Signs your child has ADHD and what parents can do to help

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As much as you think you know about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, it’s not always so easy to self-diagnose.

Heidi Bernhardt, president and executive director of Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada, a non-for-profit organization focused on awareness, education and ADHD advocacy, told Global News there is still confusion on exactly what the mental disorder entails.

“Unfortunately, there are still a lot of misinformation and myths about ADHD,” she said. “Most people think about the classic little boy running around and a lot of people look at these kids as undisciplined or kids who receive inadequate parenting.”

This is incorrect, she added, and because ADHD is on a spectrum, it can look several ways in children. “ADHD is much more complex, some kids portray the total opposite [of being hyperactive].”
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READ MORE: What to do when your child is diagnosed with ADHD

ADHD in children has three presentations. There are children with combined ADHD, which means they have all three primary symptoms of the disorder: difficulty regulating attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Others are known as primarily inattentive, meaning they have difficulty regulating attention, Bernhardt said. And lastly, and this is rare, there is a presentation called primarily hyperactive.

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Signs to look out for

There are several red flags parents can keep an eye out for.

“The biggest thing is the child is not functioning at the same level as kids their age, taking into consideration there is a wide level of functioning that is considered ‘normal.'”

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She added sometimes children with ADHD are not able to stick to a task, even if that means playing a game or taking part in an activity they usually enjoy. “They are not able to be attentive or stay involved.”

Another sign to look out for is if your child is excessively hyperactive, moves a lot or has a hard time staying calm. They may also have a hard time sticking to quiet activities.

“And if a child is impulsive, they don’t think before they do something — sometimes they can run out on the street without thinking, even though they are reminded not to a hundred times.

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And because some children with ADHD have a hard time regulating themselves and their emotions, they often deal with their frustrations in inappropriate ways, including lashing out, yelling or pushing.

“Some kids burst into a tear, run out of the room or hide under the bed,” she explained. “Because presentations are so varied, the way they deal with [ADHD] is also varied.”

What parents can do

Because there is so much misinformation out there, the best thing parents can do, she added, is educate themselves.

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“There is still a belief that it is not a legitimate mental health disorder,” Bernhardt said. “For some people, it looks like parents aren’t disciplining their kids or just ‘bad’ kids.”

This can take a toll on a parent’s well-being, especially if family, friends or even educators don’t understand what ADHD is.

READ MORE: Parents with ADHD children push for more support

“Learning about the disorder will make you an expert on your child.”

Treatment options

Treatments aren’t just medical. Bernhardt said the most important form of treatment is education. Next, focus on a home strategy. ADHD is diagnosed by a pediatrician, child psychiatrist or psychologist.

“There are other ways for parents to learn about ADHD through webinars or online resources.”

A doctor can direct you to the right medication, but Bernhardt also recommended tutoring, family therapy, keeping your child active and making sure they eat a healthy diet.

“Try to set up a good bedtime and sleep routine. It’s almost an impairment that comes with ADHD, the more parents can have routine, the better.”

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