During this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are not only spending more time than ever with their children, they are also being tasked with directing at-home learning.
Some of us might be noticing behaviors we never did before – difficulty paying attention, excessive talking or fidgeting, constant distraction. Maybe you’re asking yourself, “Does my kid always act like this?”
Generally speaking, we want to give our kids wide latitude right now. This is a crisis and we’re all on edge. Stress and anxiety related to this whole new reality are bound to present in a host of ways. So, while now may be a difficult time to gauge symptoms of ADHD, it’s also important to understand and recognize the signs in a time where we may be getting to know our children more intimately than ever. “Sheltering-in-place allows parents to see firsthand behaviors that are usually observed by teachers, peers and coaches during the weekdays,” says Dr. Greg Mattingly, psychiatrist and associate clinical professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “If possible, use this time as a chance to notice any concerning struggles or behaviors so that you can be your child’s advocate when speaking to their school and physician.”
What is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?
Most children, and even some adults, can have difficulty sitting still, paying attention, or controlling impulsive behavior once in a while. For some people, however, the problems are so pervasive and persistent that they dramatically interfere with every aspect of their life.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting nearly 10 percent of school-age children. In fact, it is one of the most common mental health issues affecting children and adolescents.
ADHD is characterized by concerning levels of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. People with ADHD can be very successful in life, but early intervention is key. Without identification and proper treatment, ADHD may have more serious consequences, including educational hurdles, family stress and disruption, depression, and problems with relationships and work.
What’s the difference between ADHD and “high energy?”
Parents often wonder if their child’s behavior is part of a normal developmental stage, or if it could be ADHD.
When a preschooler has difficulty following directions and taking turns, it could be age-appropriate, or it could be a sign of ADHD. Similarly, a moody, irritable teenager who doesn’t want to follow the rules could be going through a developmental phase or could have indications of ADHD. This makes diagnosis tricky.
However, the key to diagnosing ADHD is determining the impact of symptoms on your child’s life. A detailed history, along with your doctor’s observations and a physical exam, are important when diagnosing ADHD. Your doctor may also collect information from others involved in your child’s care, such as parents, teachers, and coaches.
How does ADHD present in different ages and what are early signs?
Do you hear from teachers that your child has difficulty paying attention to lessons? When you speak directly to your child, do you notice that their mind seems to be elsewhere, even in the absence of obvious distractions? Does your child constantly lose or misplace homework, glasses, keys, or cell phone?
This type of ADHD is displayed through difficulty paying attention, keeping on task, and following through. Your child may start school work or chores, but quickly loses focus or gets easily sidetracked.
Do teachers express concern that your child leaves their seat or moves around too much in class? Is your child unable to be still for an extended period of time or constantly blurting out answers without being called on?
This type of ADHD is shown through fidgeting, difficulty remaining seated, excessive talking, and difficulty taking turns.
Does your child show symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive behaviors?
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, it’s important to tell your child’s doctor about them and how they are impacting your child’s overall development—in school, at home, and socially with peers.
What should I ask my doctor and/or what does diagnosis look like?
While ADHD is a common and treatable medical disorder, only a doctor or other healthcare provider can diagnose ADHD. There are often other conditions associated with ADHD, such as anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder. These issues can all be inter-connected.
There is no one “test” for ADHD. Your doctor will generally diagnose the disorder after your child has had issues with hyperactivity or inattention for more than six months and in more than one setting. Of course, the complicated thing right now is identifying the issue in various settings since most of us are literally trapped in a single space until this pandemic subsides. We get it. But teachers and other caretakers who have spent time with our children prior to this may have valuable insight to share with your family.
The process of diagnosis starts with an open and honest conversation with your child’s doctor to talk about your concerns. This Discussion Guide is a good place to start.
Visit MoreToADHD.com for additional tips, resources and support, and, for now, speak to your doctor virtually to discuss any ADHD symptoms or concerns you may have.