ADHD is a condition that affects behaviour characterised by inattentiveness, impulsivity and hyperactivity.
What are the signs of ADHD in children?
A child with an attention deficit has difficulty with inattention self-regulation and hyperactivity and there may be problems with sleep and anxiety. In the classroom this may result in having trouble maintaining attention for long teaching periods and being easily distracted by others. They often seem unable to sit still, finish tasks or even notice what is going on around them. They may seem fine one day, while the next they are whirling round in frenzied activity or they may be daydreamers.
Children who have ADHD may be of any level of IQ but it is more common with children with learning difficulties. However many are highly creative, intuitive and physically able. A number of well-known and successful names have reportedly experienced ADHD, such as John F Kennedy, Bill Gates and Simone Biles. Unfortunately, because children with ADHD find it difficult to concentrate, they frequently do not fulfil their true potential. This underachievement, and persistent criticism of their behaviour, can lead to low self-esteem and depression. They are often the class clown and may be school avoiders.
The exact cause is unknown, but may have a genetic component, other factors include prematurity and low birth weight, smoking and alcohol during pregnancy. Most diagnoses in children occur before age 12 but an increasing number of adults are now realising their diagnosis.
ADHD in Girls
In every class of 30 children it is likely that there will be between one and two pupils with ADHD with four times more boys than girls. Girls with ADHD are often picked up later than boys, and research reveals how differently it can present. For example, girls may not demonstrate hyperactivity, but may seem unusually distracted or untidy, or late with assignments. A girl with ADHD may have difficulty sustaining attention for a single task, so they declare it is boring and try to change activity quickly. Girls with ADHD have been shown to have relatively high rates of verbal aggression to other children in a classroom situation, whereas boys may be engaged in more rule-breaking and externalising behaviours. This goes some way to explain why fewer girls are referred to professional help at a young age.
Some studies dispute there is a difference in ADHD between the genders and claim the symptoms are the same for both, but the combination of inattention and hyperactivity changes over time, as the child matures, with younger children being more noticeably active, while older children and adults struggle with inattentiveness
An early diagnosis and treatment from a specialist can save a child the pain of inappropriate social skills and deflated confidence. Treatments involve management by medication and psychological therapies, and can be effective if identified early on.
ADHD changes over time, as the child makes gains in concentration, however relative to their peers they continue to struggle with inattention and impulsivity, particularly when the increased organisational demands of secondary school become too much. They may become tired and disheartened by poor school performance.
Social problems and ADHD
Anxiety and Depression commonly co-occur, causing the child to be worried and nervous, or even have physical symptoms like a rapid heartbeat. ADHD can co-exist with other behavioural conditions such as Autism, ODD or dyspraxia.
How parents and schools can help
- Identification is the first step in providing the support that is required, so act on your instincts if your child’s functioning is being affected by their attention difficulties, by contacting your GP or Senco.
- Work collaboratively, so the child is not getting mixed messages from home and school
- Continue to monitor and review their progress with concentration
- Try to work out the times in the day when they work most productively, and ensure that a task begins and ends with an activity that they enjoy.
- Support, and do not penalise, organisational weaknesses both at school and at home in aspects such as homework due dates, having PE kit, and planning for tests and exams.
- Be prepared to support homework.
- Bolster and maintain your child’s self-esteem, to help the ‘whole child’ develop.
- Consider measures that offer options for socialising across a range of ages, eg after-school clubs.
- Monitor internet use, gaming and electronic communication sensitively.
- Consider counselling if issues of negative moods or anxiety occur, as in some cases they may not want to talk to teachers or parents.
- Don’t rule out the option of medication to support attention and concentration skills.
For more information, visit www.adhdfoundation.org.uk