With the fervor of the holidays ever upon us, children’s excitement level is at an all time high…and understandably so. But I’ve also noticed a rise in my friends asking about signs of ADHD in children and wondering, “Does my child have ADHD?”
More and more of my friends, especially with young boys, seem to be receiving diagnoses of ADD and ADHD in their children. To be honest, I’ve always been skeptical of super-quick diagnoses of this disease and an immediate rush to treat with medication.
While I am nowhere near implying that ADHD does not in fact exist, I’ve been wondering a great deal about how to tell the difference between typical ‘boy’ behavior and ADHD, especially since so many of my friends seem to be wondering this exact question…and perhaps more importantly, what to do if your child does receive an ADHD diagnosis.
So I went to Jim Forgan, an expert colleague of mine who is a Licensed School Psychologist and specializes in ADHD resources and Parent Support, and asked him a few questions in hopes of benefitting all of you who may be wondering if in fact your child suffers with ADHD:
1. When should I be concerned that my child’s behavior isn’t simply ‘typical boy behavior’?
I ask parents to consider these five points when trying to decide if the boy’s behavior is typical or if it may be ADHD:
First, how intense is your boy’s behavior?
Boys with ADHD have difficulty with self-regulating their emotions so you boy may become very intense when he gets upset that something does not go his way. You may describe your boy as, “Wearing his emotions on his sleeve.” Your boy may be quick to melt down at home, in the store, at a birthday party, or even at a relative’s house.
Second, how frequent do the behaviors occur?
If your boy has ADHD then his behaviors occur a lot. Your boy’s behaviors may occur so often that they are wearing you out. His behavior may be wearing out his teacher or a caregiver. When a child without ADHD is reprimanded for his behavior he should respond to a warning and a redirection. The boy with ADHD usually has to have then warning and also hear from you three, four, or five times to stop his behavior.
Third, how long has this behavior lasted?
If your boy’s behaviors are related to ADHD they must last over a long period of time. They can’t be behaviors related to a situation such as moving to a new town or a parental divorce. True ADHD behaviors last for more than six months.
Fourth, is there a family history, or suspected family history, of ADHD/ADD?
If there is suspected or documented ADHD/ADD in the family tree, then this is a strong warning sign. In 50% of children ADHD is genetic. Even if it skipped a generation, if it’s in the family tree then that is cause for concern.
Fifth, do the challenging behaviors occur in all areas of the boy’s life?
For a pediatrician or psychologist to diagnose a child with ADHD, they need to make sure the behaviors occur at home, in school, during extracurricular activities, and throughout your boy’s life. ADHD does not pick and choose when to rear its ugly head.
To sum up, for your boy’s behaviors to be classified as ADHD, his behaviors have to occur to a very high degree, have lasted more than six months, have occurred in two or more settings, and have interfered with his social or academic performance. If you read this and are concerned about your boy, get it checked out and then get yourself some resources to help you parent him.
2. What can you do if you suspect your boy’s behaviors are related to ADHD?
First, talk to your son’s pediatrician or a child or school psychologist. Most professionals are very thorough when determining if your son has ADHD. They should gather information from multiple sources as well as test, or at minimum, talk with your boy.
In addition to talking to a professional, many parents will also closely monitor their child’s diet to make sure the behaviors are not the result of food allergies such as gluten or red dye. Some parents will begin giving their boy a multivitamin or supplements. In Module Two of my Parent Support System, I discuss the specific type of allergy testing you should ask your doctor to complete. (I also have a video in the Parent Support System that discusses which types of supplements often help boys with ADHD). Whatever you do, start identifying the people that can help support you and your child.
I could go on and on with what I learned from Dr. Forgan, but suffice it to say, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ answer to this question. What I can tell you is that every child is different, so it’s important to study your child well, rule out any other possibilities and then present him to people you trust.
I appreciate that Jim also recognizes the role of diet and supplements in not only diagnosing, but also treating ADHD. If I’ve learned anything in the last year, it’s that we need to do the best job we can in helping our bodies heal themselves; diet and supplements play a crucial role in that, but the quality and combination are key, which is why it’s important to find a qualified nutritionist to guide you down that path.
Regardless of where you live, you can also find professionals specializing in ADHD by searching the professional’s list on the CHADD website. CHADD is the largest organization for helping and advocating for individuals with ADHD. You may have to interview several professionals before finding the right fit but having the right fit is worth the time and financial investment because your make more progress. Dr. Forgan is also available to help parents in person or via Skype.
While we’ve just scratched the surface here, I hope this has shed some light on what so many of you are going through and given some guidance, possible next steps to take and questions to ask on your journey to diagnosing ADHD.
Just curious, for those of you who have ADHD children, what is the best piece of advice you would give to others in the beginning stages of this diagnosis process?