As a parent, your child finally received a confirmation that the ADHD diagnosis you have been seeking for some time is accurate and after the initial sense of relief, you wonder, now what? Maybe this is followed by a referral for a trial of medication or basic accommodations at school, but you feel like there is more to it, you are just not sure what.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition with variability in presentation of symptoms and severity of these symptoms. That means that identifying the right approaches, accommodations and unmet needs is not the same for everyone and it can be difficult to find the information and guidance that is relevant to you and your child. Just getting started can be overwhelming. When treating ADHD it is important to establish a plan that forms a roadmap to where you and your child are going and how to get there.
One priority is to hold onto your child as an individual and this means that some of their needs regarding this diagnosis may be fairly universal and there will be needs that are more specific to your child. For example, not every child with ADHD is hyperactive, in fact some can report and struggle with the opposite of hyperactivity. They may be more likely to report low energy, low cognitive alertness and find it hard to become fully activated. Identifying your child’s challenges and needs in terms of symptoms and specific areas of difficulty is a good start.
Another priority is identifying and accessing accurate information that is meaningful and helps to clarify not only how this diagnosis will impact daily life, but explains some of the mechanics of the ADHD brain and nervous system. This information can explain the barriers to being able to respond with ease to some expectations in life. There is an enormous amount of information available online and determining what sources are accurate and useful is not always easy. Many excellent sites (CHADD, ADDitude) provide current information and often include links to other sites where the information is reputable and reflects the best current understanding of the diagnosis, symptoms and additional challenges.
Parental support and guidance on how your role as a parent is impacted is an important and an often overlooked priority. Parenting a child with ADHD means that you will face more challenges than average and the potential to become discouraged, frustrated, or feeling as misunderstood as your child does, is also higher than average. Having personal and professional supports in your life who remind you that you are on the right path or help you find assistance when you don’t know what to do in the face of behavioral challenges is important. Expect to feel unsure about how to handle things more frequently than you would like; raising a child with a neuro-developmental condition is more complicated, with no simple answers. It is easy to forget this in the face of chronic emotional and behavioral challenges. Your child might be very funny, witty, or have perspectives that are highly intuitive at times and ways of expressing these ideas that are truly special and unique. Don’t lose sight of your child’s strengths, passions and interests. Making time for engagement with your child that reflects genuine pleasure in who they are and acknowledges their gifts is essential. Make sure that you create time to share and enjoy some of the funny stories or comments your child has made that are unconventional and remarkable.
Teresa Butler LCMHC is a Psychotherapist at the Anna Marsh Clinic at the Brattleboro Retreat. She has been practicing for 34 years and has extensive experience working with children and their parents. She has a special interest in ADD/ADHD and neurodevelopmental challenges in children, teens and adults.