Do you think your child may have ADHD? Here’s what to do

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  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a condition that affects a person's ability to be attentive and function optimally. 
  • Among the signs to look out for is being disruptive, lacking focus, unable to complete tasks, impulsivity and showing aggression.
  • Only professionals that include clinical psychologists, educational psychologists, physicians and psychiatrists can diagnose ADHD after an assessment.

On 14 September – National ADHD Day – awareness is raised to give parents, teachers and caregivers the chance to know if they are simply dealing with a hyperactive child or one with a serious disorder.

Sheila Gumede* was surprised when her son’s teacher informed her, in a letter, that he had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – a condition that affects one’s ability to be attentive and function optimally.

At the time of diagnosis, her 11-year-old son was in a sought-after public school with classes accommodating up to 40 learners.

“My son has always been energetic and very playful, and I declared this to all his teachers. His paediatrician said he was fine and just being a child. He’s very bright and does extremely well academically and in sports,” Gumede explains, adding that her son only loses attention when not stimulated.

The single mom was shocked to receive a letter inviting her to a meeting with the school’s psychologist to discuss her son’s diagnosis and the option to get him medicated. The single mom decided to seek a second opinion instead, from an independent psychologist.

Handle with care

Sinqobile Elevia Aderinoye, a Joburg-based clinical psychologist, says society tends to box everyone to follow certain patterns of behaviour. For example, a child is expected to attend school, complete each year and proceed to university to pursue a degree and follow that up with a job.

“The manner in which systems of life are set up, children are rarely permitted to just be children. When pointing out flaws to a child, one needs to communicate with compassion and in a manner that instils hope, rather than hopelessness, and validates the child and their emotions. If not, children internalise negative feedback and believe it to be true, resulting in long-lasting negative effects on the child,” Aderinoye adds.

Signs to look out for

Common signs of ADHD include being disruptive, lacking focus, unable to complete tasks, impulsivity and showing aggression, among others. In the case of Gumede’s son, it turned out to be a false alarm, and she moved him to a school with smaller classes instead.

“Had I bowed to the school’s pressure, my child would be unnecessarily medicated for life,” she adds.

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Is it a lack of playtime?

Lerato Msimanga, a Midrand-based clinical psychologist, admits that society places a lot more demands on children and this results in them struggling to cope.

Msimanga, whose core focus is on depression and anxiety, says that diagnosis of conditions like ADHD hasn’t escalated over the years but that today’s children are in a society that places greater emphasis on performance and perfection. As such, children have little time to play and get the required stimulation.

“Our generation played mgusha, hopscotch and other games that developed our fine motor skills. Today’s kids miss out on a lot of physical play. They are expected to be in class and sit down more than they play. Parents and teachers need to find ways to help kids develop their motor skills through play from an early age,” Msimanga explains.

Some schools, she says, get the balance right and send learners for occupational therapy to work on their fine motor skills. However, some kids may need emotional therapy because with so much happening in their lives they get overwhelmed emotionally.

Different causes

“There are different causes of ADHD and their symptoms also differ. Some cases could be neurological, while some are dietary. For instance, some children become restless and intolerant after consuming anything sugary. Some cases are purely emotional — a result of trauma, a loss or a child dealing with a lot of anxiety,” Msimanga explains.

“Some kids are easy to diagnose and others are not. It depends on feedback you get from the teachers, the parents and from the child to make a diagnosis. The form of ADHD that is often missed is the inattentive ADHD in kids who sit quietly in a corner whilst struggling to focus and pay attention. Their condition often gets completely missed out as they are not disruptive,” she adds.

Modern teachers, Msimanga adds, have a heightened awareness of signs of ADHD and often, they are able to intervene early and get the children help. With little information in previous decades, children who displayed these conditions were simply labelled as disorderly and problematic, and pushed through the system.

Through experience gained from interactions with learners, teachers recognise signs of conditions like ADHD when displayed by a learner and engage parents.

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How is it diagnosed?

A teacher cannot diagnose a child, Aderinoye cautions. Only professionals such as clinical psychologists, educational psychologists, physicians and psychiatrists can diagnose Attention Deficit Disorder or ADHD after assessing the child, Msimanga explains. It is a very involved process and one that professionals don’t take lightly.

“The process of reaching a diagnosis begins with interviews with both parents or caregivers, followed by a psycho-educational assessment of the child. Forms are then sent to the school for the teacher to fill in and offer insight. Other professionals who are involved with the child would also be contacted.

“Once all the information is gathered through interviews, reports from teachers and parents and/or caregivers, and observation of the child by the psychologist a report is then compiled detailing the findings that lead to a diagnosis,” Aderinoye explains.

Schools have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate learners with ADHD and decrease any stigmatisation the child may experience, she adds.

Treatment plan

While many parents are uncomfortable with their children taking daily medication to alter their behaviour, Msimanga assures that when correctly diagnosed, medication can be the best treatment for a child with ADHD. However, she adds, there are treatment options that don’t require medication.

“If you choose not to medicate your child, you need to support them at different levels. They may need regular sessions with an occupational therapist. This route takes time and requires both parents and teachers to be patient in assisting the child. Parents need to also pay close attention to the child’s diet and environment,” she explains.  

*Not her real name

Your child has been diagnosed with a learning disability — now what? Here’s what to do:
  • Consult a professional to conduct psycho-education assessments.
  • Provide your child with emotional and moral support and teach them how to overcome any obstacles they may face.
  • Manage your child’s environment and ensure they are not overstimulated by TV, iPads and other gadgets.
  • Focus on the child’s strengths rather than their weaknesses.
  • Read up on the condition and join a parents’ support group.
  • Always work closely with your child’s teacher so they can also support your child.
  • Don’t be impatient or overcompensate.

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