Another phone call from the teacher. It’s only third grade, and the call comes several times a week. Your son is not paying attention. He’s not finishing his work. The teacher spends all day trying to keep him on task. He’s forgetting to turn in his homework and so his grades are falling. And when he gets home it’s taking hours to get through a small amount of homework.
You’ve just received a message from your second-grader’s teacher requesting a meeting. You’ve spoken to her several times each week this year about his behavior, and it was pretty much the same last year. He won’t stay in his seat. He’s constantly talking, he’s interrupting the teacher, he’s blurting out answers. He gets up and walks around the room right in the middle of class. You’ve spoken to him a hundred times but it doesn’t seem to make any difference. And you understand, because the same things are happening at home.
Do these scenarios sound familiar to you? They very well might, as approximately one out of every 10 children in the world suffers from a condition called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This is a confusing name because there are three subtypes. One of them has no hyperactivity at all and is called ADHD of the inattentive type. The other two types are ADHD of the hyperactive/impulsive type and ADHD of the combined type. These children are frustrating to deal with because they are obviously bright, but can’t seem to control their attention to academic things. But they can focus for hours on things they enjoy. They want to behave, but just can’t seem to sit still and be quiet like other kids. And they do silly, impulsive things that get them in trouble over and over again.
What in the world can you do to help them? It’s affecting you as a parent, it’s affecting the other children, and it’s even affecting your marriage.
ADHD is the most common disability in children. Hundreds of research articles are published each year on this subject. We have decades of experience in diagnosis and treatment of this condition, and we know that with proper interventions your child can grow up to be a wonderful, happy, successful adult. Your pediatrician knows a great deal about this problem. They may want to evaluate this in their office, or they may refer you to a specialist. When a referral is warranted they should recommend a developmental and behavioral pediatrician or a pediatric psychologist.
Once the diagnosis is established, treatment usually involves several interventions. They may recommend changing a few things within the classroom. They also may recommend a behavioral intervention which can make a tremendous difference to the child and the family, and there are several programs here in South Florida that have great success records. Medication can be helpful as well, but is not always necessary.
Keep in mind that not every child who has trouble paying attention or has trouble sitting still will have ADHD. There are many other conditions that can look exactly like this, and your pediatric expert will be able to tell the difference. Once the evaluation is complete and a definite diagnosis has been made, they can recommend all of the potential interventions that will help your child. You should keep in mind that usually no single intervention will fix this problem. Almost always, long-term success occurs when the situation is treated with all of the modalities available.
Don’t be afraid to discuss this with your pediatrician. The earlier the problem is found and interventions are started, the easier it is to treat. Younger is better. This problem does not go away with stricter parenting, stronger punishments or better rewards. It really requires the expertise of your pediatrician or a pediatric specialist, but the difference to your child, his brothers and sisters and your family will be remarkable.
Eugene R. Hershorin, M.D., is professor of clinical pediatrics and director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System.