Alison McClymont is a children’s psychotherapist with over a decade’s worth of experience working at the forefront of children’s mental health. She is the Author of ‘Wilbur’s Memory Box’ her instagram is @alisonmcclymontinsta.

So your child has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or you suspect that they might have the condition. As we so often do in our age of omnipresent technology when looking for information, you type the letters “ADHD” in to Google and you are confronted with an overwhelming amount of conflicting information.

Navigating the minefield of ADHD

First of all, let’s tackle a big one, and you will have definitely seen this one come up on Google- is ADHD real? There are various “reports” and “law suits” saying that the condition is a “hoax” and has been fabricated by multi-billion dollar conglomerates to sell their drugs, along with some very convincing financial data alongside yet more “reports” from serious-looking medical sources shouting from the rooftops about their “conclusive findings” for the causes for ADHD.

Firstly, let’s look at some figures:

  • There is no “agreed” cause for ADHD, some suggest that it is caused due to low levels of dopamine and noriepinephrine in the brain. Some believe, such as American psychiatrist Dr Bruce Perry, that the condition is not a “condition” at all and is simply a list of behavioural concerns.
  • Current UK estimates for ADHD are approximately 2 % of children, with a worldwide estimate of 5 % of the total population. The UK has some of the lowest diagnosis rates in the world.
  • Boys are 3 times more likely to be diagnoses than girls.
  • Symptoms of ADHD typically begin between the ages of 3-7, but the average age of diagnosis is 7.
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What does true ADHD actually look like?

The DSM will tell you that children with ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. In lay terms, this means a child that is MARKEDLY different from peers when it comes to attention and impulse control. Some examples could be:

  • EXCESSIVE running and climbing (in comparison to peer age children)
  • Extreme difficulty focusing on or completing a task (particularly quiet individual tasks)
  • Interrupting or blurting out answers
  • Easily distracted
  • Loses things, struggles greatly with organizational task
  • Struggles with instructions

The key in all of this is marked differences from peers. W all know toddlers are a handful, and no one is expecting a 3-year-old to sit nicely and attentively complete a 100 piece jigsaw, but if you find your child as a general rule of thumb struggles significantly with attention or impulse control- you might be looking at an ADHD diagnosis. If you are… where next?

Well, a good first point of call for any parent suspecting that their child might have ADHD is to seek the advice of a qualified professional. You will then usually be confronted with the option to adopt a pharmacotherapy approach (ie to take medication, usually Ritalin or Adderall), to receive some form of behavior managing or reducing therapy, or a combination of both.

What is the medication for ADHD?

Let’s consider first the medication approach:

ADHD symptoms can be reduced through the assistance of medication and the internet will be full of testimonies and various reports citing this. However medication is generally seen by ADHD experts as a tool not a cure. The reason for this being, the side effects of the medication such as feeling jittery, dry mouth, stomach complaints, headaches etc, are sometimes unmanageable and to remain on medication for a prolonged period is not an option for some people. If you do choose to go down the medication route, and there are many people that do and happily so. Things to consider, with your doctor, might be:

  • What are the possible symptoms and what is their likelihood of appearing? (For example, some of the symptoms may be less common than others and may in fact be extremely rare)
  • What does the person taking the medication feel? Do they think it is working?
  • Is the medication having a generally positive impact?

If you do not want to use medication or would like to combine them in conjunction with a behavioural management approach, what should you consider? Well firstly, therapy can provide a child or a family with a set of coping mechanisms to deal with symptoms of ADHD, such as managing impulsive behaviours or inappropriate responses. Mindfulness techniques for example, have been shown to be particularly effective in this regard, as they offer techniques to reduce stress levels, and help to monitor behaviour.

Alternative ways to cope with ADHD

Arts therapies or indeed any creative activity increases dopamine, a chemical thought to be low in the brain of an ADHD sufferer. Creativity is also a great way to increase a person’s range of expression and their own self-confidence, particularly useful for an ADHD child who might find themselves constantly being told off by a teacher for not “concentrating” or not “sitting nicely like the other children”.

Behavioural approaches also help to reduce certain behaviours by praising the “good” and trying to diminish the “bad”. Consistency is the key with any approach but particularly with a behavioural one. Studies have shown that such approaches greatly reduce the presence of ADHD symptoms, as long as it is maintained and consistent.

And of course, outside of this, there are lifestyle choices to consider for treating ADHD:

  • Get your sleep! (Yes this is hard for all parents of young children, but it is so vital for children with ADHD. Make sleep an absolute priority)
  • Eat a balanced and highly diet, low in sugar and high in brain chemicals such as zinc and magnesium (oily fish, eggs, green leafy vegetables… all the things kids don’t like J )
  • Get outside! Studies have shown that 30 minutes in the open air can greatly assist in reducing the symptoms of ADHD, and its helpful parents who might be going crazy in the house trying to keep their child from launching off the furniture
  • Run it out! Physical activity reduces stress, burns off energy and promotes a healthier, happier individual.

Children all go through periods of extra energy or a lack of attentiveness, they are constantly developing and growing and sometimes things happen in fits and starts, however, if you notice a consistent pattern of behavior that causes concern, and is not affected by environment change or appears noticeably more pronounced than peer aged children- seek the advice of a qualified therapist or doctor and discuss your concerns with them.

Article by Alison McClymont

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