What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD?
People with ADHD have brains that may function a little differently in some ways. The flow of signals in their brains may not work as smoothly or as fast. Some people with ADHD complain that their brain seems to work too fast for them to stay focused on one thing at a time. Having ADHD does not mean that these people are not just as smart as everyone else. It means that they may need a little help paying attention, just like someone who wears glasses needs help to see better.
Types of ADHD
The names of these types describe the kinds of symptoms the person has. Children with the 'combined presentation', which is the most common, have all three of the main symptoms of ADHD. They would have problems with attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.
When we talk about an 'inattentive presentation' it means the person only has problems with their attention and they are not hyperactive. This used to be called ADD, but we don't use that term anymore. The last type is called 'hyperactive impulsive presentation'. A person who has this type of ADHD would only have problems with staying still and doing things without thinking. This last type is very rare.
Symptoms of Attention
The most common problem children with ADHD have is paying attention in class and getting their work done. They may also have problems shifting or stopping what they are thinking about if they are doing something they find very interesting like playing a computer game. The interesting thing about kids with ADHD is that if something interests them a great deal they can pay attention quite well. They can even over-focus, or pay attention so much that they don't hear or see anything else around them. They may not hear teachers and parents who are telling them something that they need to do. ADHD is not just a problem with paying attention, it is a problem with regulating attention. Children with ADHD have trouble paying too little or too much attention, shifting their attention and deciding what is most important to pay attention to.
Some kids with ADHD also find it hard to sit or stand still for a period of time. They may need to move around a great deal or squirm and wiggle. This is called hyperactivity. Doctors think that the constant movement helps children with ADHD stay awake and pay attention.
Some kids complain that they are not able to stop and think things through before they do them. This is called impulsivity. They do whatever pops into their head before they can stop themselves. Often after they have done something they realize that it was not a good idea, but it is too late. Unfortunately this can get them into trouble. With help children can learn ways to slow down their thinking so that they can decide if what they are thinking about doing is a good idea or not.
How Does ADHD Affect kids?
ADHD can affect kids in many ways. Not all kids with ADHD show it in the same way or have all of the symptoms. They may also have others symptoms that are not mentioned here. Kids with ADHD are all different and it is the job of doctors, teachers and parents to help them find out how ADHD affects them. They need to know what they are good at, and what they have trouble with. This will help them learn how to use their strengths to deal with things they may have trouble with.
Some kids with ADHD say their brain is always moving very fast from one thing to another, sort of like a remote switching channels on a TV very quickly. Other kids may find that they daydream instead of concentrating on what the teacher is saying even if they are trying their hardest to pay attention. This can be very frustrating for them, especially if they don't know why it is happening.
This means that you may start to do something and then your mind thinks or sees something else that catches its attention and you forget what you were doing. Kids with ADHD are distracted by noises that do not bother other kids. Small noises like a scraping chair or someone walking by in the hallway, may be all that it takes to distract a student with ADHD from being able to listen to the teacher. People who do not understand ADHD may accuse the child of not listening on purpose.
Getting Work Done
Having ADHD does not mean that you don't know as much as the other kids, but many kids with ADHD have a hard time showing people how much they actually do know. Since it is harder for them to stick with things, it often takes them a long time to get things done. Homework may be especially difficult. Getting started on your work may be difficult and you may need help from your teachers or parents.
Printing and Writing
Often children with ADHD have a hard time with printing and writing neatly. They may forget to leave a space between words, to stay on the line or how to form the letters. It may even be hard for them to hold a pencil properly. Some kids complain that their hands are very tired and hurt after printing for just a short time. Printing and writing can be very slow going for many kids with ADHD and it will take them a long time to copy things from the board or write things in their journal. Writing can be very frustrating for kids with ADHD since their minds might be speeding along and their hand is going much slower. This is why they may not want to write very much. It is not that they are not trying. Many kids change back to printing when they get older since they find cursive writing difficult to do. The best thing to do is to learn how to keyboard as early as you can. By using a computer you will be able to type as fast as you think.
