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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Getting ADHD Kids Back to School

Expert strategies for preparing ADHD kids for a new school year.

How Does ADHD Affect the Brain?

Finding the cause of ADHD is important, but so is understanding how the brain develops and behaves when a person has it.

"When it comes to brain structure ... we know that kids with ADHD may experience slower development in parts of the brain that could be linked to the disorder," says Mark Wolraich, MD, a professor of pediatrics who specializes in ADHD at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

Scientists at NIMH researched this possibility in 2002, looking at different parts of the brain, such as those that help problem-solve, plan ahead, interact with and understand others, and restrain impulses. They found that, in a group of 152 children with ADHD, 3% to 4% had smaller brain volumes in key areas such as these.

"The question now is, does this really correlate with the behavior we see in ADHD, and if it does, can these kids catch up in terms of brain development?" asks Wolraich.

"Over time, can their brains eventually regain some lost ground and reach the same level as their peers who don't have ADHD? These are both questions we are still hoping to answer."

Kids whose brains do "catch up" often outgrow their ADHD as well, explains Wolraich. Or they learn to manage it well enough that it doesn't have a negative impact on their health and well-being.

Back to School With ADHD

While researchers investigate what causes ADHD and the brain's impact on behavior, families like the Whites deal with it on the frontline: at school.

One of their keys to success with the September transition is to never let go of structure in the first place. All summer, Joshua and Elissa are enrolled in day camp, which lets them have fun but also requires both to live by rules and organization.

Starting in mid-August, when White and her husband see school around the corner and the hurdles ahead, they start to shift gears. First on their list is to push bedtime back by a half-hour to around 8 p.m. for the two children, a routine that helps them adjust to the demands of school.

Mid-August is also when camp ends, and White has a two-week window to help the kids get ready for the classroom.

"Probably like most parents, I try to make it fun for them," she says. "We buy school supplies, arrange our schedules, organize the house, talk about our activities for the fall ... we try to keep it fun but with lots of order in between."

Teachers and ADHD Kids

When the school bell rings, White and her family have learned how to make things work. Both Joshua and Elissa were diagnosed at age 6, so they've become more familiar with the ins and outs of living with ADHD. White and experts alike agree the secret to success is a strong bridge between parents and teachers.

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