When you are faced with the possibility of your child having ADHD, you may not know where to turn or what to do. The following action plan can help you sort through all the information you need to know and give you a starting point get your child the help he or she needs.
Learn about ADHD. ADHD is not a simple diagnosis. Although there are three basic symptoms, inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness, these symptoms alone do not begin to tell the story of how ADHD might impact your child. Our Should You Label Your Child “ADHD”? provides you with an overview of ADHD information. The more you know, the more you will be able to help your child and be his advocate at school.
Get an evaluation. An accurate diagnosis is important when planning out strategies and treatments. Because ADHD is a medical diagnosis, it cannot be diagnosed by your school. You will need to have an evaluation completed by a qualified medical professional. Many parents begin with their pediatrician or family physician. Some of these types of doctors are quite familiar with ADHD and feel comfortable and confident diagnosing it. Others may not be and may refer you to a psychologist for an evaluation. Before making an appointment with a mental health provider, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, check with your health insurance company. You may be required to have a referral in order for services to be paid.
The evaluation or assessment should be thorough and should define the specific symptoms your child is having. Psychologists usually look at behaviors as well as school performance and may ask both parents and teachers to complete a questionnaire on specific behaviors. Your medical doctor may run some routine lab tests to rule out any physical causes of the behaviors and symptoms your child is experiencing.
Find a doctor for treatment. Once your assessment is complete and you have a diagnosis of ADHD, you will want to find a doctor that is able to treat your child’s ADHD. Some children may have a treatment team, consisting of a medical doctor for monitoring medications, a psychologist to help with issues such as self-esteem or a behavioral therapist to work with developing strategies for managing symptoms. You, as the parent, will need to work closely with everyone on the treatment team to make sure your child receives the best possible care. Together you can create a treatment plan that is specific to the symptoms that are causing the most disruption in your child’s life. Work with your child’s doctor to determine if medication is right for your child.
Create behavioral strategies at home. Children with ADHD work best in consistent, structured environments that include positive reinforcement and clear rules. Setting up behavior modification programs at home, such as behavior charts, can help your child immensely. Additionally, keeping a large calendar in the kitchen to keep track of school assignments, field trips, and extra-curricular activities can help your child stay on track.
Make lifestyle changes. Although there is not a great deal of scientific evidence to support the link between diet and ADHD, many parents find it helpful to make sure their child is receiving a well-balanced diet. Exercise has also been shown to reduce some of the symptoms of ADHD so you may want to make sure your child has scheduled exercise or outdoor play time every day.
Work with your child’s school. Some children with ADHD are eligible for Individualized Educational Plans, however, most receive services under Section 504. If your child is struggling in school, request an educational evaluation to determine if your child is eligible to receive accommodations or modifications in the classroom under either of these programs.
Look for support for yourself. Raising a child with ADHD can be as frustrating as it is joyful. It can be stressful and exhausting. Develop a support network for yourself. This can be a local support group or joining an online support group.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.