(BlackDoctor.org) — As parents, it’s sometimes hard to accept that your children are not perfect. So when a call or note comes from your child’s teacher, suggesting your child may have symptoms of ADHD, you may feel shock and disbelief.
But more and more parents are getting that call. By most estimates, the number of kids with ADHD ranges from 3% to 5% of American children. It is the leading childhood disorder in the world and the number one reason a child takes medication. And many experts believe that ADHD is on the rise.
The Three Forms of ADHD
While ADHD is considered a single condition, there are three forms of the disorder:
• Hyperactivity-Impulsivity ADHD.Children with this type of ADHD are extremely active and fidgety. They may seem driven by a motor — constantly moving, unable to sit still. At school, they may interrupt others, blurt out answers without raising their hands, get up from their seats during class, or push and shove classmates in the lunch line.
• Inattention ADHD.Kids with this form of the disorder have difficulty sustaining attention. They struggle with following directions and following through on them. They are not able to pay close attention to details. They make careless errors and tend to be disorganized. They daydream in class and miss homework assignments simply because they forget to take their books home, forget to do the work, or forget to turn it in.
• Combined ADHD. For children with the combined form, ADHD is characterized by symptoms of both the hyperactivity-impulsivity and inattention forms of the disorder.
Diagnosing ADHD in Children: The Teacher’s Role
Teachers are often the first ones to recognize or suspect ADHD in children. That’s because ADHD symptoms can affect school performance — and in some cases, disrupt the rest of the class — and because teachers are with children day in and day out. Since teachers work with many different children, they also come to know how students typically behave in classroom situations requiring concentration and self-control. Therefore, when they notice something outside the norm, they may speak with the school psychologist or contact the parents about their concerns.
If your child’s teacher suspects ADHD and you decide to pursue an evaluation based on his or her request, the teacher could be your greatest ally — directing you through the appropriate school channels or, in some cases, helping you identify a therapist to make the diagnosis.
Because an ADHD diagnosis is based on observations of a child’s behavior, the teacher — and often past teachers — will play a key role in a diagnosis. The professional who makes the diagnosis — usually a specially trained psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, or social worker — will ask your child’s teachers to rate their observations of your child’s behavior on standardized evaluation scales to compare it to that of other children the same age. The person may also interview your child’s teachers — as well as you and others who know her well, such as coaches, scout leaders, or babysitters — asking them to describe your child’s behavior.
ADHD Treatment: Coordinating With the School
When a child is diagnosed with ADHD, it can be difficult for parents to admit and accept it. But it may also be a relief, particularly if you have had concerns about your child’s behavior or failure to excel academically. Becoming aware of the problem also allows you to take steps to improve it, typically with ADHD medications, along with a structured behavior modification program. Children with ADHD who are in puberty may also be experiencing depression and anxiety, and may benefit from mental health counseling or therapy.
While the school nurse may play a role in dispensing ADHD medications, your child’s teacher will be important in the behavioral component of a treatment plan. You’ll need to keep open the lines of communication with the teacher to ensure a consistent system of incentives and discipline between school and home. For example, a younger child’s teacher may make a checklist and reward the child with a star or smiley face each time he or she completes a certain number of items on the list.
You may have a similar system at home or provide a bigger reward — such as a special dinner, a family movie night, or an extra hour of TV or computer time — when your child gets a certain number of stars or smiley faces.
Getting Support for Yourself if Your Child Has ADHD
Your child’s teacher can be a good advocate and resource, but you may want more help dealing with the challenges and emotions of parenting a child with ADHD, or with concerns about medications. Your child’s doctor as well as the mental health professional who makes the diagnosis may be of help. Some people also find it beneficial to read and learn as much as they can about the disorder and its treatment.