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Living with ADHD

By Charles Hopkins Published 10/23/2007 | Parenting
ADHD, what is it? ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a condition that is usually characterized by lack of ability to focus, impulsive behavior, and hyperactivity. Those who suffer from this condition have an over stimulated brain that changes directions quickly and without discipline.

There are three major symptoms of ADHD:

1. Inattentiveness. A child with ADHD cannot determine what is important and what is not. They are easily distracted by sounds, activities, and even smells around him. They cannot determine what to focus attention on because they lack the skill to prioritize.

2. Impulsive behavior. A child with ADHD acts first and then thinks. He does not take the time beforehand to consider whether there might be consequences to his action. As a parent, you may be constantly having to make sure your child is safe and not heading for the busy street. They just do not recognize the danger of the fast moving cars. It can be very exhausting to try to anticipate where their next turn might take them. The child will probably spend more than their fair share of time in the emergency room or doctor's office getting patched up.

3. Hyperactivity. A child with ADHD is constantly fidgeting, tapping his feet, popping his knuckles, or tapping his fingers on the table. They just cannot be still, even for a very short time. Sometimes you will notice a constant lip or tongue movement.

If your child has the first two symptoms of inattentiveness and impulsive behavior, but not hyperactivity, he may suffer from ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder.

School is usually very difficult for children with either of these disorders. The demands on concentration and for staying quiet are so much greater in the classroom setting. Because such children find it difficult to stay focused on anything for very long, the alternative is to be disruptive, and overly active. For some, the disorder is so severe that it interferes with their being able to keep up normal learning. This calls for more parental involvement and understanding.


Many things have been linked with ADHD as a contributing factor at some point including artificial lighting and lead poisoning. It is now believed that there are disturbances in some brain functions that may be a factor. It is believed that there is involvement with the chemical dopamine and its regulation in the brain. It has been discovered that adults with ADHD metabolized glucose more slowly in the areas of the brain that controls movement and attention. The disorder has also been linked with the use of alcohol or drugs by the mother during her pregnancy. Her diet during pregnancy could also be a factor.


Typically these children are bright, creative and keenly sensitive. It is important to realize that they are healthy children with extraordinary needs, requiring a special level of understanding. Here are some suggestions parents of such children have found successful.

First, it is necessary to recognize the situations and the stimuli that upset the child. It is essential to observe the signals in the child that precede the emotional confrontations and to intervene as soon as possible. One of the first things you will notice is a change in facial expression. It usually reflects a rising level of frustration due to the inability to deal with the situation at hand. Give kind verbal reminders that the child needs to control himself, or if necessary, remove him from the situation altogether. Time-outs have been proven effective, not as a form of discipline, but a cooling off period for both the parent and the child so they can proceed rationally.

A parent may find themselves feeling resentful at the behavior of the child, taking it personally. It is essential to realize that when these children reach their stress tolerance level, they lose all sense of reasoning and comprehension. Sometimes you just need to back off to give yourself time to gain control of your own emotions.


Parents of children who have been diagnosed with ADHD are beginning to realize that they had the same symptoms as a child but there was no "label" for it when they were growing up. Unfortunately, children with ADHD often grow up to be the adults that are always in trouble with the police, always getting into fights, or can't keep a job.

If one who suffers from the disorder marries, it can put a lot of strain on the marriage. They usually are not very good listeners and do not communicate well with others.

Having a child with ADHD can put a strain on a marriage as well. There is the tendency for parents to blame each other for the problem. They may be quicker to react to the bad the child has done than the good. This leads to even more negative behavior. Thus the family, and anyone else who interacts with the child, become locked into a power struggle as a result of not understanding or not knowing how to manage the behavior of a difficult child, whether it be a child with ADHD, ADD, or just one wanting attention.


Although a change in diet can play a major role in controlling symptoms, there are other methods of treatment to consider. The three most common are:

1. Medication. Since ADHD apparently is connected with a disturbance of brain functions, medication can be useful in restoring the proper chemical balance. Unfortunately, many children are over medicated to the point that they are not able to function without the medication, and with the medication they become lethargic.

Some experience undesirable side effects from medication, including anxiety and certain emotional problems. Medication should be carefully monitored under a doctor's supervision.

2. Behavior modification. Parents may feel that they should not give their child discipline because he has the disorder. But in truth, discipline and structure is the best thing for the child. As parents, you cannot simply give up. If consistent discipline is given with love, the child will better be able to accept the discipline. Set clear limits with appropriate rewards and penalties.

Structure in the child's life is very important. There should be strict routine in the daily activities. Of course, the child can have some input in the structure and routine. But as a parent you have to be sure they follow the routine. The child's energy needs to be channeled in a positive way. It will take some determination on your part. You will need to spend time working with him (or her) with their schoolwork, patiently teaching and explaining things to him, often over and over again.

3. Cognitive training. This involves helping a child to have the proper view of himself and the disorder. They have to be helped to realize that they are not "stupid" or "bad". They need to know the disorder does not define who they are. It is a condition that can be managed. Goals can be set, but they need to be realistic. One of the biggest problems is the lack of self esteem that can develop in children with the disorder. Give them constant reassurance and support. Discuss rather than demand. If possible, get the opinion of the the child in any decisions that involve him.


It is very important to try to reduce the stress level by providing an environment of order and stability. This might require simplifying your life style in some way. Reduce the negative effect of over stimulation. Cut down on the number of toys they are allowed to play with at one time. Since these children are often very disorganized, creating an organized environment can reduce frustration levels.

Have a structured but not rigid, routine that gives stability to the child. The time schedule is not as crucial as the sequence, that is the order in which events occur. Provide proper nutrition with well-balanced meals and snacks. Create bedtime rituals they can look forward to. If you take them shopping, make the trips short and only to one or two places. When going out, clearly explain the type of behavior you expect.

Support from family and friends is the greatest "medication" one who suffers from ADHD can be given. Try to draw attention to the things they CAN do, not what they CANNOT do. Don't forget that love will make your task as a parent easier. Hug your child every day, often.