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ABCs of ADHD

By: LD OnLine

Children with ADHD are smart. They want to succeed. They have trouble paying attention and staying on task. This often interferes with class work and friendships.

The behaviors of a child with ADHD can be hard to understand sometimes especially if a child is seen only once or twice a week in a group after-school activity. Do you recognize Billy? His behaviors are often seen in children with ADHD.

Billly is always the first child to arrive at practice. He runs onto the field with seemingly unlimited energy. He tugs at the coach's sleeve. "When can I play? My friend John said his school had lots of players just like me....John says they learned a new game.....here I'll show you..." Billy runs, kicks over the box of balls, knocks over the book with all of the papers the coach had ready for the team, leaves the field to say hello to a friend he just saw come to play, and then runs back to the coach, again asking "when can I play?" Frustrated, the coach is now gathering up the balls, papers, and remnants of his patience. It is still 30 minutes before the game is to begin....but Coach Jones wonders can he survive another day with Billy?

The other team members arrive. Coach Jones begins to explain how the game will be played. He explained all of the rules before. Billy keeps raising his hand while at the same time blurting out questions about how and what he is supposed to do. Coach Jones' angst grows. Has Billy heard a word he said?

The game is underway. Billy sees the ball coming at him. He has a sure shot for a goal … but … Billy also sees the ice-cream truck go by and misses the ball. Parents yell. Coach Jones cannot believe his eyes!!!! Wondering in amazement Coach Jones asks himself how could such a nice kid have such a dreadful day? Then Coach Jones realizes that Billy always seems to struggle. Even Billy's mom and dad, he recalls, say that Billy has problems at home and school paying attention and following directions.

Sometimes all children have difficulty sitting still, paying attention completing work and controlling impulsive behavior. For some children these behaviors occur so often that they limit the child's ability to really excel. It is hard for them to make friends. They seem immature and their social skills interfere. They are eager to please. Yet, in spite of this, they often seem unable to stay on task, overly distractible, and isolated from peers.

People who work with them get frustrated. It seems like it is necessary to tell the child over and over again to do something that other children in the group got on the first or second try. And even once it is understood, the next time the child comes to a class it may seem as if the information has never been taught. This is frustrating for the child and the group leader.

Some children like Billy who struggle to achieve yet who seem to miss their goals so often have Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. These children want to do what coaches, teachers, parents, babysitters, and scout leaders want. Unfortunately, that center of their brain that directs and controls sustained attention seems unable to maintain a steady level.

Most scientists believe this happens because brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, are deficient. That's why many children with ADHD will be on medication (often Ritalin). Medications increase the level of the brain chemical so that the child can focus. Adolescents and adults can also have ADHD. They, too, will often take medication to control their impulsivity and distractibility.

When a child's behavior seems so disruptive or so lacking in sustained effort or attention, a diagnosis of Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity (ADHD) may be present. ADHD is the same thing as ADD. ADHD is just the new label for this group of behaviors.

Diagnosis of ADHD has evolved over time. Perhaps the first case was that of Fidgety Phil in the early 1900's. Doctors diagnosed this condition in a child whose behaviors seemed to change dramatically after being seriously ill with encephalitis, a disease that results in inflammation of the brain.

Understanding of how the brain and impulsive, inattentive behaviors relate has come a long way. We now know that a child who cannot focus may or may not have related hyperactivity. ADHD is present at birth. It can affect all aspects of a child's life--his relations with his family, his school work, and his ability to participate in social activities outside of school.

There are three types of ADHD commonly diagnosed: AD/HD primarily inattentive; AD/HD predominantly hyperactive-impulsive; and combined type, both hyperactive an inattentive. Current studies suggest that boys are more often diagnosed with ADHD. Some believe this is because they are more likely to act out in impulsive ways. Diagnosis in girls may more often be overlooked because girls often do not act out. Rather girls with ADHD often have the inattentive type. They struggle to maintain attention but too often go unnoticed.

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What are the symptoms of ADHD?

A child with ADHD

  • Makes careless mistakes or often fails to give close attention to details.
  • Has difficulty sustaining attention.
  • Does not appear to listen.
  • Struggles to follow instructions.
  • Loses things...lots of things.
  • Often forgets daily activities.
  • Is easily distracted.
  • Has difficulty with organization.
  • Avoids or dislikes tasks requiring sustained mental effort.

In addition the child with hyperactivity also

  • Fidgets a lot and squirms in his/her seat or can incessantly kick his feet or make sounds with tapping fingers.
  • Has difficulty remaining seated.
  • Runs about or climbs excessively
  • Acts as if driven by a motor.
  • Talks excessively.
  • Blurts out answers
  • Has difficulty waiting turns
  • Often interrupts or intrudes upon others.

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What should I do as a volunteer, coach, or untrained professional?

Coaches, scout leaders and other volunteers are not really trained to diagnose ADHD. In fact, ADHD is very difficult to diagnose. Diagnosis requires close work with the school, the parents, and a trained expert such as a psychiatrist, family doctor, or psychologist. Many children at times will fidget, lose attention or blurt out answers. All of these children do not have ADHD. Studies say only 3-5% of children have ADHD. Many believe that ADHD has a genetic link. This means one or maybe both parents may also show symptoms of ADHD.

Knowing that a child may have ADHD and being able to work effectively with that child are two different things. Often parents of children with ADHD will tell teachers and volunteers that work with the child that their child has been diagnosed with ADHD. They often also inform about medications.

This knowledge can be very helpful. It helps explain a child's behaviors. It helps know what kinds of strategies may work. It also helps a coach or parent know how to help a child with ADHD fit better into the group activities. For many of these children the most important period of the day or week, is the time spent in out-of-school, extracurricular activities. Knowing just a few strategies for working with a child with ADHD can enhance a child's, the group's and the volunteers experience.

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Important points to remember:

Children with ADHD are smart. They want to succeed. By learning a few strategies for success parents, coaches, teachers, and others can help children with ADHD find the path to their goals of success.

LD OnLine (2003)