Putting things off that you need to do is often a big problem for kids with ADHD, especially as they get older and have more and more things they need to get done. This seems to become more of a problem if the school assignment is big, like a project or essay. Kids with ADHD can find these overwhelming and may need help to break it down into smaller pieces. If this is a problem for you, it might be a good idea to come up with some strategies to help you stop putting things off.
Kids with ADHD often lose things because they have trouble remembering where they put them. This may be because they become distracted or they have problems with short-term memory. They may even forget when they have to get things done.
Trouble Falling Asleep
You might have a hard time falling asleep at night. People with ADHD often find it hard to turn off the motor in their mind so that they can relax enough to fall asleep. Kids with ADHD also may find it difficult to get up in the morning. There are strategies or tricks that can help with this.
Things to try that may help you fall asleep:
- Listening to music
- Listening to a taped story or having your parents read to you
- Reading a book
- Make the room dark
- Don't play video games or watch TV right before bed
- Get lots of exercise during the day, but not right before bed
- Go to bed at the same time every day
- Eat and drink things like: turkey, milk products, peanut butter, rice, soy products, tuna and beans about an hour before you go to bed
This means that you need to move around more than other kids. You probably find it difficult to sit still and not run around. Not touching things constantly or being able to stop fidgeting and squirming may also be a problem for you. Kids with ADHD hate to hear the word 'stop' because moving around may actually help them to concentrate. The problem is that other people do not know this and can find it very annoying.
Being impulsive is when you do things without being able to slow yourself down enough and think before you do them. Kids with ADHD may realize only after they have done something that it was the wrong thing to do. It is not that they don't know what is right and wrong or that they don't know what the rules are. They simply can't slow themselves down enough to think about the rules before it is too late. This can get them into a lot of trouble if people around them don't understand. ADHD does not give kids an excuse to do bad things, but they need people to help them learn how to slow down and remember the right thing to do.
When all of these things are happening kids usually get frustrated, especially if they don't know why it is happening. When kids with ADHD get frustrated, sometimes they get very angry and don't know how to deal with it. They may yell and do things that they don't mean to do. ADHD may make it harder for kids to control their feelings, but ADHD should never be an excuse for hurting other people. Again, there are many things that you can learn to do that will help you deal with your frustration.
How did I get ADHD?
Most of the time, ADHD is something that you are born with. It is passed down to you through your genes from your parents. You don't catch ADHD like you catch a cold or the flu. Not always, but very often one or both of your parents may have ADHD too. Your brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, or grandparents may have ADHD as well. About 5 people in every 100 people throughout the whole world have ADHD, so we know that ADHD is not caused by watching too much TV, eating too much sugar or playing too many computer games. These things may not be good for you for other reasons, but they do not cause ADHD.
Do I Have to Take Pills?
Many kids with ADHD take medication to help them pay attention in school and to help with their hyperactivity. Medication can help your brain stay focused on what you want it to work on and not get distracted. It can also help you to slow down when you need to think before making decisions on what you want to do.
Medication does not cure ADHD. Like wearing glasses that help you to see better, medication can help you to think better or at least in a different way, so that you can think about what you need to think about to get things done.
Do I Need to Take Medication All the Time?
You may not need to take medication at all, only take it some of the time, or most of the time. It all depends on what works best for you. Medication can help many kids with school and other activities. Childern with ADHD also need to pay attention when they take part in sports teams, karate, Cubs, Brownies, Pathfinders, music lessons, camp, or even when they are just playing with your friends.
No one likes to take medication if they don't have to, just like people don't choose to wear glasses if they don't have to. But, if you need to wear glasses and you don't wear them, you end up not seeing a lot of things. Kids who need medication for their ADHD can also miss many things if they cannot pay attention.
What Other Things Do I Need to Do?
There are many things you can do to help with your ADHD and there are many things that your mom and dad and your teacher can help you with. The first thing everyone needs to do is exactly what you are doing right now. That is learning about ADHD and about yourself. When your parents and family as well as your teachers know about ADHD it will be easier for them to understand you and how they can help you.
