Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are neurological disorders that affect children and some adults.
The difference between the two conditions is the acronym “H”, which refers to Hyperactivity. While children with ADHD often display extreme fidgety behaviours and may very well be disruptive in various settings, a child with ADD is calm. Both diagnoses have attention deficit as their key concern.
What are some signs and symptoms of ADD/ADHD in children?
Some clues that indicate ADD/ADHD in children include:
Poor ability to sustain attention and often constantly distracted by sounds and sights.
Difficulty sustaining eye contact during play and social interaction, as the child would tend to be constantly in motion, due to inattention and hyperactivity.
Often only being able to pay attention to high-interest or high-energy activities
Often impulsive and constantly on the move, showing excessive hyperactivity as compared to peers of his/her age
Often showing difficulty calming down or to self-regulate
Often experiencing difficulty falling asleep, causing poor sleep-wake pattern
Tends to be very accident-prone
ADD/ADHD Myths: How true are they?
Myth #1: Children with ADHD can never pay attention in class or do work.
Fact: Children with ADHD are often able to concentrate on high-interest or high-energy activities. And very often, they have trouble maintaining focus when the task at hand is boring or repetitive to them.
Myth #2: All children diagnosed with ADHD are hyperactive.
Fact: Some children with ADHD are often hyperactive. But children with ADHD who have attention deficit problems, but are not overly active, may appear to be unmotivated and spacey.
Myth #3: When children with ADHD grow up, they will no longer show the symptoms.
Fact: Children will not outgrow from ADHD – in fact, ADHD often continues into adulthood. With early treatment and intervention, you can help your child learn to manage and minimise the symptoms.
Myth #4: Children diagnosed with ADHD can be well-behaved, if they want to.
Fact: Children with ADHD may try their best to be good, but oftentimes, they are still unable to sit still or pay attention. They may appear mischievous or disobedient, but that does not mean that they are doing so deliberately.
Myth #5: Medication is the best treatment option for ADHD.
Fact: Medication is often prescribed for attention deficit disorder (ADD), but it may not be the ideal option for your child. Some children suffer side effects, such as vomitting or feeling sleepy the whole day, resulting in the child feeling more frustrated and unable to follow up in school.
Some other effective treatments for ADHD include parent education, behavioural therapy, occupational therapy, home and school support, physical exercise, and proper nutrition.
Treatment for ADD/ADHD in children
There is no single test that can diagnose a child with ADD or ADHD. Diagnosis is usually made after conducting both standardised and non-standardised assessments (which include observations of the child’s behaviour and task performances in various settings).
Based on the guidelines in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – which is the standard classification of mental disorders), in order for a child to be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, they must exhibit a number of symptoms associated with the disorder, and these symptoms must have been present for more than six months. The child should also complete a comprehensive medical history, as well as visual and auditory screenings – this is to rule out other diagnoses that may mimic ADD or ADHD.
Paediatricians, psychiatrists, and psychologists are healthcare providers who are able to diagnose an individual with ADD or ADHD.
Treatment for ADD/ADHD includes the following:
Sensory Integration Intervention
Social Skills Intervention
Depending on the severity of the diagnosis, the relevant healthcare professional will discuss with the parents or individuals involved on the suitability of each treatment modality.
How can parents and teachers better manage ADD/ADHD symptoms in their children/students at home and/or in school?
Having a supportive physical and social environment is key to enabling the child to function at their optimal and true potential. It is important to understand the child’s strengths and areas for improvement and those that require facilitation. Collaboration and communication between parents and teachers will also help to ensure consistency in expectations and facilitation strategies.
Here are some areas in which parents and teachers can work together to manage ADD/ADHD symptoms at home and in school:
Provide opportunities for physical/outdoor play, including sports activities, as part of the daily routine. Choose activities that are fun for the child. For children who tend to be more active, this provides an avenue to exert their energy – which can also help to increase the attention span for individuals with ADD.
Allowance of short movement breaks in between longer seated/work tasks if the child is observed to be fidgety or less alert. Specific movement activity (i.e. alerting or grounding) will depend on the needs of the child.
Minimise screen time (especially in the later part of the day) and find ways to engage the child in more physical activities.
Break down complex tasks into smaller manageable steps.
Provide reminders or references in the form of visual reminders, lists, charts or schedules to help the child stay on track. Get the child involved in the process of creating these visual resources. For instance, a checklist can be used to help with the packing of schoolbag or to guide the morning routine.
Use of timer to assist with task completion for older students.
Whenever feasible, allow for more ‘hands-on’ learning and review more difficult concepts using the child’s topics of interest
Reinforce any positive behaviour through praises and acknowledgement of their effort
Assign manageable roles or responsibilities to the child in the class to boost self-esteem
Look at the bright side: Positive traits of people with ADD/ADHD
Individuals with ADD/ADHD have their unique areas of strength as well.
Although the traits may vary from one individual to another, some of their positive traits include:
Creativity and excellent imagination skills
Spontaneity in coming up with ideas (thinking out of the box) and in initiating projects/tasks
Independent in his/her thinking
An immense level of energy
Ability to have exceptional focus and perseverance when engaged in intrinsically motivating tasks
For concerns related to ADD or ADHD in your children, it is best to discuss this with an occupational therapist who can support you and your child with the suitable intervention and treatment plan.