When It's Not Just ADHD
ADHD and depression, anxiety, learning disabilities, and oppositional defiant disorder.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
One of the most common conditions associated with ADHD is oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Children with this condition are stubborn, get angry often, throw tantrums, and don't honor the requests of the adults they're supposed to listen to, namely parents and teachers. Experts don't know what causes the link between ADHD and ODD; genetic factors may be at play, but environmental influences likely have some impact.
"You can develop coping skills that are really counterproductive," Hughes says. "They may think, 'If everything I do is wrong, I don't care what you say,' or, 'If my schoolwork is always wrong, why even try?' It becomes much easier not to care what anyone says and do what you want. It also leads to a lot of anger."
Children who develop ODD may have endured frequent punishments for ADHD-type behavior, fueling their discontent.
"Punishment is not a very effective way to get kids with ADHD to do what they're supposed to do," Hughes says. "If you have ADHD and you are ruled by your impulses, you're not thinking, 'If I do this, I'm going to get into trouble.'"
ADHD medication may help improve ODD symptoms, Vitiello says. But "parent training" can also help, especially for parents who rely on punishments.
"You really need behavioral intervention to have someone guide you to build a relationship with your child," Hughes says. "You'll learn to recognize and nurture your child's strengths."
Ask your doctor where you might find local classes, or coaches, who can help. You might also want to check the web site of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).
Some children with ADHD have trouble learning because of classic ADHD symptoms: They can't focus on their studies when they're fidgeting, talking, or walking around the classroom. Others have true learning disabilities or language disorders in addition to ADHD, which can make it more difficult for them to succeed at school.
"A child with dyslexia has a hard time reading," Vitiello says. "Therefore, he will be very slow in completing tasks related to written language. He'll be inattentive in class, because he wouldn't be able to follow what the other children are doing."
When a learning disability is diagnosed, your doctor may recommend an educational therapist. "The educational therapist will know what the interventions are for that disability, so you and your child can learn them."
Your child's school may offer free therapy or reasonable accommodations in the classroom; check with the school's main office.