Courtesy of MindPrint Learning.
Let’s start with a clarification. ADHD is a medical condition, not a personality flaw. Just as you need to be aware of, monitor, and support any other medical condition your child might have, the same is true of ADHD. Here’s why:
A child who isn’t paying attention, isn’t learning
Even if your younger child is managing now, you will find that as they progress in school and the workload gets greater, what was once manageable through some extra time on homework or parent support, is no longer sustainable. It’s like the old saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Only in the case of a child who has ADHD, “You don’t know if you don’t know what you missed.”
Unidentified ADHD impacts social skills, particularly in girls
Ever hear the words “flighty” or “spacey” to describe a child? Chances are, she was a bright girl with ADHD who was overloaded. Imagine the impact on a child’s self-esteem when instead of supporting her when she needs help, we laugh it off to a character flaw. It might at least partially explain the under-diagnosis of girls with ADHD.
Consider the ADHD reality. Boys with ADHD are more likely to run around and play sports during recess. A recommended strategy to support ADHD. What about girls? They are far more likely to walk and talk, just the opposite of the type of mental health break a girl with ADHD probably needs. And when she misses part of the conversation, her friends get mad thinking: She doesn’t care, doesn’t listen, and never remembers what we tell her. As a result, if a girl doesn’t know how to cope with her attention needs, it could impact her friendships.
Unsupported ADHD can lead to risky behaviors
Kids with weaker attention tend to have more cognitive difficulty controlling their impulses. It’s not that they are any less aware of the consequences, but everyone, especially teens, contemplates taking risks. The problem is that kids with ADHD are more likely to take the risk. Let’s just say their “stop button” often doesn’t work as effectively without training. Unsupported ADHD is linked to behavior problems in school, eating disorders, dangerous and distracted driving, addiction, and earlier sexual activity.
- Don’t assume your school will alert you. Remember, ADHD is a medical condition. So while asking the school to help you identify if your child shows signs of ADHD is a legal right, the teachers and support team at school might not recognize your child’s struggles.
- Don’t jump to conclusions. There probably isn’t a parent alive who hasn’t at one time or another wondered if their child has ADHD. Every child can show symptoms. Only a professional using an objective measurement tool is qualified to tell you if your child has ADHD. Don’t make assumptions, but do seek out expert help if you have concerns.
- Consult a professional. A psychologist, psychiatrist or pediatrician who specializes in ADHD is the best path to an accurate diagnosis and a comprehensive support plan. Of course, this is also expensive, and depending on where you live and the time of year, potentially a long wait.
- Use an Attention Screener. If you’re uncomfortable talking to the school and not yet ready for an outside professional, consider an objective screening tool to understand if your concerns are well-founded. Parent observation checklists are a good start. Child Mind Institute’s symptom checker and Understood.org’s Checklist of ADHD symptoms are two options. Ultimately, you will want an objective test. Mindprint’s free objective attention screening test is similar to the type used in some doctors’ offices.
- Begin supporting your child. Having difficulties with attention doesn’t equate to needing medicine. However, it does equate to having strategies to support time management, focus, and organization. Fortunately, most of the strategies for supporting students with ADHD will help all students. They are just a necessity for students with ADHD. ADDitude, Understood, and Mindprint all provide free strategies to support attention.