When children enter school, they are expected to sit still for longer periods of time, complete tasks (even when they aren’t interested in them), pay attention to the teacher, follow directions and manage to bring papers home each night and homework back to school again the next day.
For children with ADHD, these are the areas that offer the most challenges and symptoms and characteristics of ADHD may become more apparent:
- A child with ADHD may have difficulty finishing tasks, even though he or she begins the task with much excitement.
- A child with ADHD may become distracted easily and not complete work.
- A child with ADHD may hurry through each task, but end up with messy or incomplete work.
- A child with ADHD may lose items, such as homework papers, books and even his or her school bag.
- A child with ADHD may get up and walk around the classroom at times they are expected to sit down.
One other aspect of ADHD is inconsistency. A child may do extremely well one day or amaze teachers and parents when completing a task in a timely manner or having work done perfectly. The next day, the same child may be completely distracted and not manage to complete any of their work. This aspect of ADHD is often both confusing and frustrating for parents and teachers.
In addition to problems with attention, young children with ADHD, especially those with hyperactivity or impulsiveness, may have problems with social skills, sitting still, and transitioning from one activity to the next. Transitioning is often a challenge to people with ADHD and young children cannot easily move from one activity to another, causing problems in the classroom. When children are not diagnosed with ADHD, teachers may see this type of behavior as intentional and defiant.
Homework also creates challenges during the early elementary grades. Most teachers will give homework, expecting it to take the children between five and fifteen minutes per night. For children with ADHD, however, this homework may take an hour or more. In addition, if a child didn’t finish work at school, some teachers may send the papers home for the work to be completed and returned the next day. Parents are often frustrated, spending time each night trying to help their child focus on work to be completed. Each distraction requires the parent to begin again. Even after the time and effort put into homework, many children with ADHD will lose papers or forget to hand in work.
Besides having difficulty with completing schoolwork, young children with ADHD are more apt to have accidents involving bone fractures or other injuries requiring medical attention. Safety can be a constant concern for parents of young children with ADHD.
Some high energy and high interest activities can sustain attention for longer periods. Playing video games, cars or dolls can often be a source of enjoyment and can hold the interest of younger children. Playing outdoors is also something that can help to release extra energy and exercise has been found to help with focus.
Many children in early elementary school are still not diagnosed with ADHD and are too often considered to be lazy or “not working to their potential.” However, as more and more is learned about ADHD and both parents and teachers are educated in strategies to help children with ADHD, the chances of the child’s success increase.
Some of the ways parents can help young children at home:
Providing a calm place to allow a child to transition from school to home and from playing to completing homework.
Providing a structured, quiet environment to complete homework.
Helping the child to break down tasks, completing a few homework problems then taking a short break.
Working with the teacher to create a positive learning environment.
Using positive reward and behavioral management strategies.
Seeking medical attention if symptoms are interfering with a child’s ability to function at school.
Providing opportunities for structured social activities.
In addition to these strategies, medication is sometimes prescribed for young children. Adderall, Dexedrine and Dextrostat have been approved for children as young as 3 years of age. If symptoms of ADHD are interfering with your child’s ability to function at school, or at home, your doctor should be able to help determine if ADHD is present and if medication or other treatments may help.
“What is ADHD?”, 2002, Jim Chandler, M.D., Attention Deficit Disorder Resources
“(ADD) ADHD at Different Ages”, Date Unknown, Author Unknown, Edge Foundation
“Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”, 2008, Aug, Kevin Leehey, M.D., LeeheyMD.com
“Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”, 2008, April 3, Author Unknown, National Institute of Mental Health
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.