My hyperactive child can't sit at one place. Does he have ADHD?
Does your hyperactive child leave you exhausted? Find out if he has a behavioural disorder
Madhuri Chitnis (name changed) was close to tears. Her 5-year-old child was repeatedly labeled to have a ‘mental disorder’ by her teacher in the PTA meeting. “Your daughter is very difficult to handle, ma’am. She answers out of the way, wanders around in class. I don’t know how to handle such hyperactive behaviour, please take her to a psychologist I think she has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD),” her teacher ranted.
Madhuri didn’t know what to make of the teacher’s judgement. Her daughter Jui was always lively, but one couldn’t label her as a hyperactive child at home. Did Jui really have a disorder? Finally a psychologist friend told Madhuri to stop worrying because Jui was behaving just like a normal child.
About 5-12% of children suffer from ADHD, a condition usually characterised by inability to pay attention, hyperactivity or impulsivity. Awareness of childhood disorders such as ADHD has grown phenomenally over the last few years. Parents, teachers and other caregivers are sitting up and beginning to explore behavioural disorders as causative factors for specific ‘abnormal’ behaviours. But many a times, a child is easily tagged to have ADHD for certain normal, age-appropriate behaviour without even fully knowing what it is.
In the book Driven to Distraction, authors Edward Hallowell and John Ratey state that one of the common errors in diagnosing a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is seeing it everywhere and in everything.
If a child does have ADHD, it is of great importance to make a diagnosis as early as possible to minimise any mental damage caused caused by labelling him ‘odd’ or ‘lazy’. But loosely overcalling something as serious without the proper knowledge or expert backing can be in fact, worse. “A parent needs to be cautious in identifying ADHD because such labels can undermine children’s self-esteem and self-confidence,” says Garima Garg, clinical psychologist, ePsyClinic.com.
When can one say a hyperactive child has ADHD?
While hyperactivity and restlessness are symptoms of ADHD, it is categorised by a variety of specific symptoms. According to Garg, the following signs and symptoms could help in identifying ADHD in a child:
- The child can’t give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities
- Has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities
- Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
- Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork or chores
- Has trouble organising tasks and activities
- Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework)
- Loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books etc.)
- Is easily distracted and forgetful
- Fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat
- Leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
- Runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate
- Unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly
- Is often ‘on the go’ acting as if ‘driven by a motor’
- Talks excessively
- Blurts out an answer before a question has been completed
- Has trouble waiting his turn
- Interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g. butts into conversations or games)
If you find yourself nodding to more than six symptoms, wait. Do not that conclude your child has ADHD. Read on
How to differentiate between a normal child and a child with ADHD?
Children tend to be overly active in number of situations. Often, this behaviour can be misinterpreted or termed as ADHD by the caregiver. To differentiate general hyperactivity from ADHD or other behavioural problems, parents needs to focus on the following:
Symptoms need to be pervasive, that is, they must be present in more than one situation (school, home, activity class)
In the example mentioned at the beginning of the story, Jui was hyperactive in school but an easy child at home. Her restless behaviour was exhibited only in one setting and hence it cannot be tagged as a symptom of a behavioural problem.
Symptoms must start to surface in the first five years of life
Children in the age range of 1-5 have a very short attention span and are curious and exploratory in nature as a feature of the developmental phase they are in. “This may make an observer like a teacher to feel that their ward is unable to focus or is shifting from one activity to another. But this is normal,” informs Garg. On the other hand, ADHD children exhibit excessive symptoms even in calm situations.
Symptoms must occur very frequently in less periods of time
“Increased activity levels of the child does not always mean hyperactivity. New situations, new people and new set of toys or a change in the setting of furniture in the house may also make a child excited and jumpy,” adds Garg. These temporary bursts of energy do not signify a problem. A child with ADHD exhibits these symptoms throughout and has the ability make the parent or caregiver throughly exhausted, everyday.
Symptoms must be developmentally inappropriate
Children have different skill-sets as per age. Between two children, even a month’s age difference show varied developing rates. So a child must be compared to other children of the same age and IQ to suspect a behavioural problem.
Symptoms must disrupt daily life functioning
Restlessness in children with ADHD is so severe that every activity with the child feels like a ‘high-maintenance’ one. Child-proofing may never seem enough for households with ADHD children.
If the above criteria are met, then a parent can seek the help of mental health specialist like a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist for the diagnosis of ADHD. ” A mental health specialist will employ other assessment tools and clinical observation to arrive at the diagnosis,” informs Garg. Only then should a “behavioural problem” be deduced.
Continue reading to know how you can calm an unruly child
Calming the hyperactive child
To help your child focus, plan activities that match their current attention span. Try your hand at the following tips.
- Make your child spend ten minutes of time colouring a picture or four lines of writing and then take a short break. As they grow older with practice and your patience, you can help them increase their attention span.
- Break long instructions into smaller instructions and give them out only one at a time.
- If a child does not have enough avenues to spend his energy, it may make him fidgety, overactive and even destructive in the house. “I often say children are powerhouses and they need to spend their energy or there will be abundant energy for them to appear hyperactive,” says Garg. Allow them to spend time outdoors.
- Cut down on the intake of sugary snacks in a day. It is bad for the teeth and a lot of sugar in the daily diet may also make some children appear hyperactive.
- Set up a routine with plenty of room for stimulating activities.
Some other conditions which may lead to a child being inattentive or hyperactive are learning difficulties, mental retardation, autism, speech and hearing deficits and conduct disorder. Clinical conditions like hyperthyroidism may also have similar symptoms.
If all the clinical data, such as teachers’ reports, parents’ report, observers evidence and testing point out to the possible signs of a behavioural problem, then a child will be resorted to therapy. Nowadays, alternative therapies are shown to be more effective than pill-popping in addressing a childhood disorder.
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