Most of us have heard of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, and from time to time, we may refer to ourselves as having it when feeling distracted, impulsive, or lacking focus. Daily life can be stressful, and one can feel easily overwhelmed by various demands. Now, more than ever, we live within a culture that values achievement rather than prioritizing balance and ability. Children and young adolescents are often over-scheduled with activities.
What does this mean for someone who is not "neurotypical," someone whose neural wiring results in behavior that works against our cultural values.? Children with ADHD experience the world in an "atypical" way. It is both a blessing and a curse for those whose natural way of being doesn't allow them to still and focus for an extended or even short period of time.
For children who experience the symptoms of ADHD, life in a world that often requires sitting still and having focus becomes challenging. They may exhibit behaviors that are pervasive and persistent, causing difficulties in all areas of their life. For example, children must go to school. When they are toddlers, and in kindergarten, ADHD may not be seen at all since children are often spirited, creative, and on the go. All of these behaviors are view as "normative" from young ones. But as children grow and develop, expectations change, and different skills are required, especially when it comes to successful academics.
ADHD in children presents differently for each person. Some are more distracted, others more energetic, and some experience both. Most often, the symptoms of ADHD show up before the age of 12.
Subtypes and Symptoms
The Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (CHADD) website lists three presentations of ADHD—Predominantly Inattentive, Hyperactive-Impulsive, and Combined. The symptoms for each are adapted and summarized below.
ADHD (predominantly inattentive presentation)
- Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes
- Has difficulty sustaining attention
- Does not appear to listen
- Struggles to follow through with instructions
- Has difficulty with organization
- Avoids or dislikes tasks requiring sustained mental effort
- Loses things
- Is easily distracted
- Is forgetful in daily activities
ADHD (predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation)
- Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in chair
- Has difficulty remaining seated
- Runs about or climbs excessively in children; extreme restlessness in adults
- Difficulty engaging in activities quietly
- Acts as if driven by a motor; adults will often feel inside as if a motor drives them
- Talks excessively
- Blurts out answers before questions have been completed
- Difficulty waiting or taking turns
- Interrupts or intrudes upon others
ADHD (combined presentation)
- The individual meets the criteria for both inattention and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD presentations.
These symptoms can change over time, so children may fit different presentations as they get older.
When to Seek Help From a Marriage and Family Therapist
If you are noticing multiple symptoms of ADHD that are keeping your child from meeting expectations at home and school, a marriage and family therapist can help. MFTs are mental health professionals who look at behaviors in the context of various relationships. The focus of therapy for a child with ADHD is to build skills and confidence. MFTs take a holistic approach when helping their clients. And while the system we work in requires a diagnosis, we mustn't label children. Labels hurt self-perception and understanding. It limits the potential to embrace the gifts that accompany the more challenging aspect of ADHD. On the flip-side of impulsiveness, and hyperactivity, you will also find many strengths. Creativity, intelligence, humor, curiosity, empathy, compassion, honesty, and kindness are just a few. We can modify challenging behaviors while also emphasizing these wonderfully abundant strengths.