Martha and Johann Strauss, parents of five year old Davy diagnosed with ADHD, share their unique perspective on caring for the ADHD affected child.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines ADHD as a brain disorder characterized by recurring inattentiveness, impulsivity and hyperactivity which interfere with a child’s normal development. When our child Davy was diagnosed with ADHD, we understood how behavioral changes could create anxiety and distress. Along the way, we learned a great deal about how ADHD plays out and what we could do to make the going smoother. We are not recommending surefire solutions, but parents, siblings and caregivers can work on our suggestions to improve their lives and care for the ADHD child.
1. Co Opt siblings, teachers and caregivers in tackling ADHD
Dealing with ADHD children is a serious drain on parental patience, energy and resources. Davy was hurling insults, swearing at siblings, and giving a torrid time to family and friends. The solution was to get us parents, siblings, caregivers, and school teachers on board. We discussed the behavioral changes prompted by ADHD, and charted plans to tackle Davy’s aggression with patience and love.
We individually agreed to spare quality time for Davy, ensuring that his sense of being different did not lead to depression. We encouraged holding hands, and hugging to make Davy feel wanted and a part of the family. We were alert to chronic crying or refusal to perform daily tasks that signalled underlying distress. By encouraging Davy to speak his mind, we were acknowledging his feelings, not dismissing them.
2. Educating family members on ADHD is half the work done
According to Psychology Today, one in nine kids in the U.S. aged 4 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. Dealing with a child affected by ADHD burdens the family physically, mentally, and emotionally. Parents and siblings must become knowledgeable about ADHD symptoms and treatment. Non-ADHD children must be taught to alter their behaviour to cope with the ADHD child.
It helps a great deal for family members to take turns in giving personalized care, allowing each individual time to re-energize and regroup. Remember that half of ADHD education comes from listening and responding to the child, and in boosting the child’s positive behaviour and achievements.
3. Planning the ADHD child’s work, leisure and medication regime
ADHD children are extremely demanding, constantly testing the limits of our patience. Their sleep and work cycles must be carefully balanced with medication schedules to protect their health. Instead of caging your child to a strict routine, you need to nurture a caring lifestyle around the child’s needs.
If Davy took his meds late and was awake beyond his normal hours, he would become inattentive in class next morning. If he was medicated too early in the morning, the effect would wear off before schooling ended. Complex homework assignments had to be broken down into doable tasks.
The morning before and the time after schooling hours must be used wisely to spread the academic burden. Geometric shapes, abstract coloring, and mathematical puzzles can overpower an ADHD child. As parents, we have to help the child sweat through this stuff and not be too anxious about slow progress.
The most important lesson is to plan one’s life around the ADHD child and ensure he gets enough sleep between a normal work routine, healthy diet and ample outdoor exercise.
4. Planning for proper diet and nutritional intake
An ADHD child on prescription meds becomes inattentive to food. Irregular sleep cycles, missed meals and poor nutritional intake lead to rapid weight loss. The timing of medication is of utmost importance. Medication given too early or too late plays havoc with feeding patterns. Ideally, feeding should be planned before meds kill food cravings.
Even as Davy’s favorite food is Pizza, I would add pureed vegetables over toppings to ensure nutritional balance. Plan and stock the larder with groceries so you’re not caught napping when the feeding clock starts ticking.
5. Never, ever run out of ADHD medication
With an ADHD child to care for, one cannot risk running out of medication. Instead of waiting for the prescription to run its course, plan and stock your purchases beforehand. Else, you will waste valuable time buzzing through a maze of pharmacies looking for meds. It is unnerving to be stuck with a generic version of the original drug which may create unintended side effects.
6. Encourage the child to interact with other ADHD children
Interaction with other ADHD children speeds up healing. Dysfunctional children, sharing a similar wavelength, forge stronger bonds of friendship. In their lucid moments, ADHD children often reveal that such friendships are cherished associations. Handling two ADHD children could prove a handful, but the long term benefits are too precious to ignore.
7. Realize that the loss of emotional or physical control is instinctive and not intentional
Remember that an ADHD child loses control over his mind, body, and actions not because he is intentionally aggressive. He is merely responding the way his neural synapses are conditioned. Obviously, this does not excuse bad behaviour. But, parents and siblings, by understanding how ADHD works, can cope with such children effectively. Each behavioral variation becomes a learning experience, helping the family to improve caregiving.
8. Escalating from “Do it now’” to “Can do tomorrow”
Cycles of inattentiveness mixed with spells of boredom make the ADHD child hyperactive. They will be bursting with ideas about places to go and things to do. The solution is to gently divert attention to tasks that need to be done now, assuring that it would be OK to finish other tasks tomorrow. The focus should be on steering the child away from repetitive tasking and cyclical thinking.
9. Medication hours are meditative hours
The time that the ADHD child spends under medication offers a great opportunity for bonding. Medication relaxes the brain and slows down reflexes. This is the time when children open up and reveal their fears, hopes and aspirations. Parents and siblings should seize the moment to rediscover all that is wise and wonderful in the child. Enjoy such moments and bond closely when the child is at its creative best.
Computerized interventions for children with ADHD are also helpful in improving the cognitive skills of ADHD children, besides relieving ADHD symptoms. Such treatments reduce the severity of dysfunction, encouraging all round excellence in academic and extracurricular activities.
10. Break the routine - give your child a holiday
An ADHD child should enjoy the luxury of having a day off when he can do what he loves. The incessant demands of schooling can be overpowering. We would plan a once-in-a-month school break (authorities permitting) so that Davy could do what he loves most - camping in the outdoors with his siblings. Such fun filled breaks recharge the child, siblings and parents, besides adding new dimensions to the child’s creativity.