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What is ADHD?

We hear the ADHD term so often. To be honest, before kids, I thought ADHD was linked to ASBO’s or Anti-Social Behaviour Order (insert ashamed face).  I mean be fair, they start with the same initial…

So, what is ADHD, or its full name Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder?  Well, as the name suggests, ADHD falls into two categories.  There is the inattention aspect and the hyperactivity and impulsiveness side.  Many people have both hence ADHD.  ADD, on the other hand, Attention Deficit Disorder, can often go unnoticed as the symptoms are far less obvious.  Children with ADHD have often been called the naughty or challenging children in class or at home, due to the behaviour, they present.

Let us break down the two sides:

Inattentiveness

What was I thinking about?
  • The child will often appear to not be listening and can avoid direct eye contact.
  • They will constantly want to change a task or an activity especially if the task is tedious or time-consuming.  Conversely, they will be unable to come off a task immediately.
  • Their attention span is noticeably short and very easily distracted
  • They may have difficulty organising tasks and can make careless mistakes
  • They may often lose things and be forgetful

Hyperactivity and Impulsiveness

  • The child is unable to sit still becoming restless in most situations and will constantly fidget
  • They will talk excessively, interrupting conversations, shouting out
  • They are often unable to concentrate on tasks
  • There is generally little or no sense of danger to what they do, very impulsive and acting out and speaking out without thinking
  • They will find it difficult to wait for their turn, in queues, in conversations etc
Keep Moving!

One of the main problems with recognising ADHD is probably that your child could display all the above or maybe just one or two parts.  ADHD is a very individual thing.  So, what ADHD is to you could be vastly different from someone else, which adds to the confusion.  My two children display quite differently, probably why I had not noticed my son’s ADHD creeping up dealing with my daughter’s ADHD! 

My daughter did not do well in mainstream school.  She would run out of class, could not sit with the other kids, hated too much noise, yet made plenty of it herself.  She would like to sit under tables, refuse to do work and generally fall behind academically.  My youngest son, however, is extremely hyperactive, cannot sit still at mealtimes or in class, yet can watch a whole movie, unlike his sister.  He is very clever and academic, has amazing vocab, and likes to be in class.  He is extremely impulsive. Has to touch anything he has been told not to touch, for example, hitting the school fire alarm in a queue to leave at home time.  Had no idea why he had done it, burst into tears, and said he had not thought about what it would do!

What causes ADHD?

No one really, fully understands what causes ADHD.  Here are a few theories as to the cause:

What is this ADHD?
  • It does seem to run in families but there is no one gene that causes ADHD, so it is an extraordinarily complex issue.
  • Environmental factors mixed with a child’s genetic makeup can increase the risk
  • Brain imaging has shown differences in size in a child with ADHD.  The ‘grey matter’ is approximately three years behind that of children without ADHD.  
  • Neurotransmitters, the chemicals in the brain that communicate all the messages around, have lower levels. This is especially so with those linked with impulses and attention spans.
  • Low birth weight and premature births increase the chances of ADHD. This can also be linked to alcohol, drug and cigarette use during pregnancy.

My daughter, a twin, was born at 34 weeks and weighed fine! I can proudly say I did not use drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes during my pregnancy. Being a twin makes me think it must be something genetic in her, her brother should, by these rules, also have ADHD, and he does not!  It just shows again how very individual and confusing this whole thing is!

Let me tell you what doesn’t cause ADHD!

  • Your parenting!  I know we have all heard this one, so nice to hear, isn’t it.  Perhaps you should be stricter, firmer, put more boundaries in blah blah blah!  Whilst parenting style can affect your child with ADHD, it did not cause it!
  • You let them watch too much TV!  This does not cause ADHD, might not help them but did not cause it!
  • Your family situation.  Whatever your set-up, I am a single mum, your financial position, your education level, your whatever, that did not cause ADHD!
  • Your family’s diet.  Whilst certain foods, sugars, colours etc will not help a child with ADHD, they did not cause it.

As you can see are many problems in recognising ADHD in children for parents.  I mean most young kids are bundles of energy and are on the go constantly!  Speak to any parent. I would be more concerned when they were young if they were too lethargic!  Most young kids love to talk from the moment they wake up to the moment they eventually fall asleep! 

