“Oh, my child is so hyperactive”, so say many parents when their children become quite a handful. ‘Hyperactive’ is an oft abused term that parents resort to when the child is jumping around and seems beyond their control. There is a fallout, when as parents, we are so arbitrary with nomenclature. Firstly, we are mislabelling an active kid as hyperactive which the child does resent and her psyche is affected. Second and the more disastrous consequence is that we are missing out on the kids who are actually hyperactive implying that they are denied the intervention that could have potentially helped them get over their problem.
Before we rush to brand a kid, we need to understand what it is. The appropriate medical term is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The name suggests a bit of what it is. These kids have a lower attention span along with hyperactivity because their brain is differently wired than the rest. It runs in families and is detected in school going children. These kids are unable to focus and lack self-control which affects their daily life. Though it is a common childhood condition, it often goes undiagnosed. It has long been assumed that ADHD is more common in boys and only children have it. Research disproves that. The symptoms can go well up to adulthood and girls have it as much as boys do.
If a child is diagnosed with ADHD, the first impulse is panic. It’s understandable for the parents to get alarmed when the hyperactivity they had been waving away now has a name. But again, I have always believed that knowledge is the antidote to fear. Knowing what we are up against is always helpful. As a parent with a child having ADHD, what needs to be borne in mind is that most kids do not outgrow it completely. But a conscious and continuous effort towards treatment does give hope for an improved quality of life.
As I said, the name ADHD suggests a bit of what to expect but as you read on, you realise that it actually affects a lot of development areas of a child.
- Emotions like anger, sadness, hurt and laziness are the same in all children, it’s just that the kids with ADHD have a more intense version of these feelings. Also, these emotions are more frequent and last longer which interferes with their daily life.
- Then there is a concept of self-regulation which helps us get a grip over our emotions. It obviously gets fine-tuned as the child grows, however this regulation is difficult in a child with ADHD. The lack of such regulation manifests itself as “tantrums” and “outbursts”.
- ADHD also makes it difficult for children to grapple with the idea of managing time and organizing their tasks. It makes them look disorganised but they just don’t know what to make of it.
- Working memory is what normally helps us learn and do work. It helps us in assessing information and simultaneously focus on the job at hand. This is definitely affected in children with ADHD. So, what seems like a breeze to most of us is actually very complicated for such a child.
- Flexible thinking is what helps kids in solving problems by helping them visualise a situation from various angles.
What does this translate into? A helpless child who finds it hard to relate to family and peers, an under achiever and usually whose self esteem has taken a big hit. And obviously parents and teachers are clueless making it seem like groping in the dark for all parties involved. What is it that can nail it for us whether the child has ADHD or just unusually active? An extremely restless child who cannot concentrate, is unable to control his emotions needs to be observed closely. Parents, teachers and care givers should look for the following before raising alarm
- Fidgety child who just cannot sit in one place
- Extremely restless and easily distracted
- Keeps moving or running around, often purposelessly
- Noisy and talkative and unmindful of discipline
- Easily frustrated and prone to outbursts
- Disorganised and often dishevelled
- Makes seemingly careless mistakes despite repeated intervention
- Seems to keep losing stuff
- Has problems in following instructions and completing activities
If the child displays these traits consistently, then it’s time for a professional evaluation. Several tools like questionnaires and criteria are available which can help arrive at a definitive diagnosis. Earlier the diagnosis, better are the chances of improvement. For little children (4–5-year olds), behavioural therapy is the corner stone of treatment. School going kids and adolescents usually require a combination of medication and behaviour therapy.
Apart from this, parents, teachers and care givers need to be mindful and empathetic to such children. Some of these pointers may help
- Work on your own patience
- Help the child organise and plan his day
- Make a set of rules and the consequences of breaking them. Keep going through them again and again with the child firmly and gently
- Make healthy eating choices. Avoid junk and sweets to keep ‘sugar rush’ at bay
- Ensure that the child is well rested
- Encourage sports. A lot is imbibed on a playground
- A pet can do wonders. Animals have a way with kids that we cannot decipher but is well established
- Praise often but when well deserved
ADHD kids are differently abled in the real sense of the term. An early intervention does wonders especially when coupled with understanding parents who create a loving atmosphere for the child to bloom to his full potential
– Dr. Shivani Salil