Understanding Your Child's ADHD: A Q & A With an ADHD Author

by Amanda Page Editor

To help you and your child get the school year off to a strong start, HealthCentral lined up a team of ADHD experts to answer your questions. Here are responses during a recent live discussion with Eileen Bailey, a writer specializing in ADHD, anxiety, learning disabilities and other health topics. She is the author of ‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD.”

What is the difference between ADD and ADHD?

In diagnostic terms, there isn’t any difference, but many people refer to ADD without hyperactivity as ADD and with hyperactivity as ADHD. ADD would refer to the "inattentive type."

Is ADHD considered a disability in a school setting?

ADHD is listed as one of the disabilities under IDEA, however, that doesn’t mean someone with ADHD is automatically entitled to accommodations or services. Your child’s ADHD must cause impairment in learning and adversely affect his educational performance. The school can evaluate your child to determine if he or she is eligible for services under either IDEA or Section 504.

How can teachers manage a child with ADHD in the classroom?

It is important to remember that every child is different and managing your child’s ADHD is individual to his or her needs. Some suggestions would be, sitting near the teacher and away from doors and windows to minimize distractions, playing soothing music during test or classwork time, and keeping the school day consistent and structured.

Do you have to get special permission from the school officials for some of these, such as the seating?

It depends. Sometimes teachers are more than willing to work with you, even without any "official" accommodations. But you can also request an evaluation for accommodations and then they would be listed in an IEP or Section 504.

What is Section 504?

Section 504 is a law that is governed by the Office of Civil Rights. It is enforceable in any institution that receives federal funds and states that the institution cannot discriminate against any student. Under a Section 504, students can receive accommodations in school. Your first step would be writing a letter to the school and requesting an evaluation for your child.

What is an IEP?

An IEP is a legal, binding contract that outlines any and all accommodations, modifications and services a child is eligible for under IDEA. It states the child’s needs, gives clear goals and objectives. It states when and where services are provided and who is responsible for providing them.

How is Section 504 different from an IEP?

The objective of Section 504 is to remove barriers that could stop a student from success, whereas, the IEP is to set up special accommodations for students in need. The eligibility requirements for an IEP are much more stringent than those of Section 504. If a child is found ineligible for special services and accommodations under IDEA, they may still qualify for services under Section 504.

Are all schools required to provide Section 504 plans?

All schools that receive federal funds are required to provide Section 504 plans to anyone who is determined eligible, that means that all public schools are required to provide Section 504 plans. If your child attends a private school that does not receive any federal funds, they may not offer these plans.

Do all children with ADHD qualify for section 504?

A diagnosis of ADHD does not automatically qualify a child for accommodations under Section 504. Eligibility is based on whether your child has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits his ability to learn or behave appropriately. Your school will complete an assessment to determine eligibility.

If a child qualifies, what types of accommodations are available to them under section 504?

Accommodations are based on your child’s individual needs, meaning, that accommodations for one child might not be the same as those provided for a different child. Some common accommodations for children with ADHD include: extra time for tests, preferential seating, daily or weekly communication with parents, oral tests, and completing seatwork at home.

What should I do to have accommodations set up for my child in school, sports, etc.?

If your child has an IEP or Section 504, you should address the sports in the meetings and request certain accommodations at that time. You might also ask that the coaches be included in the meeting, that way you can talk through some of your concerns and ask the coaches for their input.

What would you consider a reasonable accommodation?

I would probably address ways the coach can keep your son engaged, like making sure he isn't just sitting on the bench, or focus on improvement. My son always enjoyed more individual type sports; such as swimming, track, tae kwon do and these also have the benefit of individual attention to skills.

How does ADHD affect homework?

It depends on the child, but some of the ways it might affect homework is that your child has trouble focusing after school and homework can sometimes take hours to complete. Or your child might forget books or materials needed to finish the homework. Or, like my son did, your child might get all the homework done and then forget to hand it in or lose it before it gets to the teacher.

How do you talk to your child about taking medication?

Make sure you gear the talk to your child's age. Young children do better with short answers. When discussing medication, let your child know what you think the medication may do and how it will help. Young children view the world in terms of them. They may blame themselves for the ADHD, thinking they have done something wrong. Make sure you let your child know ADHD is not their fault.

What are some tips for helping my 2nd grader manage ADHD at home?

Children with ADHD react better when they are engaged and involved. You might want to make clean up time a game, such as how many legos can you put in the bin in one minute. Also, start small and start building your child's ability to focus. Start with a few minutes and slowly try to increase the time he can focus.

Any tips for helping adults recognize the symptoms of ADHD and how they can take the first step towards treating it?

ADHD in everyone is different, but in adults inattention might show up as losing or misplacing items, forgetfulness, not completing tasks, trouble following conversations. Hyperactivity might show up as restlessness or always fidgety. If you think you might have ADHD, then I would suggest starting with your family doctor and talking about why you think you have ADHD.

Some of the latest statistics indicate that medications are over-prescribed, especially for mental conditions. What is your take on this?

Based on what I have read, there are some areas where the rate of ADHD is very high, indicating there might be some over diagnosis, but there are other areas that are well below the average, which mean that it could be under diagnosed. I think medication would go along the same lines. Some doctors might overprescribe but there are also many people that could benefit from treatment that don't get it.

Do most people with ADHD stay on medication for most their life?

That depends on the person, some people, like Pete indicated below, learn to compensate and manage symptoms of ADHD and don't feel the need for medication. Others find the symptoms are much more controllable with medication and continue to take it. It really depends on the individual.

What are some tips for managing symptoms naturally without medication?

It depends on the symptom. For forgetfulness, you might make good use of the reminder/timer/calendar on your phone. For inattention, some people find setting a timer to buzz every 10 minutes to remind them to get back to the task helps.

Any diet suggestions for picky eaters with ADHD?

Some diet ideas include gluten free, dye free, etc., the research on them have mixed results. These types of diets help some children but not all. If you decide to take a diet approach, I would suggest keeping a daily log of what foods your child eats and watch over several months for any behavior changes. But any diet you try should be followed for several months before deciding if it works or not.

What are the potential consequences in school of untreated ADHD?

Children with untreated ADHD are more at risk of developing low self-esteem and may be more at risk of developing conduct disorder or substance abuse.

Should I be worried about my ADHD child's impact on their siblings?

ADHD in one child can be hard on other siblings, especially if you have to take a lot of time to address the ADHD issues. Just make sure you take time every day/week to give all your children one-on-one time, such as taking time to read a story or go out for ice cream. Your children will know that you love and care for all of them if you take the time to show them.

Amanda Page
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Amanda Page

Amanda was an editor and graphic designer for HealthCentral.