More than 6 million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Navigating a new diagnosis and getting your child the care and accommodations they need can be overwhelming, especially at first. To help you begin the journey, let’s review some of the basics of ADHD.
What Are the Primary Signs and Symptoms of ADHD?
If your child receives an ADHD diagnosis, you’ll likely hear that their symptoms fall into one of three subtypes:
- inattentive type;
- hyperactive or impulsive type; or
- combined type (meaning that your child shows both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms).
For each of these subtypes, there are common signs of ADHD that you may recognize in your child (such as short attention span, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and fidgeting or restlessness, among others), but there are some important parameters to keep in mind. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), in order for an ADHD diagnosis to be made:
- symptoms (which often begin between the ages of three and six) have to be present for at least six months; and
- symptoms have to impact their abilities in at least two areas of life: home, school, and/or friendships.
Signs of inattentive ADHD, as outlined by the DSM-V:
- Often has trouble focusing on details and/or organizing tasks in schoolwork and/or play activities.
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
- Often does not follow through on instructions and cannot complete schoolwork and/or tasks.
- Often avoids tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
- Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities, and/or is easily distracted and forgetful in daily activities.
Signs of hyperactive ADHD, as outlined by the DSM-V:
- Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat, or leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
- Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate.
- Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
- Often talks excessively and/or blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
- Often has trouble waiting their turn and/or interrupts others during conversations or games.
Common comorbidities of ADHD:
- Half of all children diagnosed with ADHD will also have an additional or related learning disability, so it’s important to make sure that all of their needs are being met.
- Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria is a mood disorder often diagnosed in children with ADHD that can cause them to feel extreme emotional pain when they feel they’ve been criticized or rejected by important people (such as parents/siblings, teachers, or peers).
Which Doctors Should You Visit to Discuss Your Child’s ADHD Symptoms?
- A psychologist or psychiatrist
- A pediatrician or a developmental pediatrician who specializes in developmental, learning, and behavioral issues (member login required to view linked content)
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that healthcare providers speak with your child’s teachers to get more information when making the diagnosis.
What Are the Best Therapeutic Approaches to Consider?
Depending on your child’s age, their doctor will likely suggest behavior therapy (which includes parent education) or a combination of behavior therapy and medication.
- Behavior therapy with a psychologist, licensed therapist, or licensed social worker to help them lessen their disruptive behaviors, improve their peer relationships, and (for children older than age six) improve their organizational skills.
- Behavior therapy for parents to help you gain skills to support your child.
- Educational supports in their classroom (if they are in school).
- If your child is over age six, medication to help regulate their symptoms.
Steps to help your child improve their executive function (skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control) at home:
- Provide structure in their physical environment.
- Create a visual daily schedule and reward chart with your child’s input, and hang them in their room or workstation.
- Use social stories to help your child stay on task and improve their memory.
- Provide positive feedback and reinforcements. This is especially important if your child experiences Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria.
- Check out more suggestions from our conversation about boosting executive functioning skills from home with educational therapist Marcy Dann.
What Accommodations Should You Ask for in Your Child’s IEP?
The following are some common accommodations that may be included in your child’s IEP to help them succeed in school.
- Adjust formats for reading and writing assignments to help with visual scanning and/or remaining seated. (This includes using technology such as audiobooks to help them complete tasks. Find additional suggestions in our in-person accommodations list and our list of accommodations for distance learning that we created with the help of an OT.)
- Combine tasks with a physical action, such as counting on their fingers.
- Provide a visual schedule.
- Provide prompts to help them stay on task.
- Allow more time to complete tests and homework.
- Provide more breaks and opportunities to move around throughout the school day.
- Address any learning gaps in math, reading, and writing that may have resulted from previously undiagnosed ADHD. (This is especially common if your child is not diagnosed until or after fourth or fifth grade.)
- Create goals to improve how they socialize with their peers, since kids with ADHD are more likely to be bullied.
- Provide positive reinforcement and feedback.