The joys of parenthood are undeniable, but let’s be real – it’s also the hardest job on the planet.
As if being responsible for keeping another human being alive isn’t pressure enough, between the soccer games, homework, meal planning and bedtime routines, you also worry about their mental, emotional, and social development.
Are they presenting age-appropriate behaviors? Are the tantrums, fights, and homework struggles normal? Or is it time to be concerned?
ADHD has become a widely used (and often wrongly used) term. Sometimes parents claim their child has ADHD due to high levels of energy, but it can be falsely assumed. On the flip side, even more children with ADHD are undiagnosed, labeled “problem children ” or “defiant”, but actually lacking the help they deserve and desperately need.
So, how do you know if your child is actually dealing with brain chemistry differences in line with ADHD? First, let’s back up and take a look at what ADHD means.
What is ADHD – really?
Let’s start with the basics – ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It’s a medical condition that affects brain development and growth. It’s diagnosed as one of three presentations: Inattentive Type, Hyperactive-Impulsive Type, or Combined Type.
According to KidsHealth, “A person with ADHD has differences in brain development and brain activity that affect attention, the ability to sit still, and self-control. ADHD can affect a child at school, at home, and in friendships.”
Okay, great. Thanks, Google.
But let’s be honest, that definition isn’t overly helpful. Most moms are probably thinking, “What kid doesn’t have a lack of self-control and attention issues?” And you’re right. These skills aren’t natural for kiddos. They are learned and developed over time.
However, when a child struggles with ADHD, their behavioral differences are more obvious and more often than the typical child.
So is your child struggling with ADHD, or are they simply still learning and developing? While Google will give you a surface definition of ADHD, what they won’t give you are the practical day-to-day signs. That’s where I come in.
I was diagnosed with ADHD in the 5th grade, but I didn’t learn to manage it until I was 20. I understand the struggle of ADHD for the child, parents, and their relationship. Now, I make it my mission in life to partner with children and parents and help them harness their ADHD superpower.
Here’s a true glimpse into the mind of a child with ADHD, so you can stop guessing and know what next step your child needs.
Signs of ADHD, Inattentive Type
We all have forgetful moments and times where our mind wanders. We read the same page of a book five times, unable to remember what we read. We walk down the basement steps and have no recall as to our original intent.
Forgetfulness, distraction, and mental slips are a part of life.
However, children with ADHD find it almost impossible to remain focused for even short periods of time.
Here’s how Google will explain kids with inattentive type. They will…
- Trouble sitting still
- Inability to follow simple instructions, especially when there’s more than one step
- Inability to follow through or complete tasks
- Daydreaming or stalling when they should be listening or working
Here’s my experience:
If you tell your child to do three things, they may get half of the FIRST thing done. They’ll most likely forget the rest.
Enter your frustration, their frustration, the fight, the consequence, the slammed door. It’s a pattern you’re all too familiar with if your child has inattentive type ADHD.
These kiddos often forget a school assignment in the car. They walk upstairs to brush their teeth before bed and end up playing with the dog instead.
Sometimes in school, these kids are working so hard to sit still and look like they are paying attention, that they actually aren’t paying attention to the teacher at all. When they are called on in class, they may have no idea what question was asked. They end up getting in trouble for not trying in school, when in fact, they may be trying harder than everyone.
It’s not simply that kids with the inattentive type of ADHD can’t focus. They actually become HYPER focused on one thing. They may be engrossed in a video game, or a sport, or an instrument. So engrossed in fact, that they give that thing ALL their attention, and more important tasks don’t end up getting accomplished.
Many times kids have a hard time switching their attention in order to accomplish a high-priority task. For example, for a fourth-grade boy with ADHD, going from bug hunting to homework might feel as overwhelming as someone telling you to write a 20-page essay on the spot.
The inattentive type of ADHD has a big impact on children’s ability to manage time well and properly plan out tasks. Most likely they aren’t able to hold their attention on a teacher or parent long enough to understand an assignment or directive. They are then unable to recall very much of what was said.
