When Hal Meyer learned that his son, 5, had ADHD, he couldn’t believe it. When his child was at school, “He was rambunctious, he couldn’t stay in his seat, he was going around, helping everybody,” Meyer recalls. But to him and his wife, these were signs of brightness and curiosity, not symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.
But experts told them, “You don’t understand. These are not typical of a 5-year-old.”
Most children who are diagnosed with ADHD still have it as teens. Symptoms of ADHD in teens are similar to those of ADHD in children. They include:
During teen years, especially as the hormonal changes of adolescence are going on, ADHD symptoms may get worse.
After they explained the disorder, the couple took a long time to accept the news. “We went through a year or two of denial,” Meyer says.
That was 20 years ago. Since then, Meyer has learned a lot about raising a child with ADHD. He shares those lessons with other parents who are dealing with the power struggles, tantrums, low self-esteem, and school problems that often come with the disorder.
Shortly after his son’s diagnosis, Meyer co-founded the New York City chapter of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), a nonprofit education and advocacy group. He also founded the ADD Resource Center in New York City, which provides parenting classes and support groups, among other services.
In New Jersey, Eva O’Malley also knows the challenges first-hand. She has ADHD and so do her daughter, 22, and son, 17. O’Malley founded the Monmouth County CHADD chapter.
When O’Malley’s son was diagnosed at age 12, her husband worried about his son being “labeled.” Would people see the ADHD and not the boy?
The children have grappled with school problems, forgetfulness and disorganization, O’Malley says. Sometimes, ADHD makes both offspring live only in the moment. “You don’t learn from your past, and you don’t have a vision to the future,” O’Malley says. But there have been bright spots, too, including her son’s improved grades.
WebMD asked these parents, as well as a developmental pediatrician, to share insights on raising a child with ADHD.
1. Be honest with your child about ADHD.
Meyer never thought about keeping the news from his son. “I told him exactly what was going on,” he says.
In contrast, some parents hide the disorder by telling their child, for example, that their ADHD drug is a “magic vitamin,” he says. But Meyer has done ADHD coaching with kids who have confided that they aren’t fooled: they know that it’s medication.
ADHD isn’t a child’s fault. It’s a brain disorder that causes youngsters to have trouble with concentration, ability to complete tasks, or plan for the future. By being open, Meyer lessened the stigma for his son.
Once, he took his son, who was 7 or 8 at the time, to a restaurant where they spotted a youngster in perpetual motion -- so much, in fact, that one parent had to hold him down. “My mouth must have dropped,” Meyer says. “And my son said to me, ‘Don’t look at him as hyperactive. Look at him as being in a hurry to see the world.”