Things I Wish I'd Known: ADHD

Understand the Bigger Implications

One of the reasons ADHD can be so challenging is the way that it manifests in multiple ways. It is not simply a child being hyper or forgetful. It is also not something that can be easily fixed with a sticker chart. ADHD is complex and nuanced, affecting each child in different ways. A common sentiment among those we talked to was how important it is to understand all of the ways ADHD might show up in your child. 

"ADHD is neurological. They will not be disciplined out of it. It’s not just a problem for the adults. The kids are suffering too. Consider medication. They are not lazy or simply misbehaving." - Parent

Children with ADHD are often mislabeled as "bad" or "behavior problems". Seeking help and utilizing your resources can help you, your child, and the other adults in their lives identify triggers, understand why and how the ADHD is presenting itself, and work towards solutions and strategies. 

"Your child's aggressive behavior can make it hard for them to participate in activities, and parents often meticulously plan their days to minimize any and all behavioral triggers. I encourage clients to teach their kids as soon as you see these behaviors that it’s not okay, and set boundaries around aggressive behaviors. Also, get help early on so you can create healthy social habits and forms of communication." - Parent Coach and Pediatric OT

Just because there is an underlying cause for aggressive behaviors, doesn't mean you cannot set boundaries and teach consequences. Furthermore, while we don't want to overwhelm our children with potential triggers, we also shouldn't avoid them entirely as that is not a true, real-world experience. Providing your child with small doses of challenges and obstacles allows them to build resiliency and practice tools, such as emotional regulation and communication, that will help them be successful in their daily lives. 

"I would have loved to learn the other things ADHD effects. Emotional dysregulation was taken off the diagnosis list because it wasn't clinically measurable, yet it highly affects most ADHD sufferers. Things like intrusive thoughts, rejection sensitivity, and emotional dysregulation are a huge part of how children behave, yet nothing is mentioned during the assessment and diagnosis process." - Parent 

"ADHD can be very aggressive and misunderstood as there are links to other conditions such as odd emotional dysregulation disorder, eating issues, grinding teeth, etc." -Parent 

It's a good idea to spend some time researching, talking to parents, and conferring with professionals about all the ways your child's ADHD might be affecting them or could affect them in the future. This can empower you with the knowledge to understand the comprehensive picture, be proactive, and educate those who interact with your child. 

Push for an Evaluation

As one teacher shared, "Needing accommodations doesn't make your child less or reflect your parenting abilities." Although the process can be lengthy, getting an evaluation is a wonderful first step towards discovering what issues your child is facing and how they might be specifically impacting their learning environment. 

"IEPs can be a pain to get. Get the IEP before middle school. The middle school system is much less forgiving than the elementary system."- Parent

Remember,  a diagnosis is not enough to qualify for an IEP or 504 plan. There has to be evidence that your child's diagnosis is impacting their ability to learn in a general education setting. With that being said, if you and your child's teacher feel your child's learning is suffering, begin the process of obtaining an evaluation sooner rather than later. 

"Get the 504, my son still uses his in college!" - Parent 

While IEPs and 504 plans legally only follow your child until their senior year of high school, many colleges and universities do recognize and accept these plans as documentation for services in higher education institutions. 

"IEP meetings are overwhelming. Breathe. The experts see things differently, but you really are all working together in the best interest of your child." - Teacher

"Before meeting with the child psychologist, write everything down before you go in and take it with you so you don’t leave anything out." - Parent

The evaluation and IEP/504 process can seem intimidating. For a breakdown on the difference between the two plans, click here. It is also important to remember you have options. Even though the IEP offers more specialized instruction, don't panic if your child doesn't qualify. 504 plans offer many classroom accommodations that work really well for students with ADHD. You also have the option to seek a private evaluation for a second opinion. 

Knowledge is Power

Getting smart about your child's diagnosis benefits all involved. Find resources, or reach out to organizations such as Parallel if you need guidance and professionals who are in your corner. 

"As a teacher, I would say for parents- knowledge is power. It's hard to understand the struggle for a student with ADHD because what they find to be challenging, can be so simple for others. When you really understand how your child operates you can start to create an environment at home that's nurturing of that. They start to feel seen and understood. Sometimes, that's the biggest barrier for them! This is what teachers aim to do with each and every student and why the power of an evaluation can be key to our understanding of who our students are and how we can teach them in the ways they learn best!" - Special Education Teacher

"Understand who can help and how/why (pediatrician, occupational therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, etc.). This part really confused me. I didn't understand what each could offer value wise." - Parent

This journey, at times, may feel like a lonely one. While your child will most certainly have a distinct experience, there are individuals out there who are here to help guide and support you throughout the process. 

Tips and Tricks

Many parents shared tips and tricks that they learned along the way that helped in their day to day lives. Work with your child's teachers and other service providers to learn what works and doesn't work for your child. Remember, there's no one size fits all approach. Below are several strategies that parents reported benefitting their day to day lives. 

"Routine is a necessity. My son was diagnosed shortly after 2 yrs old."- Parent

"Use fidget toys, pop its, and other sensory toys. It helped my child. Also try meditation, yoga, swimming, and walking." - Parent 

"Walking and exercise boundaries are very important for children with ADHD. Music helps concentration. Also be careful with different foods and beverages with sugar. Remember, it's neurological." - Parent

"Praise and boundaries help children with ADHD. They think differently and can suffer from real anxiety. Sensory lights help, as well as hobbies and activities." - Parent

While the journey you experience with your child may have its twists, turns, and bumps, know that there are many wonderful and smooth moments as well. Learn as much as you can, align yourself with those who can help, and never be afraid to seek the support and help your child needs to succeed. 

"Children with ADHD are not difficult. They are strong, resilient, and full of gifts to share."

- School Administrator

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