Ammar is just seven years old. And has become a great problem for his parents. He has poor focus, keeps turning and twisting, cannot sit still in classroom, remains in constant motion and often talks excessively. Teachers complain that he disrupts the whole class and never follows instructions. Even his projects are always incomplete and full of careless mistakes. “Life has become a tug of war for us. We have two more children but they seem normal”, says the mother. After consultancy from a psychologist, he has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). His mother is confused about him; is it a serious problem? Can it be cured?
Dr Tehmina Akbar, a psychiatrist based in America says, “ADHD starts in childhood and can continue through adulthood. It is actually a mental health disorder that affects child behavior in his daily life”. A child’s brain works differently than of his peers. It mostly influences boys than girls, between the ages of four to 12. Such children always seem on the go, they are always seen twisting and wriggling, have difficulty following instructions and playing quietly, often talk excessively, get distracted easily, do not finish their work, have a tendency of forgetting and are impatient therefore have trouble waiting for their turn.
Diagnosing the condition is however, tricky. Dr Saima Lateef, a psychiatrist in Multan says, parents and teachers who are aware of ADHD often immediately label a child with the problem when they find him not sitting still in classroom, not paying attention and disorganized or unfocused. “Some conditions mimic ADHD. Sudden or drastic changes in a child’s life, like divorce, death, moving to another place, anxiety or depression can cause symptoms similar to ADHD”. Concentration issues are also linked to many other issues. If a child seems to be mentally scattered or is bad tempered, do not jump to conclusion of ADHD. There are many factors to consider when a child is distracted, hyperactive and has poor self-control. Of course, almost all children especially young ones act this way particularly when excited. Sleeping problems, vision and hearing issues or autism could be confused with it as well. A child can become cranky when he is hungry too. However, the difference with ADHD is that signs are present over a long period and happen in different settings.
For the diagnosis, first doctor will work with the parents to ensure that a child does not have any medical or physical problem. To avoid misdiagnosis, the opinion of parents and teacher must be honest and clear. According to Dr Thehmina, “It is not caused by poor parenting, too much consumption of sugar, food additives or due to watching too much TV and vaccination.” Mostly ADHD tends to run in families, if both the parents have ADHD; their children are more likely to develop the condition. A mother’s use of smoking, alcohol or other drugs during pregnancy may increase the risk for it. Even exposure to lead may cause symptoms linked with ADHD.
For the parents of a child with ADHD, everyday tasks turn into battles. So “one size fits all” parenting technique would not work necessarily. There are different strategies that are established according to the child’s personality, problem severity and family circumstances.
According to Dr Tehmina, “counseling is considered as the first-line treatment. Psychological interventions and behavior therapy works great”. Try to use “reward method” instead of “punishment method”. Their response is much better on incentives than on punishments. Do not nag them; help them to correct errors rather than focusing on what they did wrong. Help them to organize everyday items. Jog your child’s memory. Inappropriate behavior should be ignored completely while the appropriate behavior should be appreciated initially. Gradually, when things seem to be improving, reduce the appreciation level and start focusing on the inappropriate behavior as well and inform him what he did was wrong. The goal is to enable the child to control his behaviors and emotions on his own. Respond well to your child’s affection with hug, kiss and smile or giggling. Encourage their strengths, interests, abilities and energies with praise, good words or a pat on the back. Model good manners; manage your own emotions first. Do not lose temper. If both the parties lose their patience then the result will be disastrous. Practice motor skills with them to reduce frustration or restlessness like catch and toss ball etc. Parents and the child have to work as a team to improve things.
Have a conversation approach. Nobody offers a magic cure in this regard. You need to be patient. At first, a child may not cooperate because such children usually behave in the opposite way. But be persistent, establish a reinforcement schedule; modify the environment to focus on the child’s strengths and areas of concern. Provide outlets for the release of excess energy and encourage them to participate in creative and constructive activities like a sport or a hobby. Try to see their virtues. Hope this will help them. According to the experts, medicine is the last option. It is prescribed only in severe cases. Counseling generally proves to be effective in majority cases.
To control such tornados, follow the motto, “more attention less deficit, praise and be positive”. Having ADHD means having a Ferrari brain. To control this Ferrari, accept your child’s limitations. The child will become a better and useful member of the society but an ADHD child is never going to be a perfect child. So do not hit your head against a brick wall trying to make him one. Set your expectations relistically.