Having a child with behavioural issues can be extremely challenging for families. It can affect all areas of a child’s life and also the family’s as a whole. Stuart Passmore’s new book, The ADHD Handbook deals with the facts and myths around Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. We had a chat with him about some of issues for families with children with ADHD.
1) There’s lots of talk about ADHD these day and, as you note in your book, lots of myths. What do you think are the most common misunderstandings about ADHD?
You are right – there are lots of myths about ADHD and you could write an entire book on it. One of the more common ones is that ADHD is only a modern day disorder. The truth is the symptoms of ADHD were formally recorded by a physician back in 1798. Other common myths include sugar and diet as a cause of ADHD. Again, not true. Sugar does not cause ADHD nor does diet. Some children might have a reaction to food colouring or food additives and these reactions might see the child’s behaviour change. This however, is not ADHD – change the child’s diet to a healthy one. There is a whole chapter dedicated to this very topic in The ADHD Handbook.
2) Can you explain a bit about what ADHD actually is and how it affects children?
Through the latest medical imaging such as MRIs and FMRIs we have been able to see deep into the brain. This has allowed researchers to find five regions of the brain that are underactive and undersized in the brains of people with ADHD. It is these areas of the brain that are responsible for controlling attention, behaviour, memory and moods. As we see in children with ADHD they are impulsive, have poor social skills, poor behavioural control and poor attention to name just a few.
Because ADHD is a neurological disorder, it effects children on so many levels and in so many ways. Children with ADHD very often have learning disorders, very few friends, depression, anxiety and struggle with school. Sadly, children with ADHD are very often aware they are ‘different’ some how to the other children, that there is something ‘wrong’ with them and this deeply impacts their self-esteem.
3) Some kids are just busy, right? What behaviour in children would suggest that there’s something more going on?
The ADHD Handbook discussed at length the symptoms of ADHD in detail and provides a an in depth look at what other problems can co-exist with this disorder. We have to remember that ADHD behaviours are well outside ‘normal’ childhood behaviour. Children with ADHD struggle to pay attention even for a little while, they so easily distracted that it has been said even a puff of wind can distract them. When they are distracted it is impossible for the child to redirect their attention back to what it was they were doing. Their behaviour is completely impulsive, often inappropriate for the moment or situation, they are in the face of other people and just don’t seem to understand social rules. They can be aggressive, they are forgetful and completely disorganised and they are on the go all day every day. Much like a motor that just never shuts off. It is important to note that these behaviours occur every single day all day, not just once in a while.
4) I know that parents often find it hard to explain their child’s behaviour to other parents and teachers. Can you give some advice on how parents could go about this?
Being armed with the knowledge of what ADHD is, what causes it, and how it can be best managed is immensely helpful for parents when they need to explain what is going on. But know this, you will come across people who in the face of all the medical evidence presented in The ADHD Handbook will simply choose to believe ADHD is not real. This is known as ‘deliberate ignorance’. Don’t bother with such a person as you will never convince them and you will only distress yourself.
It has been my experience school teachers are generally aware of ADHD and are usually the ones who bring it to the attention of the parents. Don’t feel threatened or alarmed if a teacher does approach you suggesting there might be something going on with your child. You will need to seek the assistance of an appropriately trained, licensed and experienced professional such as a psychologist who will advise you on what needs to be done.
5) Finally, a diagnosis of ADHD can be a worrying time for parents. What advice would you give parents whose child has recently been diagnosed?
First of all if your child was diagnosed in a ten minute session with someone, go somewhere else. Because there are a number of other childhood illnesses and disorders that mimic the symptoms of ADHD, an assessment for ADHD is involved and should involve a psychologist interviewing the parents, the child (depending on the age), teachers and conducting a behavioural observation of the child in their natural environment such as at school. After this is completed the child should be seen by a paediatrician who specialises in ADHD who will give the child a complete medical check-up just to make sure there is nothing else going on.
Depending on how severe the ADHD is will help you determine the type of help you and your child will need. For instance, you may need to consider medication for your child such as stimulant or non-stimulant medication. You may need to organise academic assistance, social skills training and a parenting course to support you and help you manage those behaviours that always push the limits. Find yourself a psychologist who specialises in ADHD by contacting the New Zealand Psychological Society, talk with them about your options and ask them to help you find a paediatrician who specialises in the disorder. You will more supported by having such specialists involved.
Stuart Passmore is a private practice psychologist. He has developed evidenced-based Parent Management Training program for parents of children with behavioral disorders ranging from ADHD to Oppositional Defiance Disorder to Conduct disorder and children with explosive and non-compliant behaviours. Stuart also conducts professional development training workshops on Parent Management Training for behavioural and anxiety disorders.