What is ADHD?

Signs and symptoms of ADHD, how your child can be diagnosed, and how to help a child with ADHD learn at school and at home

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If your child is showing signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness, they may have ADHD, but what does that mean? We speak to Ben Glenn about the affects of ADHD for both you and your child, and what you can do to help them learn at school and at home. Ben is an American ADHD expert (and diagnosed adult) and dad to Natasha, 7, and Anastasia, 5.

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What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactive disorder. It’s the most common behavioural disorder in theUK, which affects between 3%-9% of schoolchildren, according to the NHS.

It’s estimated that nearly two-thirds of children with ADHD will still have some symptoms as an adult.

How will you know if your child has ADHD?

The common symptoms of ADHD are:

  • Short attention span
  • Restlessness
  • Hyper active behaviour
  • Easily distracted
  • Constant fidgeting

“I think the thing that most people get confused with is, ‘Is this a real disorder?’ All kids are a little bit hyper, especially if you give them sugar, so the main thing is consistency. If a child’s having a conversation with a teacher and there’s a consistent pattern of restlessness and impulsivity then that’s when you want to start considering getting a professional to look at your child,” says Ben.

While your child may have some of the ADHD tendencies from a young age, the symptoms will become more noticeable when they start school, usually between the ages of 3 and 7, when they have to sit still in class for long periods of time and do homework.

Children with ADHD may also have additional problems with their learning or with their sleep. For more info, read our guides to the differences between learning difficulties and learning disabilities  and diagnosing your schoolchild with an autistic spectrum disorder. 

As well as ADHD, there is also ADD, which stands for attention deficit disorder. ADD is where your child is less hyper, but still displays behavioural problems.

What can you do to help a child diagnosed with ADHD?

It’s important to understand ADHD, so Ben advises to read up on the disorder as much as possible.

“When parents see their child get diagnosed with ADHD, they think, ‘Is my child in for a lifetime of feeling like a failure?’ but that really doesn’t have to be the case. When you realise that there are a ton of successful individuals who have ADHD that gives you a little bit of hope,” says Ben.

Having a positive attitude is also key, especially when dealing directly with your child who has ADHD.

“One of the benefits of having ADHD is that we’re extremely intuitive. Kids can sense when other kids or parents are hurting or when they’re attitude changes. So when you’re dealing with this child, they’re going to sense whether or not you’re feeling positive towards this diagnosis or if you’re faking it. So it’s important parents have that positive attitude, but it’s got to come from somewhere,” explains Ben.

How will ADHD affect your child’s education?

Your child’s capability to learn is unlikely to be affected if they have ADHD, but the school situation is where the problems may lie. Your child’s restlessness and impulsivity is not going to stand up well in a classroom, but you have to be patient with your child and help them as much as possible.

Should you speak to your child’s teacher about ADHD?

Yes, regardless of whether you send your child to a mainstream school or a special educational school it’s a good idea to have constant communication with your child’s teacher.

When diagnosing your child with ADHD, there is not one specific test; it’s based on assessing their symptoms and seeing how your child does in the classroom setting. Your child’s disorder is all about evaluation. The teacher will not be allowed to say to you, ‘Your child has ADHD,” as they are not qualified to make that assessment.

What your child’s teacher may be able to do is to point out some of your child’s behavioural symptoms and leave you to decide whether to see a professional psychologist or not.

“I speak to a lot of teachers, during my seminars, and one of the things they dread the most is the parent-teacher conference because they are dealing with parents who are too emotional. You have to respect your child’s teacher. Some parents have the attitude that it should be the teacher’s job to sort their child out, but the teacher’s job is only during school hours and it’s your responsibility to look out for your child at all times,” says Ben.

Some mainstream schools may have a SENCO, special educational needs co-ordinator, who will assist the teacher and look after children with ADHD and other learning difficulties. Speak to your child’s teacher to find out if they do have a SENCO to help you. If they don’t, it might be an idea to tell the teacher more about your child’s individual needs and see what you can do together to aid your child’s learning.

Should your child go to a mainstream school or a special educational needs school?

You know your child better than anyone, so at the end of the day you will need to answer this question as every child is different.

Ben explains that there are benefits for both options.

“If you go to a mainstream school, there’s definitely a benefit in having to find a way to survive. It’s what I had to do when I was at school and in doing that I’ve developed some skills that I still use today,” says Ben.

“However, if you’re talking about a student who has never succeeded, in the end that kid’s going to be depressed and not want to even try to learn. I’ve seen that in a lot of kids who have ADHD and go to school with the attitude that’s ‘once a loser always a loser so why try.’ So sending your child to a special educational needs school may be needed in order to see your child succeed,” advises Ben.

Special educational needs schools can be expensive, as they are usually private schools.

How can you help your child with ADHD learn when at home?

You understand your child better than anyone, so look for ways to make the situation suitable for your child to learn. Don’t expect your child to sit at the kitchen table and quietly get on with their homework, advises Ben.

“My 7-year-old daughter can’t sit still. What I do is take the chair away from her so she can stand up or wander around the house while she’s reading, for example. This allows homework to become a physical activity and the process of allowing her to move her body actually creates the focus,” says Ben.

Studies show that exercise helps students who are easily distracted to focus better. Most parents will expect their children to come home from school and do their homework straight away, but Ben suggests you let a child with ADHD go and play for a while first.

“You’re talking about a kid who’s been sat in a school setting for hours, so let them come home and play for 30 or 40 minutes and get their heart rate up. All those focusing chemicals will get to where they need to be so then you can let your child come in and do their homework. You’ll see them focus a lot better,” explains Ben.

It’s also important to try little exercises with your child, especially if they are younger, to help them stay focused. When giving instructions to your child, Ben suggests you ask your child to repeat the instructions back to you, to make sure they understand.

“It maybe an idea to lower your expectations and recognise that you child may not have the same attention span of a child who doesn’t have ADHD. If you’re going to help your child complete a work sheet, don’t expect them to do the whole sheet in one go. Ask them to do half or even a quarter of the sheet and then have a break, before continuing,” advises Ben.

As well as giving your child breaks in between tasks like homework, you can also try making things more hands on. Children with ADHD are some of the most creative individuals you’ll ever meet, according to Ben.

“Unfortunately, creativity isn’t something that’s cultivated at school, so that’s got to be something to be done at home,” adds Ben.

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For more information, visit Ben’s website www.simpleADHDExpert.com

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