to adapt more to children with ADHD
Children with ADHD need love, support, understanding and patience! They are growing up in a world that says to behave and conform in a way that does not come naturally to them. They learn and think differently, and they would love more people to adapt to them than vice versa. ADHD is completely exhausting and being aware of this is essential. A child with ADHD will react far better to you if they feel they are being heard and understood. Instead of seeing an out-of-control or ‘naughty’ child change your perspective. How can we help them? What are we not doing for them that is resulting in this behaviour?
These are my top 10 things I wish people understood about ADHD. There are so many more, let me know what your ones are! My aim is to raise awareness. I didn’t know half this information until I researched it. I was completely ignorant. There is still so much more I need to know I’m sure. But if we all start by sharing our knowledge I think it would help our children greatly.