By Jessica Pippin, LCPC, NCC, Lead Clinician, Child & Adolescent Specialist
Working with kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as well as being a mom to a child with ADHD allows you a window into some of the common stereotypes, statements, and general concerns that people have about the diagnosis. I’ve come to address many of these within the first few sessions of working with a child and their family, just to make sure that everyone is on the same page moving forward. It helps parents to be a better advocate for their child if they have a solid understanding of how their child’s brain works.
Your child is not lazy. Kids and adults with ADHD often struggle with executive function skills that can negatively impact their motivation, planning skills, time management and organization, among other things. Kids with ADHD are often very bright, but their learning styles are unique and can be hard to tap into. Parents are often frustrated because when faced with their favorite video game or even a school subject that they are interested in, they excel. However, topics and subjects that are not interesting to them challenge their attention as well as their executive function skills, which is often why it looks like children are simply choosing where to apply themselves.
ADHD looks different in girls than boys. Girls with ADHD are often a missed or late diagnosis because the presentation can be very different from what people think of when they think of ADHD. Young boys with ADHD often have more of the behavior challenges that draw attention to their hyperactivity or inattention. For girls, they often develop skills to mask their inattention, and their hyperactivity is often internal. At some point, those skills will begin to fail and their struggles will become more obvious, which tends to be later grade school or junior high, rather than early elementary school. Just because it is late to identify, doesn’t mean that it isn’t negatively impacting them.
Busy brains are more than just inattention and hyperactivity. Kids with ADHD have very busy brains. As a result, some of their development can be a little behind or incongruent. Some examples include social skills, math, and handwriting. Social skills tend to show up in Junior High, when being overly talkative or having interests that vary from their classmates can become more of a social barrier, which can create more stress for the child that is trying to fit in.
Kids with ADHD are also more likely to have food sensitivities, which can make them more hyper or have increased digestion issues related to the foods that they eat. Another sensitivity is sensory—kids with ADHD can get overstimulated by too much input and can also be sensory seeking. Most kids don’t know when they’ve had enough and their sensory response results in meltdowns and irritability.
The first line of defense for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is typically medication, which is a trial and error process. Using behavioral therapy interventions, psychoeducation, and social skills training to learn about how their brain works and increase skills can help kids make long term changes to reduce stress. Parent coaching can be incredibly useful for families trying to navigate school, chores, sports, and general functioning. And, just when you think you have it all figured out, ADHD can shift in the way it presents as hormones change and children reach different developmental milestones. It will keep you and your child on your toes!
If you have any concerns about your child’s development, it is important to seek out an evaluation from a professional that is experienced in working with kids and adolescents. If there is a developmental issue, the earlier the condition is identified and a treatment plan implemented, the more successful the outcome.
For help with any mental wellness issue, contact The Mental Wellness Center at 309-807-507 or email at info@TheMentalWellnessCenter.com. They have multiple therapists on staff who specialize in children, adolescents, adults, couples, and family issues, to name a few. Their office is located at 205 N. Williamsburg Drive, Suite A. Bloomington. They are invested in empowering you to return to—or achieve, possibly for the first time every—a complete state of mental wellness.