We all have seen kids misbehaving and not listening to their parents. We may be in a restaurant or other public place. It’s easy to glare at the parents and think, “I’d never let my kid act like that.”
Children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) often have little control over their behaviors. They have trouble focusing, controlling impulses, and completing tasks.
“That doesn’t make them bad and it shouldn’t reflect on one’s parenting skills,” said Karen Liberato, LCSW, at The Calais School in Whippany, N.J., and Therapeutic Options in Fairfield, N.J. “That’s why it’s essential to educate yourself, your child, family members, and friends about ADHD.”
“The misconception that a child with ADHD is acting out willingly is an injustice to that child. That child has no control over it until you take action to help him manage it.”
Liberato advocates for education. “Parents have to protect their kids from other family members, friends, and even teachers who don’t understand ADHD,” she said. “Family and friends will offer well-meaning advice that often isn’t appropriate. They don’t understand the illness, and that’s where you as a parent must set boundaries.”
Most parents know when their children’s health is “off.” You may hear reports from teachers saying your child is unfocused, acting out, or not paying attention. “Not all teachers will get your kid,” said Paul W. Sirna, MD, FAAP, who practices at Park Avenue Pediatrics at Summit Medical Group in Verona, N.J. “If your child comes home from school in tears, you know something’s wrong. You need to follow up with your child’s teacher. If that doesn’t work, go up the chain of command.”
Both Liberato and Sirna suggest talking to your child’s teachers about behavioral and academic concerns. Speak to your child’s pediatrician to rule out ADHD, ADD, or other mental illness. (ADD is different from ADHD in that hyperactivity is absent. Children with ADD are often calm.) Sirna recommends visiting a neurodevelopmental pediatrician. “Often symptoms of different mental illnesses overlap,” Sirna said. “That’s why it’s important to get your child diagnosed early. Once you know what’s affecting your child, you can manage it. You can also take that diagnosis to your child’s school so everyone involved in your child’s education can be on board.”
Child study teams at most elementary schools will put a 504 plan for children with disabilities or an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) in place for your child. A 504 plan ensures that children with disabilities receive accommodations that ensure their academic success. IEPs are designed for students with disabilities, too. A child with an IEP receives specialized instruction and related services.
“Having a team in place to work with you is essential in managing your child’s mental illness,” Sirna said. “It’s important that parents communicate with their child’s teacher. They spend a good portion of the day with your child and can share important insights about them. Hearing about what a teacher witnesses and what you, as a parent, see is helpful information.”
Once a diagnosis is determined, most children with ADHD will take medication (some parents prefer occupational therapy to medicating their child). “After two weeks of taking medication for ADHD, we will see the child,” Sirna said. “If the medication seems to be working, we follow up with a monthly visit. If not, we make changes and reevaluate to find the right dosage.”
As children grow, medication amounts can change. “We monitor growth, eating habits, and look for any side effects,” Sirna said. (Some medications used to treat ADHD can act as an appetite suppressant.)
Children taking ADHD meds will most likely be on them for life. Sirna doesn’t recommend skipping doses or stopping them on the weekends. “There are parents who don’t like the idea of giving their children medications,” he said. “But these meds are helping their kids function. These meds help children stay on task throughout the day. They keep them focused and happy so they could feel good about themselves. And that’s important.”
In addition to meds, Sirna and Liberato suggest finding a behaviorist or child psychologist to help manage emotions for your child and for the immediate family.
May 03, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN