Effectively managing your child’s ADHD symptoms is a complicated process. The first step is creating a comprehensive treatment plan that builds on your child’s strengths.
Ask yourself the following questions to help come up with a program that encompasses all aspects of your child’s life — home, school and social — while still allowing you to focus on one or two areas that you believe offer the biggest opportunities for improvement.
What are my options?
There are a number of different ADHD treatments for you to consider, including:
Many successful treatment plans combine different treatments. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a mix of medication and behavioral therapy for children over the age of 6, and behavioral therapy only as a starting point for children under the age of 6. The AAP also suggests parents work with their schools to develop individualized accommodations.
What are the pros and cons of each type of treatment?
For each option, carefully weigh the pros and cons. For example, what are the side effects of medication? If you are considering working with a behavioral specialist, how often will your child have appointments? How will he or she get to these sessions? Will they interfere with other family obligations or the needs of other children? What are the costs and are they burdensome?
For any treatment to be successful, the parents, child, and siblings must all understand and accept the impact on the family and be willing to work through any complications. If behavioral therapy requires weekly appointments with a therapist that interfere with siblings’ ability to get to their own activities, how are you going to manage both? Or will your commitment to the treatment lessen because of the conflict?
Consider how these treatments fit into your family preferences, cultural values, and beliefs. It is also important to think about how your child feels. Will taking a pill each morning or going to the therapist each week create a battle? A treatment plan has a much better chance of success when everyone is committed to it.
Are there conditions that also need addressing?
There are a host of related conditions that often run alongside ADHD. Depression, anxiety, oppositional defiance disorder, learning disabilities, and sleep problems are common coexisting conditions. A comprehensive treatment plan frequently addresses more than ADHD; for example, your child’s individualized education program (IEP) or Section 504 Agreement might also include accommodations for learning disabilities. When creating a treatment plan, consider all your child’s needs rather than just his or her ADHD symptoms.
What are my goals for my child?
Consider the question, “Why did I seek treatment for my son or daughter?” You might have made an appointment with the doctor because you were concerned about hyperactivity or because there were consistent behavioral issues at home. Or maybe a teacher has been complaining about disruptive behavior or your child is having difficulty keeping up with schoolwork.
The AAP suggests identifying the behaviors that prevent your child from success. Your answers will help you set specific goals for treatment. Make sure these are SMART goals — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely. You might track how well your child completes and hands in homework; stays on track at school with fewer reminders from the teacher; works independently at home with fewer reminders from parents; completes assignments within time constraints; or creates fewer behavioral issues at home.
How am I going to measure progress?
Setting up a treatment plan doesn’t mean overnight success. Progress takes time, patience, and persistence. Look over your goals for your child and set up a schedule — for example, aim for your child to hand in homework three days a week for the next two weeks, then four days a week for the next month, then daily. Starting medication might also take a period of trial and error. Some doctors will start children on the lowest possible dose and work upward as needed. Keep track of your child’s progress to help you accurately measure how your child is doing on each goal.
Who is involved in the treatment plan and what does each person contribute?
Plans for ADHD often include different health and education specialists. You might take your child to a neurologist for medication or a behavioral therapist; your child’s teacher and other school personnel might need to set up an IEP or Section 504. You might have caregivers who play a part. Make a list of all the people who touch your child’s life and consider each person’s role in implementing the treatment plan.
A treatment plan is not a once-and-done arrangement. Once you set it up and inform your team members, consistently monitor progress to ensure success. You might use weekly emails from the teacher, checklists from teachers and caregivers, and monthly discussions with the doctor and therapist. To determine whether everyone is following the plan and to decide whether it is working or needs adjustment, some parents find it helpful to create a binder for all correspondence, checklists, test results, and notes about key conversations.