Work with your school

So, when is it a problem?  When should you think about seeking help?  Largely, children do start to grow out of the ‘highly active’ phase and are able to focus on at least one or two tasks for longer periods of time.  ADHD is generally seen in more than one environment i.e. school and home. I do think that schools play a large role in recognition.  Remember, they deal with large groups of similar-aged kids and have more of a comparison.  I knew my daughter was falling behind so much in school. She was constantly out of the classroom cooking or other relaxing undertakings!  She was very volatile in school, so they helped start the ball rolling by submitting forms to CAMHs. 

My son, however, took a bit longer for them to notice.  He was a typical fidget-bum boy, who liked to shout out the answers as soon as he knew them.  Working in a school myself, I had seen plenty of these and would not necessarily say they had ADHD.  He did not seem so obvious as my daughter had been.

I guess though, it started taking him longer to do things at home, he was so easily distracted.  At teatime, I would say stay on your chair constantly. Mornings were bad. I know all kids need to be told to brush their teeth etc, but this was ridiculous!  Even if he started to walk in the direction of the bathroom he would divert off. Forget where he was going, distracted by something else.  Shoes on, shoes on, shoes on, shoes on, shoes on, shoes on, The shoes were out in front of him. Even when eating, I have to say keep eating, keep eating, keep eating because he seems to forget, thoughts elsewhere.

Go see your GP

I guess I was almost ‘lucky’ that my kid’s behaviour was obvious in school. It meant that the school could initiate some of the assessments and get the proverbial ball rolling.  If you are worried go to your GP. Do your research online, and reach out to online ADHD parenting groups. These parents are experts in this field, ask them about any worries or concerns.  Your GP can refer you to CAMHs or you can pay privately.  CAMH’s is free but be prepared to wait, however, private is extortionately expensive.

How is ADHD diagnosed?

Diagnosis requires a specialist assessment. It will be carried out by a Psychiatrist, Clinical Psychologist or Paediatrician. They need to ensure that it is not another underlying condition.  Symptoms will have been seen before age 12, the average age being seven, in two or more settings.  The Professional will note in detail the child’s developmental history and psychosocial history.  They will also want to know how this behaviour impacts their daily life. Standardised tests can be used as well. 

Some professionals may also want to carry out some assessments in the school setting. Gaining the input of your child’s teachers is often useful to them too. They will always want a first-hand observation of your child.  I remember taking my daughter to her appointment and thinking she would probably sit beautifully and hold it all in.  Thankfully, she acted like her normal self. She spent the entire time whizzing up and down the Psychiatrist’s office on a wheelie stool. 

I got the diagnosis.

Also, worth noting is that about 60-80% of children with ADHD will have at least one other condition. My daughter has dyslexia and ODD, Opposition Defiance Disorder and dyscalculia. my youngest son is currently awaiting assessment.

My happy lil girl!

Statistics show that more boys than girls are diagnosed with ADHD.  However, not because girls are less likely to have ADHD. More that they often present in the more inattentive, ‘daydreaming’ side as opposed to the hyperactive side.  My daughter presented more as hyperactive, which is why she got noticed.  I would imagine the fact of having undiagnosed dyslexia would make you more than frustrated. Imagine being in class and having no idea what they have just asked you to read and then do!  I will always remember when she was diagnosed with dyslexia. She got her first coloured perspex placed over some writing, and she said, ‘Mummy! The words aren’t bubbly!’, I could have cried!  I asked her why she had never said anything before, she said she thought they were supposed to look like that!  Bless her!

There is honestly so much more I could write, and I may well add to this post, but I did not want to make it so long that it put you off!  After all parenting a child with ADHD takes up a lot of our time, you do not need to spend hours reading about it too!  Truly hope this concise little breakdown has helped, please let me know either way in the comments below.  I would love to hear other people’s stories, please do share.

Please, if you can take away one thing from this, ADHD is considered a Chronic Neuro-Developmental Disorder. You did not cause this.   You can however help your child receive the best treatment and support so that they can thrive.  About one in three people diagnosed with ADHD in childhood will grow out of it.  Those who receive the support they need from specialists learn how to cope and adapt.  They can go on to lead very normal adult lives without further treatment.  Great News!  And for those where it does persist, they will have learnt many strategies to manage their symptoms so there is hope for all. 

My friend once told me this and I still say it a lot,

‘Everything will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright, it’s not the end.’

I have started a private support group on Facebook for parents and carers who need support with their child with ADHD. It’s a friendly place to chat with others. Please do click this link ADHDinchildren to join. And for anyone on Instagram, I’m there too ADHD Mum.

Vicki x

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Jackie.

    Thank you, this is so well written. I find myself nodding to so much written above!! Thank you for all of your advice, knowledge, experience and info!

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