What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder encompasses characteristics such as excessive energy, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness and difficulty regulating emotions. While all children can display these characteristics – in children with ADHD, they appear in a more extreme form.   

Children with ADHD experience a childhood developmental delay in some parts of the brain. This delay results in immaturity – that can be mistaken for intentional inappropriate behaviour because they don’t appear to ‘act their age’.

People with ADHD can be impulsive, speaking or acting without thinking. For children and younger people, the developmental delay can present as difficulty regulating their emotions, becoming easily frustrated and extremely sensitive to criticism. inability to regulate their emotions and cope with stressful high pressure situations.

Children’s brains work more effectively when they are able to move – this helps to produce neurotransmitters in the brain to help children concentrate and remember information. Restricting movement for children with ADHD is stressful because their brain compels them to move and fidget in order to help their brain concentrate.

Characteristics of ADHD can present quite early in children, although diagnosis often occurs when they begin school. This is because children do not all develop at the same rate. Some crawl and walk quickly – some children learn to talk later than others of the same age. It is very rare for a child to be given a formal diagnosis of ADHD before the age of six.

  • Not all children with ADHD are hyperactive; this is especially the case with girls.
  • Not all children with ADHD act inappropriately – in every situation.
  • ADHD does not equate to low IQ. Many academically gifted children have ADHD.
  • ADHD rarely appears on its own. Almost half of children with ADHD also have dyslexia. 26% of children with ADHD have co-occurring autism spectrum, and may experience social and communication difficulties and sensory difficulties relating to lights, noise, taste and touch. Some children with ADHD also have co-occurring dyspraxia, affecting movement and other learning differences. Many children with ADHD may experience involuntary physical or verbal tics – which can be very distressing.

Characteristics

ChallengesStrengths
Feeling restless or fidgetyLots of energy and drive
Easily distractedImaginative
Impulsive in word or actionEnthusiastic
Talkative / interrupts otherscommunication skills
Finding it hard to concentrateAble to ‘hyper-focus’ on one thing
Unable to concentrate / mind wanderingCurious, seeking stimulation
Poor planning and organisational skillsCreative ‘visionary’ thinkers
Time blind and often running lateSensitive
Lacks attention to detailEnhanced visual memory
Forgetful / repeats mistakesSpontaneous

ADHD, when it is identified early, understood and properly managed, need not be life impairing. Many happy, healthy and successful individuals have ADHD. People with ADHD can be found in every profession in every walk of life. 

Living with ADHD in childhood

For children living with ADHD life and especially school, can be challenging and at times exhausting and stressful. ‘Learner anxiety’ can become an every-day ‘pervasive’ anxiety.  

Managing ADHD successfully requires the following:

  1. Daily physical exercise – especially running, swimming, cycling and walking.
  2. Good sleep patterns ( no screens before bed and bed and waking at fixed times – inc. weekends.
  3. Good nutrition – children must eat a breakfast – even if they don’t ‘feel’ hungry because their brain will not learn in school and their immune system will be weakened without ‘energy’ from food. Avoid energy drinks and high carbohydrate foods. ‘Energy is more important that taste’.
  4. Plan and organise everything!  Use a diary, a daily planner, notice boards in the bedroom and in the kitchen and reminder notes by the front door so homework, PE kit, pens and pencils are not forgotten.  Even school work – especially homework, children need the support of parents to help them break down the task and plan the answer in a structured way.
  5. Practice daily stress reduction strategies – slow deep breathing for a few minutes – several times a day. Yoga, mindfulness, a hobby, anything that helps a child learn how to self soothe, self calm and prevent themselves from becoming overwhelmed. Overwhelm and anxiety are the cause of most inappropriate behaviour.
  6. If your child needs medication, ensure they have access to water to sip all day in school and teachers and parents should regularly review how the child is managing. Remember that medication does not teach children how to behave. It is not a morality pill; it will simply improve the brains ability to learn which in turn makes the child less anxious and calmer.
  7. Cognitive behavioural therapy, coaching and counselling may also be needed at times.
  8. Friendships and hobbies. Developing friendship skills, learning from their parents and other adults around them how to speak to others, show kindness, share, be empathic, show interest in others, learning to be a good listener who is non-judgemental. 

Children learn by modelling the behaviours of those around them. Children need good role models. We can’t assume that children always understand us adults or the world they live in; we have to help them to understand so they can learn how to be the best human being they can be.  That sometimes requires a little more patience with children who have ADHD – because they need you to be more patient with them through their struggles.

1 in 5 human beings are ‘neurodiverse’. That means 1 in 5 of us have either dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, dyscalculia, dysgraphia or autism spectrum. If 20% of human beings have these different minds – then from the perspective of evolution, there is a purpose as to why some people have ‘different minds’.  We are moving away from words like ‘disorder’ because 20% of human beings can not all be errors of genetics. They are simply different; black, white, Asian, LGBTQ, tall, short…. No two human beings are the same. Your brain is as unique as your fingerprint.

History is full of famous people with ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism…. Often, we don’t see them because we look for stereotypes that stigmatise and demean others, rather than noticing what they can do, too often we focus on what they can’t do. ‘I can’ is more important that ‘IQ’.    

Advice and Support

For more information and advice you can check out the following websites;

ADHD Foundation

www.additudemag.com

www.childmind.org

www.witherslackgroup.co.uk

Young Minds

ADULTS

www.ADD.org