Today we know a lot more about ADHD than we did 20 or 30 years ago. Most people understand that ADHD stands for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. They know that there are millions of children who take medication every day to help with symptoms. They might know that ADHD can cause a child to be forgetful, not pay attention during class, or be hyperactive. While these statements are all true, they don’t fully explain the daily life of children with ADHD.
Five parents shared their answer to the question “What is one thing you would like people to know about ADHD?” (The names of parents and children in this article have been changed to protect their privacy.)
Joan, the foster mother of Tommy, an eight-year-old with ADHD, told HealthCentral that the main thing that other parents don’t understand about ADHD is that children with ADHD cannot always control their actions.
Her foster child currently takes medication for ADHD but that wasn’t always the case. When he first came to her house, he wasn’t on ADHD medication. It was hard for Tommy to not only sit still but to control his impulses; for example, no matter how many times he was asked not to jump on the furniture, he did it anyway. This behavior was impulsive, not defiant. Joan realized just how much impulsivity played a role after Tommy started on medication. His behavior changed almost immediately. It wasn’t that he wanted to misbehave; he just didn’t have the ability to control his impulsivity without help.
Jennie would like others to understand that she didn’t do anything to cause her son’s ADHD. Too many times other people assume, when her son is impulsive or hyperactive, that she is somehow responsible.
At times, other parents have offered her advice on discipline, implying that if she disciplined her son, he wouldn’t be hyperactive. They don’t know that parenting doesn’t cause ADHD: It is a neurobiological condition. Although scientists are still researching the exact mechanisms that cause the symptoms, they believe ADHD is associated at least partly with the dopamine system in the brain.
Ron, the father of a daughter, Cheryl, with ADHD, would like parents to know that she isn’t stupid. She needs interaction and brain stimulation to stay focused, but too often, teachers and other parents think she’s slow or stupid.
It’s true that Cheryl might seem spacey sometimes and often is forgetful, but she is bright and ahead of her class in reading and math. It worries Ron that she is often passed over and left to be distracted in her own daydreams because teachers and other students think she can’t follow the lesson or discussion.
Robert, the father of Tyler, a nine-year-old with ADHD, said he believes others think he decided on medication without trying other options. He said he wants people to know that he didn’t take the idea of medication lightly.
He researched it, talked to doctors, and took his son to therapists. He tried time-outs and other behavioral strategies such as charts, used tutors, and worked closely with his wife on different ways to try to help Tyler. Medication was a last resort, he said. He believes most children with ADHD who take medication are doing so because their parents didn’t know what else to do. They wanted their children to succeed and saw how hard their kids tried, how long they studied, how difficult it was for them to sit still. These parents decided on medication because ADHD is a real disorder and the medication helps to reduce the symptoms.
Charmaine, the mother of Steven, a ten-year-old with ADHD, shared via email that she wants others to know how important exercise is for children with ADHD. She was glad when her school district stopped the practice of keeping children with ADHD inside at recess if they hadn’t completed their work or misbehaved.
In the mornings, she has Steven exercise with a stationary bike at home and that helps him stay on track during the morning. Running around during recess helps him sit still during the afternoon.
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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.