Is your child struggling to focus and sit still? It may be a sign of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
As the most commonly diagnosed mental disorder among children, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can affect a child’s performance in school and how they engage socially, making identifying and treating ADHD extremely important.
The medical condition causes differences in brain development and activity, affecting attention, self-control and the ability to sit still.
It’s true that all children struggle to pay attention and wait their turn sometimes, but youngsters with ADHD struggle with these things more frequently.
ADHD is assessed across three categories: inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive. A child may exhibit signs from any of these categories. Inattentive and impulsive tendencies with the absence of hyperactive behaviour is characterised as ADD (attention deficit disorder), a form of ADHD.
Although symptoms vary from person to person, doctors usually diagnose ADHD in youngsters after a child has shown six or more traits of inattention or hyperactivity on a regular basis for more than six months in at least two settings.
Since children spend most of their waking hours at school, it’s ideal to start an assessment for ADHD by evaluating their behaviour in the classroom. A child with ADHD may have more trouble sharing, taking turns, letting others talk, finishing tasks and keeping track of their belongings than other children their age.
ADHD is more common in boys; it tends to run in families and is usually detected during early school years. However, children with ADHD grow into adults with ADHD. The condition does not go away and usually presents in adults who have trouble managing time, being organised, setting goals and holding down jobs.
Treatments and therapies
Though not a permanent cure, medication is often used to treat ADHD, and both stimulant and non-stimulant medications can be used.
While medication can be effective in helping children concentrate and be less impulsive, many experts agree that the best treatment plan includes a combination of medication and behavioural therapy.
Today, there are a variety of treatments and therapies from other stimulant medications to behaviour modification, counselling and even brain training.
Teachers may be instrumental in recommending strategies to help a child with ADHD learn suitable behaviours. Social skills training is another means of teaching coping skills to children with ADHD.
If a more formal process is required, psychotherapy, whereby a professional therapist helps children to better manage relationships and make good choices, is another viable option for treating ADHD.
The point here is this: medication is no longer the only way to treat ADHD. Medical doctors are simply one option; parents, caregivers and teachers can make changes to better accommodate students with ADHD, too.
Razan Nabulsi, a former special education needs coordinator and cofounder of Dots & Links, the first brain training centre in Abu Dhabi, offers tips on how teachers can support children with ADHD in the classroom.
“Accept [children with ADHD] as they are and support them to achieve their fullest potential,” Razan says. “Do not judge their parents or them for lack of organisation and impulse, but rather design a classroom that is suitable for their needs, for example, creating a designated area where ADHD students can have a break and move around in a safe environment.
“Make sure ADHD students know the instructions by asking them to rephrase what has been asked of them to do by the teacher and having more child-led activities.
“In one classroom I visited, the seating arrangement for children consisted of bean bags, chairs and desks, floor mats, cushions and a sofa! This classroom allowed children to choose the most comfortable seating arrangement for them.”
For parents, Razan recommends maintaining a clear and consistent routine for children with ADHD that’s inclusive of good sleep, nutrition and physical activity.
“Avoiding sugar and processed food and making sure your child is getting nutritious food is important,” she stresses.
“Also, avoid over scheduling a student’s day with lots of activities and give them free time to play, move around and have quiet time.
“Yoga and meditation have been linked to better attention and less hyperactivity. Physical exercise is a great way to get their energy out in a beneficial way. As much as these students need structure, they also need some free play time and quiet reflection.”
Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia, a community mental health and wellness clinic, adds that meditation and reflection are great ways to help children alleviate symptoms of ADHD and create a calmer state of mind.
“Mindfulness meditation practice has been and is currently being researched by leading universities and institutions and has been shown to be effective for managing the symptoms of ADHD, such as inattention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, organising, planning, problem solving, frustration tolerance and so on,” she says.
“Eight weeks of 30 minutes a day strengthens the parts of the brain most effected by ADHD.”
Another therapy increasing in popularity is brain training therapy. Dr Saliha explains: “Brain training is based on the concept of neuroplasticity – learning that the brain is plastic and any experience, trauma or training can change the brain and its neural pathways and brain waves.”
As with any medical therapy, it’s important to understand what the treatment involves and whether it is right for your child.
Recognising that your child may have ADHD can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to manage it on your own.
Consult a paediatrician to have your child evaluated. If a diagnosis of ADHD or ADD is given, work with healthcare professionals and educators to develop a treatment plan that meets your child’s needs.
Last, but definitely not least, align yourself with sources of support such as the American Center for Psychology and Neuropathy, which offers guidance to families coping with ADHD in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.
By Tamara Clarke