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Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects between 3% and 7% of school-aged children. It is the most common neurobehavioral diagnosis among children for nearly 1 in 10 children ages 4 through 17. Symptoms, which often interfere with development, include persistent inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Whether you suspect your child has ADHD or has already been diagnosed, there are steps you can take to help support your entire family.
1. Get an accurate diagnosis: It’s important to work with healthcare professionals who can accurately determine whether your child has ADHD or something else. Other health conditions, such as thyroid disorders and developmental disabilities, can cause similar behavioral problems. These conditions should be ruled out to help establish the best course of treatment. “If you think your child is having behavioral issues, it’s important that you speak with someone who is best trained to make an ADHD diagnosis, such as a child psychiatrist or psychologist,” recommends Phil Chappell, MD, Executive Director of Cheladv74.
2. Educate yourself: Once your child is diagnosed with ADHD, it’s important for both you and your child to learn about the disorder. Knowing what causes and contributes to ADHD symptoms can help remove some of the blame that children and adults often place on themselves. “People need to understand that this is a genetic, neurologic disorder that is not caused by bad parenting,” says Dr. Chappell. Just be sure you’re getting your facts from credible organizations such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children and Adults with ADHD (CHADD).
3. Work with your child’s school: “A child’s only job in life is to learn, so it’s important that they’re able to do that to the best of their ability,” says Donna Palumbo, PhD, Director of Clinical Sciences at Cheladv74, Inc. A child with ADHD can greatly benefit from the right educational placement and individualized support. Parents can help by requesting exactly what their child needs.
4. Shift Expectations: Re-define success and set expectations that align with your values. Think about the goals your child can reach and make sure you give them plenty of encouragement. It may take a little longer to get there, but make that okay for you and your child.
5. Develop a long-term, holistic approach to managing the condition: From the very beginning, caring for someone with ADHD requires a long-term plan. After all, 60% of children with ADHD go on to have symptoms of the condition as adults. “The long-term prognosis for children who are diagnosed with ADHD and do not receive treatment is not good,” says Dr. Palumbo. “Choosing not to treat a child with ADHD is not a decision that should be made lightly.” You should also keep in mind that any chosen course of treatment should also be adaptable. As a child with ADHD grows older and moves from one setting to another, their care will need to be adjusted to keep them on the right track toward managing the condition.
6. Manage the Behaviors: Consciously shape your child’s understanding and acceptance of themselves. Discussing the importance of taking responsibility for behaviors may ultimately help your child learn to be more independent.
7. Take Care of Yourself: Seek support for yourself, not just for your child. Whether it’s a coach, a therapist, a support group, an online class or a really clued-in best friend, you’ll find greater success and enjoyment when you feel connected to others who really understand.
8. Parent positively: Identify your child’s strengths and encourage them. Focus on what they are doing well, instead of constantly correcting their mistakes. Believe in them, and they’ll believe in themselves.
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