If you’ve just learned your child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you’re probably wondering what’s next for you and your child.
Get ADHD Savvy
Finding out all you can about your child’s ADHD is the first step in making smart decisions about their health. Start with the doctor who diagnosed your child. Ask questions and take notes.
You can ask:
- What are the different types of ADHD? Which does my child have?
- What symptoms do you see in my child?
- Does ADHD change with age? Do kids ever outgrow it?
- How will ADHD affect my child over the long term?
- What types of treatments are available? What other specialists should we see?
You may even feel like you need a second opinion to learn more about your child’s condition. If your diagnosis came from your child’s pediatrician, you may want to follow up with a psychologist or psychiatrist, or vice versa. Sometimes there is also a learning issue with ADHD. Make sure you ask about this.
If you do research online, be sure to get your information from reputable sources, like government sites (the CDC, for example), nonprofit organizations (such as CHADD), or university resources (websites that end in .edu).
ADHD does not have a cure, so be wary of any site that claims to have one.
Talk to Your Child
It can be empowering for your child to learn that there’s a medical cause behind what's going on. Discovering language to talk about their condition can also boost self-awareness and confidence.
As you talk to your child, remember to:
- Use words and terms they can understand.
- Be reassuring and talk about ways you and doctors will help with symptoms.
- Explain that it’s something they’re born with, like eye color. Nothing they did caused ADHD.
- Point out their strengths.
A trained counselor or psychologist can help give you tools for talking with your child about their ADHD.
Typically, ADHD treatment involves one or more of the following:
- ADHD education
- A long-term management plan
- Behavior therapy, including parent training
- Individual and family counseling
You may also be able to use the services of an ADHD coach -- someone certified to help with life skills like time management, organization, and goal setting. Through parent training, you can learn ways to structure your home life so that your child has helpful routines and systems in place.
Your pediatrician should be able to recommend a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health specialist to work through strategies with you. Together, you can come up with targets for your child, such as:
- Better grades at school
- Fewer fights with siblings
- Safer behaviors
These goals give you benchmarks to help you see if treatment is working or not.
If your pediatrician or mental health specialist thinks it’s time to try medication with other therapies to help your child focus, it’s a good idea to read up on your options. Ask your doctor:
- What are the different choices? What do they do?
- What are the side effects?
- How long do they take to be effective?
- What are the options if the meds don't work? Do they need to be tapered off?
- Should they be used for school only?
- Will my child need to take them for life?
Finding the right med can often be a trial-and-error process. You may start one drug and need to tweak the dose. Or you may find it doesn’t work well for your child and need to switch. You might need to have a plan in place for certain side effects, like:
- Sleep problems
- Less appetite
- Weight loss
- Social withdrawal
Talk to your doctor about adjusting the dose or timing of your child’s meds to see if it can help with these effects.
Talk With Your Child’s School
Your child’s teacher, principal, and school counselor can all be important players in ADHD management.
Set up a meeting to talk about your child’s diagnosis and share your plans to manage it. Ask about an individual education plan (IEP) for your child. Your kid may work best with the help of:
- A classroom aide
- Private tutoring
- Special classroom settings
If your child’s ADHD is getting in the way of their ability to learn, there are federal laws that can help. Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require public schools to cover the costs of evaluating and providing your child’s educational needs.
Find Support and Stay Connected
Ask your pediatrician about support groups in your area or for online resources that can connect you to other families dealing with ADHD.
It can be hard to accept that your child has ADHD. Yet acceptance is an important first step to help you and your child deal productively with the symptoms of ADHD. A thorough assessment from a licensed professional may help you feel comfortable with the diagnosis. Ask lots of questions until you’re satisfied that you understand everything.
Once you accept the diagnosis, it’s easier to learn about the best way forward for you and your child. Then you’ll be able to gather the tools that best manage the effects of ADHD in your particular case -- not just for you and your child, but also in your extended family, social groups, school, and beyond.