What is ADHD?
ADHD is a condition affecting the brain which makes it difficult for children to control their behaviour. It occurs more frequently in boys, and research shows that it’s also likely to be hereditary. Studies have shown that children with ADHD don’t have as many affective neurological connections as other children, and they may also have a shortage of dopamine, a neuro-transmitter that is important for behaviour and cognition function, voluntary movement, motivation and reward. There are three different types of ADHD: the first is predominatly inattention, which means a child has difficulty with their attention span; the second is predominantly hyperactivity, which prevents the child from being able to sit and concentrate for any length of time; and the third type is a combination of the two just mentioned.
How can you spot ADHD?
It is difficult to diagnose ADHD until a child is aged between six and eight years old. This is because up until this stage, any inattention and impulsive behaviour could just be a normal part of their developmental progress. However, once they get to the age of six or seven, the symptoms of ADHD would usually begin to have a negative impact on their school work, their home life and their ability to form relationships with others. This is when it’s important to ascertain whether ADHD could be the factor that’s affecting your child’s life.
How do you diagnose it?
ADHD can’t be diagnosed in a half-hour session. It usually takes between six to eight weeks. Your first step would be to make an appointment with a clinical or educational psychologist. They would look at the problem from all angles. They would assess your child’s behaviour at school and at home, and would work closely with their teachers to discover the root of the problem. The good thing about getting such a holistic assessment is that you cover all angles. A psychologist won’t just look for the aspects that you as parents have experienced – they will carry out a thorough assessment that covers all eventualities, from dyslexia to Aspergers. For ADHD to be diagnosed, the symptoms should be present in more than one setting, such as at home and at school.
How does ADHD affect a child’s life?
In a classroom situation they find it very difficult to function productively. Often, children with ADHD need one-to-one help and a quiet place in which to work, because the slightest distraction will break their concentration. It’s as though they don’t have any filters when it comes to their environment. The rest of us can ignore the noisy A/C, or the children chatting on the next table, or what’s going on in the playground – but a child with ADHD can’t switch those things off, and therefore, concentration and completing any task becomes incredibly difficult. This obviously becomes more of a problem the further up the school they go.
What happens if your child is diagnosed with ADHD?
Normally, parents work with the psychologist to find mechanisms that help them cope with their child’s ADHD. The psychologist will also be able to suggest strategies that help the child with their day to day attention difficulties. Coping strategies can include reward charts, changes in diet, getting the child into a strict routine, ensuring they are getting enough sleep and even providing omega 3 supplements. These things might not fix the problem completely, but they do make a difference. Unfortunately, ADHD is often not recognised as a physical condition, and health insurance doesn’t cover treatment costs. This often means that families here simply can’t afford to have their children treated.
Are there medications that can help too?
Yes. My son, who is now 14, suffers from inattention ADHD. We tried everything we could in terms of alternative therapies before we resorted to medication. But within an hour of receiving drugs, our son was a different child. He is now doing very well at school and has settled down incredibly well. He has to take his medicine every day, but it’s made a huge difference to his quality of life. In my experience, every case is different. I do think you should investigate other avenues before you decide to medicate, because it’s a serious step to take.
IfIf your child has six or more of the following symptoms, it might be worth having them assessed for ADHD
Inattention: Does your child...
• Struggle to give work close attention, often making careless mistakes in school work or other activities
• Have trouble focusing on set tasks or play activities
• Not seem to listen when spoken to directly
• Have trouble following instructions, and fails to finish schoolwork and chores as a result
• Find it difficult to organize activities
• Avoids activities that take a lot of mental effort over a period of time (ie school work)
• Often lose things required for activities – books, toys, pencils or tools
• Find themselves easily distracted
• Regularly become forgetful in everyday activities
Hyperactivity: Does your child...
• Often fidget with hands and feet, or squirm in their seat
• Get up from their seat when they are supposed to be seated
• Run about and climb about when it is not appropriate
• Have trouble playing or enjoying activities quietly
• Always seem to be ‘on the go’
• Talk excessively
Impulsivity: Does your child...
• Blurt out answers before questions have been finished
• Have trouble waiting their turn
• Interrupt or intrude on others’ conversations or games
The ADHD support Group meets once a month at Dubai British School. For more information email Rachel Jex at email@example.com