Parents are often distressed to receive a note from school saying that their child “won’t listen to the teacher,” “won’t sit still in class,” or “causes trouble in the classroom.” It certainly can make a parent feel guilty and responsible and feel that “I’m not being a good parent.” Although some children can, but won’t pay attention, others can’t and don’t. The latter group of children may be suffering from Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This disorder is characterized by impulsive behavior, the inability to pay attention to things they need to, difficulty making transitions from one activity to another, acting before thinking, difficulty waiting turns, frequent blurting out of answers, difficulty making and sustaining friendships, and excess restlessness.

“It is also characteristic that these children have no problem playing computer games, Nintendo, or watching TV since there is immediate gratification and the activity holds their interest,” notes Jim Kendall, LCSW, Manager for the Work/Life Connections Employee Assistance Program. “Inconsistent performance makes it difficult for parents and teachers to know whether these children can’t do something or if they are just being oppositional. It is important, when possible, to discern if the child can and won’t or if they can’t and don’t.”

There are no magic cures for ADHD. The first step in helping your child is a professional evaluation by a qualified mental health professional with input from parents and teachers. Other emotional and behavioral disorders may seem similar but require a different course of treatment. Once a diagnosis is made, the decision of how to treat it faces parents. Counseling, medication, family therapy, and dietary modifications are all options that are considered by various parents. There are other alternatives such as EEG Biofeedback, available in certain areas, which show promise as well.

Few issues in child psychiatry have raised such talk show controversy as that of the use of medications with this group of patients. Approximately 80% of young people diagnosed with ADHD respond favorably to medication so that they can perform to their potential. Medication works best as a component of a comprehensive approach including family therapy and education, school involvement, and individual work with the child. “It is not an easy decision for a parent to initially consider the use of medication; yet when you see your child having successes instead of being yelled at, the decision becomes much easier.” adds Kendall, also a parent of a child with ADHD. “We all want the best opportunities for our children to develop and grow to their potential. Medication may help maximize our children’s ability to succeed in school and with other relationships. It is a tool like eye glasses are for those having problems with vision.”

It is also important for parents and teachers to become partners. (Teaching any ADHD child is a challenge, but imagine having several in a class of 25 to 30 in a small space.) Classroom modifications such as desk placement in the front to reduce stimuli, an extra set of class materials at home, and additional communication about homework assignments can go a long way in helping the child’s ability to learn. Parent, teachers, and siblings also may need support. It has been said, “It takes a village (community) to raise a child.” Nowhere is that more true than when raising a child with an Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Learn more about ADHD by visiting the Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) website.

Keywords: Hyperactivity, ADD, ADHD, Attention, Ritalin