There is a great deal of information and mis-information available on the internet about ADHD, and it can be difficult to figure out what is trustworthy or important. So this article is designed to provide the simple ADHD Basic Facts for Kids – so that parents, teachers, spouses or individuals with ADHD can pursue effective, comprehensive treatment for ADHD.
What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD*)?
ADHD affects far more than just attention. It is a developmental delay impacting life management skills in all areas of life, including planning and organizing, social and family relations, emotional well-being, academic success, and even physical health and self-esteem. Effective treatment ensures that both children and adults can thrive while living with ADHD, and it starts by understanding the breadth of its impact.
What causes ADHD?
ADHD is a chronic medical disorder largely determined by genetics (almost as strong a basis as that for height). Related to brain regions responsible for “executive function” (the mental abilities used to coordinate and manage our lives), most researchers now define ADHD as a disorder of executive function rather than of attention or behavior.
What are the components of executive function?
Executive function provides us with the ability to manage, coordinate, plan and anticipate, like the conductor of an orchestra, or the CEO of a business. The role of executive functions can be clearly understood when broken down into six components:
- Attention management
The ability to stay focused when challenged or avoid becoming too absorbed (hyper-focus) when engaged in an enjoyable task. Trouble shifting attention from one thing to another includes stopping or starting new tasks, and may appear oppositional, seeming like defiance or ignoring requests. Difficulties with attention management can occur when demands are high, but also for easy, enjoyable tasks.
- Action management
The ability to control, self-monitor and inhibit impulses. Challenges in this area can cause children with ADHD to learn more slowly from behavioral interventions than others, be careless in their work, and have trouble learning from mistakes. Difficulties can lead to frustrating, unintentional misbehavior
- Task management
The ability to organize, plan, prioritize, and manage time. Task management is required for daily routines and responsibilities, academics and homework, studying and managing long term projects, and more. These skills are needed for the self-advocacy and self-management of ADHD. In other words, plans to manage ADHD are often undermined by having ADHD.
- Information management
The ability to remember, organize and retrieve information. Children with ADHD may have trouble organizing their thoughts for speaking and writing, taking notes in school, or keeping track of requests (“Go to your room, get dressed and brush your teeth, please.”) They may know the material for a test, but be unable to remember it in the moment.
- Emotional management
The ability to experience emotions without impulsively acting on them. Common ADHD-related behaviors include poor frustration tolerance, tantrums, over-reaction and irritability, all of which may impact family and social relations.
- Effort management
The ability to persevere when activities are challenging, to sustain focus and work efficiently. Difficulty with effort management often gets labeled as poor motivation or laziness, but frequently stems from ADHD-related issues.
*The term “ADHD with predominantly inattentive symptoms” has replaced “ADD (attention deficit disorder)”
What is the impact of ADHD?
ADHD is not just a school problem. It effects social and emotional well-being, strains family relationships, and has been linked to obesity, substance abuse, car accidents and frequent emergency room visits. It also commonly co-exists alongside other challenging conditions, such as learning disabilities, anxiety and depression. Yet when managed appropriately, as part of a long-term comprehensive treatment plan, children with ADHD can flourish instead.
How does ADHD change over time?
Executive function matures along a developmental path as the brain matures, until almost thirty years of age. That means that some children (perhaps up to half) may outgrow it by adulthood. The majority of children with ADHD, however, continue to be impacted into adulthood. That impact can be lessened greatly when appropriate support is provided throughout childhood. It is also important to note that as overall demands raise on children, the impact of ADHD may increase.
How is ADHD treated?
ADHD care requires ongoing guidance to proactively build skills. We must create a safety net that deals with immediate problems, while anticipating hurdles and addressing new challenges as they arise. Because academic and social demands change, plans must evolve as children mature. What works will likely need to be revised as new challenges approach. Four main areas considered for a typical intervention plan are:
Since executive function is a foundation of learning, therefore ADHD can affect academics, including reading, writing and math. Children may need help in developing academic skills, controlling behavior in school and managing homework, studying and long-term projects. Even children receiving good grades may be exhausting or undermining themselves through ineffective strategies. Educational plans should address any needed classroom supports, testing modifications and behavioral interventions, as well as organization, writing and study skills. Tutoring, behavioral therapy, coaching or social skills groups outside of the school setting may also be helpful.
Common ADHD-related challenges include morning and bedtime routines, homework, chores, and stressed family relationships, as well as overall behavior and compliance. This puts a particular strain on parents, as ADHD management relies more on adults than children. Parent training to understand how to manage ADHD and implement structured behavioral plans provide benefit to both parents and children.
Adequate sleep, sufficient exercise, and proper nutrition may improve ADHD symptoms, as may the practice of mindfulness. However, ADHD uniquely bites its own tail – many health routines that help ADHD are harder to sustain if you have it. Screen time and technology are frequently an excessive draw for individuals with ADHD, pulling them away from healthier activities and potentially worsening ADHD symptoms.
Medication recommendations, if necessary, are based on decades of research demonstrating potential benefits. In spite of misleading information often presented as fact, side effects occur no more often than most other pediatric medications. Most importantly, if these medications do not work, they can be stopped with no lasting effects. Medication can be considered when appropriate as one of many options.
Of course, no single plan works for everyone, or even for the same child over time. Parents must consistently monitor, evaluate and revise plans and processes, and should seek support for themselves to best support their children.
I hope that these ADHD Basic Facts for Kids will help you feel confident that, while ADHD may seem like a lot to handle, with persistence and compassion, children will thrive.
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