Recent national surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that more than 1 in 10 (11%) of children between that ages of 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) by a licensed healthcare provider.1 The survey showed that the average age of diagnosis is seven and 6.1% of children diagnosed with ADHD use medication.

If you are a parent with a recently diagnosed child, you might be wondering where to begin. Knowing the diagnosis is useful, but understanding what the diagnosis means for your child and your family will help you get the proper support system in place.

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Talk to your child about the diagnosis.

The first step is to explain the diagnosis to your child. When parents teach kids about ADHD, including how it can impact them at school and with friends, they empower their kids to understand and learn how to manage their symptoms.

This can be a difficult conversation to start, especially with young children. Try these talking points:

  • Talk about the brain. Tell your child that everyone has an individual learning style, and everyone is different. This is because no two brains are exactly the same! Explain that your child’s brain works very fast, and that can make it hard to sit still, wait before talking, or process thoughts. Be sure to tell your child that a fast working brain can be a strength, but it can also be hard to manage at times.
  • Tell your child that lots of people have ADHD. Go online together to Google famous people or leaders with ADHD to find some role models.
  • Explain that kids with ADHD are often flooded with new ideas and have lots of energy. That can be a great thing when working on projects!
  • Tell your child that ADHD does not just go away, but that there are ways to work on decreasing the parts of ADHD that cause your child stress (outbursts, calling out in class, having trouble with friends). Talk about your plan to help your child (strategies at home and school and medication.)
  • If your child needs medication, don’t make it a negative. Tell your child that the medication will help manage some of the symptoms of ADHD that your child can’t control on his own.

Recent research shows that regular physical activity can both reduce the severity of symptoms and improve cognitive functioning for kids with ADHD.2 Teaching kids that they need extra exercise and helping them learn about movement strategies they can use in the classroom puts them in the driver’s seat. When they know how to help themselves, they can take control.

Learn about related behavioral and emotional issues.

One complication of childhood ADHD is that there can be more than one mental health issue going on. The highly disruptive kids with behavioral issues are quick to be diagnosed, but they are also quick to face consequences in the classroom, struggle to make and maintain friends, and develop low self-esteem. The inattentive kids might not face as many behavioral interventions, but they do struggle to maintain focus. This can negatively impact learning and school performance.

One long-term study showed that ADHD persists into adulthood for about 30% who are diagnosed with it as kids. The study also showed that people diagnosed with ADHD as a child had an increased risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, antisocial personality disorder, and even suicide.3

Kids with ADHD are at risk for anxiety and depression. It’s important to understand the potential symptoms of these related disorders so that parents can seek appropriate support if need be.

Symptoms of ADHD can mask other problems. Anxiety, depression, behavior disorders, learning disorders, psychological reactions to major life events (i.e. moving, death in the family), and other medical conditions can present as ADHD symptoms. Accurate diagnosis is essential to finding the best treatment.

Investigate treatment options.

Treatment decisions for children with ADHD can be complex. Parents, healthcare professionals, psychologists, teachers, and school officials should work together to determine the best treatment option for the child. A team approach ensures that the child has support both in the home and in the school setting.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends evidence-based parent and/or teacher directed behavior as the first line of treatment for preschool students, a combination of medication management and evidence-based behavior therapy for students ages 6-11, and a combination of medication management and behavior therapy for students ages 12-18.4

An evaluation by a neuropsychologist helps outline the specific areas of weakness for the child. It’s important to remember that no two children are the same, and what works for one child with ADHD might not work for yours. Getting a diagnosis and detailing a treatment plan can feel overwhelming for parents, try these steps to get started:

  • Have your child evaluated by a neuropsychologist
  • Meet with the neuropsychologist to review and understand the results of the testing and discuss specific accommodations and behavioral strategies to benefit your child at school and at home
  • Bring your test results to the medical doctor if you seek a medication evaluation. Be sure to sign releases to get all parties working together as a team – this is an important step. Include your child’s classroom teacher!
  • Seek a referral for a cognitive behavioral therapist – your neuropsychologist is a great starting point to find referrals for a therapist
  • Connect with other parents to trade tips and advice or to seek support as you navigate the process. Understood and CHADD provide great resources for parents.
  • Request a team meeting at your child’s school. Include the neuropsychologist, the cognitive behavioral therapist, and any other professionals working with your child to help create a support plan for your child.

Discuss a plan with the school.

Children diagnosed with ADHD may be eligible for classroom accommodations with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan. In both cases, the school will need to conduct and evaluation.

Schedule a meeting with the classroom teacher and school support services to discuss which informal supports (i.e. sitting in close proximity to the teacher, tools to reduce fidgeting) and classroom accommodations (i.e. extended time on tests and other assignments, use of pictures and graphs) will benefit your child.

A diagnosis of ADHD feels overwhelming in the moment, but with a supportive treatment team in place and the necessary interventions at home and at school, kids with ADHD can thrive.

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Last Updated: Feb 14, 2018