When a child is diagnosed with ADHD, parents naturally have many questions. They are faced with making difficult decisions about which treatments they think will work best for their child and family. Of the many treatment options available, the most recommended are medication (for children 6 and older) and behavioral therapy (parent training and management for all ages). These two work most effectively in tandem with each other.
The specifics of an ADHD treatment plan are developed when parents work jointly with their healthcare provider. The goal is to tailor the treatment plan to best fit the child and the family’s particular situation.
But how do you know if it’s working?
By getting regular, ongoing feedback about a child’s behaviors and symptoms from the many individuals in the child’s life, parents and providers are able to guide treatment decisions and make sure the child is receiving the best care possible. In other words, parents want to make sure to include a “Feedback Plan” as part of their child’s treatment.
There are many “tools” available for parents to simplify the process of monitoring their child’s treatment, and I’ll offer a few resources at the end of this article. Before that, though, it’s important to understand the value of ongoing feedback.
Collecting Useful Information
A key component in diagnosing ADHD is using standardized questionnaires, typically referred to as ADHD rating scales. They are used to gather observational information about the frequency and severity of a child’s behaviors (specific ADHD symptoms).
After diagnosis, rating scales can also be used to gauge how well treatment is working and if adjustments need to be made. In addition to ADHD behavioral symptoms, rating scales can obtain information about other important areas of functioning and overall outcomes, such as:
- Are relationships around the child working well (peers, family, siblings)?
- How is the child performing academically (homework completion, task completion)?
- If the child is taking medication, are there side-effects or is the dose too high/low?
By collecting and having this information available, follow-up visits with clinicians can be less stressful and more productive. Parents and clinicians are able to clearly see when ADHD treatment is effective, and make adjustments as needed.
Importance of Communication with Teachers
Establishing good communication with teachers is a critical part of ADHD treatment management. In many cases, teachers are the first to raise initial concerns about a child’s behaviors. So it is particularly helpful for parents to establish regular, ongoing communication with teachers to track progress once diagnosis has been made and treatment begun. Because many students have multiple teachers, it is particularly valuable to have feedback about a student’s behaviors in multiple classroom settings and subjects.
Other benefits to this parent-teacher dialogue include:
- The teacher knows that the parent cares. While this may sound simple, and perhaps obvious, teachers do notice when parents and families demonstrate and take an active interest in knowing what’s happening in the classroom.
- The teacher is involved in the process. Teachers want to be included, but unfortunately are not often asked for this type of information. By identifying items that warrant the parent’s attention, a student’s needs can be addressed sooner, resulting in better outcomes.
Other Members of the Team
While teachers are the primary source of behavioral information when a child is away from home, many parents build a support team around their child, asking other adults to actively pay attention to their child and provide regular feedback. Observations from family members, team coaches, and others can also provide valuable insights.
For example, how a child reacts in a competitive sports environment can provide insights into how well the child is functioning and handling stress. Social settings outside of school can also reflect how well the child is developing relationships with others (e.g. peers, family, and siblings).
Engagement and feedback from multiple individuals can form the basis for a stronger support system and can ultimately help foster a stronger, happier child.
How Do You Collect This information?
There are several ways parents can facilitate ongoing communication and assessment. Many ADHD-oriented websites have tools to organize and improve communication with teachers and school. CHADD, the national nonprofit for ADHD, offers a toolkit for parents, and provides articles and information through the ADHD National Resource Center, a joint program of CHADD and the CDC.
To help parents and professionals track how well a child with ADHD is doing at school, Dr. David Rabiner, clinical psychologist, professor, and Associate Dean at Duke University, developed the ADHD Monitoring System. This brief questionnaire can be downloaded for free. It is also available electronically (for a fee) at DefiniPoint and MyADHD.
For some parents, “getting more forms filled out” may be a challenge in and of itself, so you’ll want to work with your provider or coach to develop a Feedback Plan that works for you and your family. What’s most important is that you develop a process for collecting essential information about your child’s progress, which leads to more confident decisions and better outcomes.