Episode 5:What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Children struggle to sit still, control their impulses and actions and to remain attentive because of their curious nature. Concerns arise when these behaviours impedes their everyday activities. 

Children who experience difficulties in maintaining focus, attention and control and who exhibit impulsive behaviour affecting their ability to lead normal daily lives usually suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

This diagnosis however does not spell a life of limitations for a child, something parents should note. ADHD can be managed well enough to enable a child lead a productive and successful life.

How to manage attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

1. Accept the diagnosis & the challenges it may present

The first step in managing your child’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is accepting the diagnosis and the challenges that may come with it. Resisting and denying the diagnosis could leave a child without the much needed treatment and therapy to combat the symptoms.

Depending on the age of diagnosis, a child might sense the resentment and denial of the parents and any other pessimistic attitudes about the diagnosis. Such a child is likely to suffer from low self-esteem and is likely to fail to develop the indomitable spirit that he/she requires to grow into a well-adjusted and happy child.

Accepting your child’s diagnosis will allow you to focus on their gifts.

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder will respond to the attitudes of their parents towards the condition, whether negative or positive. Accepting the diagnosis will prepare you to give your child the support that they require during the management of the disorder.​

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

2. Using a Behaviour Management Plan

The next step after accepting your child’s ADHD diagnosis should be to begin consulting with a health professional to enable you to design a behaviour management plan that suits the type of disorder your child has. You can visit this post to learn more about the different types of ADHD disorders.

The aim of a behaviour management plan is to understand your child’s specific diagnosis and to manage it. This involves finding a balance between your expectations and what they are capable which can be done by establishing a daily routine, boundaries and appropriate behaviour reinforcing methods.

Another important way to find the balance between your expectations and what your child is capable of,  is to combine  behaviour strategies and medication.

Please read below on some of the behavioural and medical interventions to employ.

a. Behavioural Interventions

It is best to discuss with a healthcare professional and come up with the most appropriate behaviour management plan for your child. Some of these strategies may include:

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(i) Offering clear verbal instructions

Children tend exhibit defiant behaviour when they do not understand what their parents expect of them. Parents need to give verbal instructions that are clear enough to understand. Parents should demonstrate where necessary, to ensure that their child understands what is expected of them. Practice maintaining eye contact with your child when giving them instructions.

You can also ask your child to repeat the instructions given to them as a way to ascertain whether they have understood them.

You can read more about how to give your child instructions in this blogpost.

(ii) Reducing level of fatigue

Children are more likely to behave well when their energy levels are optimum and not drained. In-order to ensure this, it is recommended to include periodic breaks into your child’s daily routine, provide a healthy and balanced diet that provides energy slowly over a long time, reduce the amount of screen time, implement a good sleep routine and encourage good sleep habits. Something else you need to do is to alternate exciting activities with low-key activities to curb over-excitement.

What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?

(iii) Maintaining a regular and predictable routine

There is security in predictability and regular routines. Setting up a daily routine can be achieved by discussing the routine with your child, using lists and pictures as a reminder for your child, informing your child of any changes to their routine promptly and limiting the number of activity choices available to them.

(iv) Improving social skills

Children with ADHD might need assistance in learning how to interact with their peers. Parents can help improve their child’s social skills by offering rewards for desirable behaviour such as sharing and being kind and gentle towards others. Parents can also teach conflict resolution strategies. 

(v) Praising desirable behaviour

This strategy is based on the fact that praising a child for desirable behaviour is likely to elicit a repeat of the same good behaviour. Other strategies that parents can use to encourage desirable behaviour includes scheduling activities where the child is likely to perform well, celebrating their child’s success no matter how small and lastly, encouraging their children to share their day’s activities at the end of each day.

Medical interventions for ADHD

3. Medical Interventions to manage attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

In addition to behavioural interventions, drugs can be prescribed to children with ADHD. These drugs are prescribed to help children with self-regulation and attention deficit. 

Stimulant drugs may be prescribed to help a child with difficulties in their motor and language skills. Some of the commonly prescribed drugs include: Methylphenidate, Ritalin LA, Ritalin and Concerta. Alternatively, drugs such as dexamphetamine or lisdexamfetamine which are sold under Dexedrine and Vyvanse brand names respectively may also be prescribed.

A paediatrician might prescribe non-stimulant medication instead of stimulant drugs. A non-stimulant drug that might be prescribed is Strattera (atomoxetine) which can also help combat anxiety. 

Final word on managing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

A combination of the strategies outlined above will help you manage your child’s disorder ADHD.  One mistake that a lot of parents make however, is relying too much on medication.

Sure enough, the use of medication will make a significant difference in the behaviour of your child but the appropriate behavioural strategies need to be included.

Overestimating the importance of medication” in the management of ADHD is discouraged.

Medication alone will not fix all your child’s behavioural problems. Instead, medication is intended regulate the “eccentricities” of the child diagnosed with ADHD to allow you to address the other behavioural issues through learning and reinforcement.

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Lorna Muthamia-Ochido

I run a family-centred speech-language therapy clinic, the largest in East and Central Africa. I’ve helped 15,000+ children optimise their communication outcomes (in other words, I make children smarter ☺).

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