While all of us have experienced trouble focusing at some point in our lives, it becomes significant enough to be diagnosed and treated when that difficulty paying attention, sitting still, or staying organized begins to seriously interfere with aspects of daily life. This collection of symptoms is classified as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, which is a common neurodevelopmental disorder, affecting an estimated 11% of all school-age children. For three-fourths of them, the systems will persist into adulthood, requiring lifelong treatment. This is why early identification is so critical, as children with ADHD can receive the proper care and learn tools to help them academically as well as socially and emotionally.
Essentially, ADHD is characterized by developmentally inappropriate levels of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. While this can lead to serious issues when left unaddressed, those who have ADHD can succeed and manage their symptoms with the proper medication, tools, and learning support. Identifying ADHD as early as possible is key to avoiding struggles down the road, which tend to compound with age and increased responsibility.
Signs and Symptoms
ADHD can be tricky to diagnose in smaller children because it’s tough to distinguish it from a typical toddler’s high energy. But parents often notice the excessive energy that comes with ADHD from an early age. As a child grows, hyperactivity and inability to focus will persist, and additional symptoms can manifest as well, depending on how ADHD presents in each child, which is subject to much variability.
ADHD is classified into three subtypes:
This type of ADHD most notably lacks the hyperactive aspects of the other two forms. If they present with more inattentiveness, symptoms may include:
- Lack of attention to details - Does your child miss key details or not notice things right in front of them?
- Losing things easily - Is your child always losing their belongings?
- Getting distracted often - Is it difficult to keep your child’s attention for prolonged periods?
- Trouble staying organized - Does your child have a messy desk or backpack
- Difficulty following directions - Does your child frequently get in trouble for insubordination?
- Forgetfulness - Is your child always forgetting important information
- Avoiding tasks that require consistent mental effort - Does your child repeatedly avoid academic tasks that are challenging?
This type of ADHD is the rarest, as it involves individuals who are hyperactive but lack the inattentiveness characterized by most forms of ADHD. If they present with more hyperactivity and impulsiveness, symptoms may include:
- Trouble staying seated - Does your child often get out of their chair in class, prompting the teacher to ask them to sit?
- Fidgeting - Does your child need to be constantly shaking a leg or display other fidgeting behavior?
- Blurting out answers before a person has finished asking a question - Does your child often speak out of turn
- Excessive talking - Do you find that your child talks almost nonstop
- Excessive climbing or running - Does your child have a seemingly endless supply of physical energy?
- Trouble being quiet - Can your child not keep quiet even when it’s imperative that they do so?
- Impatience - Is your child unable to wait?
This most common form of ADHD can include several or all symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactive types of ADHD. More often than not, children with ADHD display some symptoms of both, exhibiting hyperactive behavior accompanied by the inability to focus that is the first thing most people think of when they think of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Getting a Diagnosis
While there’s no such thing as a single test to determine whether or not a person has ADHD, a comprehensive evaluation will help families reach a confirmed diagnosis. A professional will take a closer look at a child’s history to see how they function in school, at home, and socially with their peers.
The diagnosis may come from a social worker, clinical psychologist, nurse, psychiatrist, or pediatrician. Regardless of which professional evaluates the child, these experts use DSM-5 diagnostic criteria to decide whether a child has ADHD, or displays signs of another learning disability or mood disorder instead.
This is important because sometimes symptoms are a result of anxiety, depression, or another learning disability, and treating the child with medication for ADHD would actually exacerbate symptoms rather than help them resolve.
Treating and Managing ADHD
Since the severity of ADHD varies so much from child to child, treatment and management plans also vary on a case-by-case basis. But generally speaking, through a combination of medical, psychological, behavioral, and educational interventions, children with ADHD are able to manage their symptoms in order to learn and succeed alongside their peers.
Treatment methods include everything from parent training and medication to counseling and behavioral therapy. Usually, a combination of these methods is employed for maximum success. And while every single case is different, some children do grow out of ADHD symptoms or the need for intervention as they approach adulthood.
Making Classrooms More ADHD-Friendly
The symptoms of ADHD, like inattention, fidgeting, and difficulty listening, often get in the way of learning, not only for the student with ADHD but for their classmates as well. But educators can make their classrooms more accommodating for students with ADHD and their peers by making the following adjustment and considerations:
Changing up the seating arrangements and using standing desks, wiggle chairs, or footrests can remove distractions and keep hyperactive students’ bodies occupied so that their minds can focus on the lesson plan.
Adding more room between desks
This leaves less room for distraction and chatting. Separating students with ADHD from sitting near their close friends will also minimize distraction.
Creating a written schedule and establish clear class rules
Being firm with rules and schedules ensures that a student exhibiting hyperactive and inattentive tendencies will build good habits around their education.
Making a quiet/safe space within the class
Establishing the classroom as a peaceful, safe haven will help students get into the zone.
Keeping students with ADHD near instructors
Placing children with ADHD near their teachers will force them to pay closer attention lest they get reprimanded for talking out of turn.
Keeping a Positive Attitude
While any learning disability diagnosis can be daunting at first, remembering that there are countless resources at your disposal to ensure that your child achieves academic and social success will help you stay positive even in trying times. Teachers and special educators, as well as social workers, school counselors, and other mental health professionals are all rooting for your child to succeed. Using proven methods of coping with ADHD, from organization skills to therapy and medication and even regular exercise, will all contribute to a positive outcome from what can be a difficult diagnosis.