Maybe you’re worried. Scared. Confused. Or even relieved. Your child has been having symptoms for a while now, and finally you’ve been given an answer: Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
You’re likely to feel a mixture of emotions when you find out your child has ADHD. And as with any diagnosis, there’s probably some changes you’ll need to make to adjust to life after diagnosis.
The better you can understand ADHD, the better you can help your child. ADHD is a neurobiological disorder. Researchers have found significant brain differences between people with ADHD and non-sufferers. Abnormalities in neurotransmitters called “catecholamines” are believed to portray a large role in the symptoms of ADHD. Catecholamines are hormones, the most common of which include dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. ADHD primarily affects the prefrontal cortex and related structures, which are rich in catecholamines. There’s also some evidence that the brains of people with ADHD may be slightly smaller than those without the disorder.
The prefrontal cortex controls many of our “executive functions,” a term used to describe the parts of the brain that control our planning and organizational skills. The executive function of our brain is sometimes described as the conductor or CEO of the rest of the brain as it maintains order and directs our tasks. When you have difficulty with things like managing time, keeping track of your belongings, paying attention, or staying focused, you may be suffering from a deficit in your executive functioning. Executive function is compromised in several disorders, including depression, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and ADHD.
Impairment in executive functioning can lead to behavioral and cognitive changes in children or adults suffering from ADHD. A person with ADHD may have trouble sitting still and may fidget a lot. He or she might have trouble paying attention or focusing on a task, except on select tasks that are of interest to the sufferer. People with ADHD often lose their belongings more easily than other people. They can have difficulty regulating their emotions and may blurt things out at inappropriate times. They might daydream or talk and run around a lot. About two-thirds of the time, ADHD is accompanied by other problems, such as anxiety disorders, learning disorders, OCD, tourette syndrome, sleeping difficulties, conduct disorders, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy and other related issues.
If your child was diagnosed with ADHD, know that you are NOT alone. ADHD is a common disorder, affecting about 11% of children. Many people mistakenly believe that ADHD is more prevalent in boys. At one time, researchers believed that ADHD was predominantly a male disorder, but that myth has since been disproven. Unfortunately, because the symptoms of ADHD in girls differ somewhat from those seen in boys, the disorder may be underdiagnosed in females. For instance, girls with ADHD may not have as much hyperactivity as boys with ADHD. Identifying and appropriately diagnosing ADHD is important for both genders, and girls with untreated ADHD may be especially prone to suffering from issues like low self-esteem and anxiety.
Several medications have shown to be effective in treating symptoms of ADHD in children. Your doctor may wish to prescribe a drug like Vyvanse, which can help to treat ADHD in both children and adults. Talk to your pediatrician about which drug(s) he or she recommends for your child’s unique needs.
You can also find a psychologist who works with children with ADHD. He or she may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other treatments for your child. Interestingly, some studies have also shown that exercise as well as time spent outdoors can be helpful in reducing ADHD symptoms. Mindfulness meditation and yoga have also shown some promise for treating ADHD.
When you think of hyperactivity, what food comes to mind? Many people associate hyperactivity in children to intake of sugar. However, recent research has shown that sugar probably does not affect activity levels are previously believed. While limiting sugar may be important for other reasons unrelated to ADHD, sugar intake is unlikely to affect your child’s ADHD symptoms.
Of course, eating a balanced diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats is essential for any child. There’s also some evidence that eating diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce ADHD symptoms in children. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include fish like salmon and mackerel, walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds. Organic, whole milk may also contain higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic or low-fat dairy.
Because a small proportion of children with ADHD may be sensitive to certain food dyes and preservatives, pay attention to which foods seem to trigger symptoms in your child. You may want to keep a food diary for a couple of weeks until you figure out how diet affects your child’s ADHD. Share the diary with your pediatrician and always check with a doctor before making any major changes to your child’s diet.
Depending on the severity of your child’s symptoms, he or she may qualify for either special education services or extra accommodations in the classroom. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that children with disabilities receive the education they deserve. Another law, Section 504, also helps to ensure children with disabilities are not discriminated against in educational settings.
If you have concerns about how your child’s ADHD may be affecting his or her education, call the school or write a letter requesting that your child be evaluated. If your school agrees to an evaluation, you should be able to meet with team evaluating your child, which can include teachers and psychologists trained to work with children with ADHD and other disabilities. Your child may qualify for what is known as an Individualized Educational Program (IEP), which will allow the school to work with your child to achieve his or her educational goals.
It’s natural to feel a mixture of emotions about your child’s diagnosis. Often, parents feel sad, relieved, and worried. Sometimes parents even feel guilt about their child having ADHD. If guilt is among the emotions you’re experiencing, you should know that ADHD is NOT caused by bad parenting.
ADHD is a brain disorder that is now known to be highly hereditary. That means it is not caused by trauma, too much television, or other environmental factors. While environment may exacerbate symptoms in some individuals, it is not the primary driver of the development of ADHD.
Mostly importantly, remember that you are not alone. Millions of parents throughout the world are raising healthy, well-adjusted kids who thrive after receiving their ADHD diagnosis. We’re fortunate to live at a time when ADHD is increasingly recognized and understood, and with so many treatment options, your child’s future looks pretty bright.
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