Co-authored by Azin Dastpak and Robert T. Muller, Ph.D.
Some children march to the beat of their own drum. This is especially true for those with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), who have difficulty with impulse control and become easily distracted. These behaviors may be misinterpreted as indifference, laziness, or even willful defiance, leaving parents confused and frustrated. But there’s reason to think that receiving the diagnosis of child ADHD may, at times, be helpful to parents.
Recalling her experience with her son before his ADHD diagnosis, Mary* recalls thinking that he was rude and ignored her when she was talking to him. When asking him about his day at school, he would simply answer with “I don’t know. I can’t remember.” She admits that these responses used to make her angry, and she couldn’t understand how such dismissive responses from her son were possible.
More Effective Ways to Learn
Inattention related to ADHD can affect the way children learn and remember. Delaram Farzanfar, a psychoeducational consultant at Psychoed Clinic, shares strategies to help children with ADHD learn more effectively. She explains that these children are especially sensitive to sight, sound, and sensory stimuli, so it is best to seat them in the front row close to the teacher. Trying to pay attention can be taxing on their brains, and having a quiet working station reduces cognitive demand, helping them to use that energy on the task at hand. They also tend to procrastinate. They may complete the task, but leave out an important part, or even forget to turn it in. The underlying problem is their difficulty following through with instructions when there are multiple steps. It is best to instruct them one step at a time.
Certainly not every parent is happy to receive an ADHD diagnosis. Helen,* whose son was diagnosed when he was six, shared that she did not like the term “ADHD.” Helen believes that there is no such thing as ADHD. Rather, there are behaviors that are collectively called “ADHD symptoms,” and for that, doctors keep prescribing medication. When her son became aware of the diagnosis, she recalls that when he had difficulty doing anything at home, he would blame it on having ADHD.
In another case, it took Emily* eight years to fully accept her son’s ADHD diagnosis, and by eighth grade, her son’s impulsive behaviors had gotten out of hand. Based on her experience, Emily explains that children with ADHD are often subjected to stigma and harsh reactions from teachers and parents. They start to think they are not good enough, always about to fail, which causes them anxiety leading to further lack of focus. It can lead to depression.
ADHD treatment goes beyond a pill prescription. Research has offered many insights into the underlying relational and emotional elements related to the disorder. Helen says she has become more sensitive and aware since her son’s diagnosis. She signed him up for classes that help him deal with his anger, and he has been able to learn about some tools that help to regulate his emotions. She also admits having grown and learned about herself and her own tendencies. She started to change her behavior around him to provide a safe environment for him to express emotions.
Mary also feels better able to support her son after his diagnosis. She started doing meditations with him and noticed a huge difference. She also signed him up for sports. For homework, she helps him by giving instructions step-by-step. When her son realizes what he is supposed to do, he does it. He remembers things that interest him. Mary and her son’s teachers also work together to make sure that he takes detailed notes of important things in his planner.
In Emily’s case, she changed how she communicated with her son. She uses more positive reinforcements, and the pair watch inspirational videos together. The tone and language she uses with him are important, but she emphasizes that the discipline needs to be there as well.
Children with ADHD may be sensitive, with brains that sometimes have a difficult time marching to the standard beat of the academic drum; however, their minds show great potential when tuned to their own unique and passionate rhythms: a point which all three mothers proudly agree on:
He is a very deep thinker with a strong imagination. He is a strong advocate; he talks fearlessly and assertively about what is important to him. —Emily
Copyright Robert T. Muller, Ph.D.
*Name changed for anonymity.