The brain of a child with ADHD isn’t wired to remain attentive for long periods of time. Their struggle is legitimate, and it’s not their fault.
Without the proper tools, their brain is working against them.
Signs of ADHD, Hyperactive-Impulsive Type
If it were up to most kids, they’d eat snacks all day long and forgo the veggies at dinner. Kids want what they want when they want it. They can be hyper and impulsive.
Part of a parent’s job is to train and raise children to control their actions and impulses. But when a child is unable to control themselves with no care for boundaries or consequences, there may be something else going on.
Here’s how Google will explain kids with hyperactive-impulsive type. Kids will…
- Be in constant motion, sometimes with no real goal except motion
- Fidget or be unable to remain still, bouncing or swaying
- Hit or use other aggressive behavior
- Lack patience, talk out of turn, be unable to wait their turn
- Have difficulty participating in quiet activities
- Frequently interrupt or intrude on conversations
- Participate in risky behavior, act before they think
Here’s my experience:
Kids with the hyperactive-impulsive type of ADHD have an inability to regulate their thoughts. They don’t have a filter that enables them to think before they speak or they act.
For example, I once knew a child with ADHD that threw a stress ball at a classmate. When asked why he threw it, his response was, “I didn’t think about it, I just did it.”
These kiddos often will speak out of turn in class, talk out loud to themselves when a room is quiet, or tap their pencil incessantly against their desk.
Some kids, on the other hand, will have relatively no problems at school and seem like a completely different kid at home. Parents can become frustrated when they hear teachers comment that they are so sweet and focused, when at home they may be Tasmanian devils. The safer some kids feel, the more likely they may be to relax their minds and unintentionally act out.
Kids who are hyperactive have a hard time slowing their brains down in order to accomplish tasks. Dr. Ned Hallowell put it this way: “[kids with ADHD] have a turbocharged mind – like a Ferrari engine, but the brakes of a bicycle.” They need help learning how to strengthen those brakes.
Trust me – I can relate. I was the kid that always got, “Tyler needs to stay at her desk and stay focused,” on my report card or, at home, I would push my sister down without thinking. I was constantly in trouble, but I didn’t know how to change it.
That’s why I want to help.
Signs of ADHD, Combined Type
The majority of children with ADHD have combined type, meaning they exhibit both hyperactivity-impulsivity and inattention. If you found yourself nodding, “yes” to most of the symptoms listed above, it’s likely your child has ADHD Combined Type.
Let me be frank. Having ADHD is tough – and parenting a child with ADHD is tough, too.
Kids with ADHD try so hard, but their brain is like an orchestra trying to perform without a conductor. The conductor’s job is to tell each instrument when to perform, at what pace or tempo to perform, and when to end the performance.
Without a conductor, an orchestra just sounds like a lot of noise. And probably very confusing, unenjoyable noise.
In the human brain, the executive function acts as our conductor, helping us manage our time and priorities. Kids with ADHD have a brain without a working executive function. So it’s like living on a hot mess express. I spent most of my life as a passenger on the Hot Mess Express. Until one day, I learned to become the conductor of it.
So where do you start?
No parent wants to hear something might be wrong with their child. However, when your child’s developmental struggle is given a name, it can cause freedom instead of fear.
Freedom to give yourself grace. Freedom to give your child grace. And freedom to seek help, answers, and guidance.
As a parent, you are the first step in figuring out if your child needs extra help. We understand this journey can be frustrating and scary. The good news is you don’t have to do it alone.
At Focus Forward, we help children build a personal game plan so they can gain independence and take control of their lives. We offer coaching, academic support, and the tools to help your child succeed.
I created Focus Forward because I believe any child can become successful with ADHD. I also believe you deserve to just be MOM – not a drill sergeant.
PS – All consults are free. I’d love to learn more about your child, your struggles, and see how we can help.