Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD) is usually diagnosed after the age of 7, in early grade school. The diagnoses should not be a surprise, one of the qualifications for it is that the child exhibited symptoms before age 7, and it should not be just school, but in other situations that symptoms are exhibited (and they should be very clearly exhibited).
What are ADD signs & symptoms?
ADD signs & symptoms are defined by a list of possible examples of each attribute (Inattention, Hyperactivity, and Impulsivity). Diagnoses also includes interviews about the child, as well as IQ tests that include the parents, as ADD/ADHD is often genetic.
Inattention are any signs that the child is having trouble paying attention, such as not focusing, being forgetful (often misplacing things), and not finishing tasks or getting easily distracted. You may notice that these are all sides of the same object, and so the list of examples to diagnose inattention are not exhaustive, nor is it a perfect tool. Occasional inattention, inattention regarding particular lessons/activities, etc., should not be confused with inattention as a sign of ADD, which is severe and interferes with the child’s ability to function.
Hyperactivity is being fidgety (having an excess of energy), both physically and mentally (e.g., being especially chatty). Like Inattention, you should not confuse examples of a spirited or high-energy child with a child whose inability to control their energy is interfering with their life. I would also add that any parent be wary of a diagnoses of hyperactivity resulting from a situation where the adults are themselves overwhelmed (overcrowded classrooms, daycare) or inflexible in dealing with a spirited child; the rule of the symptom existing in multiple situations is especially important when considering whether your child is hyperactive–consider how they act at home and in the homes of friends and relatives.
Impulsivity is characterized by seemingly uncontrolled interruptions and blurting of things (like answers, or related stories). Again, a careful distinction should be made between a child who exhibits this severely enough to warrant a diagnoses of ADD/ADHD, and one who acts impulsive when nervous, or one who’s intelligent and exuberant.
ADD/ADHD medications are stimulants, but for people who have ADD/ADHD they actually have a calming effect. However, this does not mean that they do not have the normal side effects of stimulants–they can take a toll on the heart, especially if there’s a pre-existing heart problem. Before going on ADD/ADHD medication, make sure that a full physical is performed that focuses on checking for heart problems.
It’s also important, regardless of medication, to engage in behavioral therapy/training that include routines and structure. If your child suffers from hyperactivity, help them to focus their energy into constructive outlets, and encourage them to engage in healthy physical activities that can help burn off energy. When dealing with inattention, work on creating an environment with limited distractions, and work with the child on completing tasks. Try letting the child pick activities so that he’ll be more likely to finish them, and do the activity with him and try to keep him engaged. Use positive reenforcement whenever the child stays focused, and work to set good examples. As ADD/ADHD is often inherited, if you have tendencies to get distracted work on your own focus to help set an example/create an environment conducive to concentration. What techniques and habits work for your family are going to be unique, so don’t hesitate to be creative and try multiple approaches. If you get stuck, consider joining a support group.
Meditation may also help children (and parents) learn to focus. Even if it’s for a minute, learning the habit of concentration and letting go of distractions can be learned through multiple attempts. Whenever you have the opportunity, or when a child is particularly struggling, have an aside where you (together) take slow, deep breaths with your eyes closed. If it helps you to get the child focused, try putting hands on each others’ shoulders. Each time you have the aside, try and work up to having a higher count of breaths. If the child is able to successfully focus on 10 (or a number of your choosing) work on incorporating sitting peacefully into your daily routine. Even though thoughts come up, teach your child that they do not have to follow each one, and to visualize in a manner of your choosing letting the thought go (i.e., as a balloon that floats away). This may also help impulse control.
Make sure that what your child is going through is really ADD/ADHD and not a misdiagnoses. Talk to your doctor about other possible medical conditions, and rule out other factors such as not getting enough sleep, chronic boredom in school if your child is gifted, or dietary troubles.
To try a dietary adjustment, start by eliminating food colorings, which some studies have tied to Attention Deficit Disorder, from their diet. It may also help to eliminate processed foods and sugar in general from your child’s diet. If you’re not sure what works and doesn’t work nutritionally for your family, try an elimination diet. Spend a couple of weeks eating nothing but basic nutrients: lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Then gradually reintroduce foods such as wheat gluten, dairy, desserts, (if you must) processed foods, etc., week by week, and keep a record of how your family/child reacts to each food.