Talking to your parents, teachers and your doctors about how you feel is a good thing. They need to know when you get frustrated and what helps you to calm down. It also helps if they know what kinds of things distract you. Is it easier for you to work when you are in a quiet room or do you work better if you have music on at the same time?
We know that having a routine, or doing the same thing at the same time every day can be very helpful for kids with ADHD. You may not think this will be much fun, but working with and listening to your parents and teachers may be the best thing that you can do. They really do want to help and the more that you can teach them about yourself and ADHD the better they will be able to. Everyone needs to work as a team to figure out solutions. The good thing is that you get to be part of the team too!
Strategies That May Help at Home
(You will need your parents to help you with some of these things)
- Have a list of things that you need to do in the morning on the back of your bedroom door or on the mirror to help you remember.
- Use charts or post-it notes to help remind you about things you need to do.
- Get everything ready that you need to take to school the night before and put it right beside the front door.
- Keep a schedule with activities posted on the fridge.
- Have a routine, so that you always do your homework and other duties at the same time every day.
- Reward yourself with something fun only after you finish your jobs or else you may not be able to stop doing the fun things, even if you know you have to stop and get your work done.
- Your parents can help you set up a reward system to give you an extra reason to get your work done.
- Getting lots of exercise may help you to pay attention better and help you to feel less fidgety.
- Do quiet things before bed, like reading. This will help to slow your mind down before you go to sleep.
- Some kids find listening to music or nature sounds helps them to fall asleep.
- Going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning will help your body learn what it is supposed to do when.
What About School?
Everyone at school needs to know about your ADHD so that they can help you.
Having ADHD does not mean that you are stupid or lazy. It just means that your brain works a little differently.
If your teachers know that you have ADHD and have learned about how it affects you, they can makes changes to help you to be more successful. These changes are called 'accommodations'.
Possible School Accommodations:
- You can have a special quiet place to work where you won't be as distracted.
- Since it may take you longer to get your work done, you may need extra time to do tests or assignments.
- You may need help to get started on your work, especially if it is a large project.
- You may also need your teacher to meet with you once a day, or more often, to make sure that you are on the right track and know what your assignments and homework are.
- A homework book or a homework buddy can also help with this.
- Teachers can send notes home to your parents in the homework book so they can let them know how you are doing and what you need to get done.
- Your parents may also want to send notes to the teacher or talk to him/her so that everyone can work together to help you.
- Teachers and parents can also help you to understand the rules better. They can help you to find ways to slow yourself down before you do something impulsive and get into trouble.
- Kids with ADHD often have trouble with what we call 'social skills'. This means that they sometimes have trouble getting along with other kids and grown ups. Social skills are something that we don't usually teach, but just expect children to pick up. When kids with ADHD are using all their energy to try to pay attention it is difficult for them to pick up these signals. Teachers and parents can help you learn these skills.
- It may be much easier for you to type on a computer keyboard than it is to write by hand. It is important that the school give you enough time on a computer to get your work done.
- Learning to type on a keyboard is a good thing for kids with ADHD.
- Sometimes listening to music with headphones when you are trying to work on schoolwork can help you to concentrate.
- Having a quiet place to calm down or someone to talk to when you get frustrated can help you to stop yourself from blowing up.
- There are many other things that you can learn to do to help with your ADHD and lots of things that your teachers and parents can help you with.
How Do I Tell My Friends About ADHD?
You may not want to tell your friends that you have ADHD, but your friends probably already know that you may be a little different than other kids. This might be exactly why they like you. Being different is not a bad thing. It can also mean that you have more energy and you can think in more creative ways than other people do. You can show your friends this information if you like. There are also many good books about ADHD for kids to read. There are also videos about ADHD that you can watch with your friends. Maybe your parents can help to explain ADHD to your friends and family and maybe your teacher can help to explain it to the class. Everyone has things they are good at and other things they are not so good at. Having ADHD just means that paying attention and staying quiet and keeping still may be something that you need help with. You may be a whiz at math or sports and some of the other kids may not be good at those things.