Even though ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is becoming more commonplace and we know more about the disorder than we did even 15 years ago, there is still a lot to discover, process, and understand. While many more people can answer the question “what is ADHD?” on a very basic level, few have a deeper understanding of what’s really happening with the brain and what treatments are available. There are also lots of myths about the disorder which result in misdiagnosed or undiagnosed cases as well as stigmas around the “label”.
My father, an MD, wasn’t diagnosed with ADD until in his 50’s. My husband, while diagnosed as a child, had little “treatment” or support other than medication. My 7.5-year-old son who was diagnosed directly following his 6th birthday, is experiencing a holistic approach to help him thrive and succeed.
As a mother and spouse to an ADD partner I have dedicated my time to learning as much as I can about the disorder and have surprised myself with how little I knew previously, how much I have learned in the last few years, and how much ambiguity still exists in the medical world. We are extremely fortunate to have a fabulous pediatrician advocating for my son as well as a family therapist who alternates meetings with my son and his parental unit.
With all the adult advocates in his life my son is currently on medication, has an ADHD diet plan, is mindful of his sleep habits, and has a variety of lessons and techniques to help him improve self-regulation, executive functioning skills, and master his emotions.
As a homeschool parent, I have found it extremely beneficial to better understand my son’s disorder, what he is experiencing, and have a support system in place for helping him grow into his best self. This has helped me shift a lot of my strategies and areas of focus during our time together.
So, What IS ADD Anyway?
ADHD is a neurological disorder. Despite common misconception, it is not a behavioral disorder. ADHD results in brain differences. Brain differences cause the difficult behavior. Like blindness and type1 diabetes, it’s not the child’s choice.
Common ADHD research states there are three types of ADHD, but In 2013, psychiatrist and nuclear brain imaging specialist Dr. Daniel G. Amen released a book titled, Healing ADD: The Breakthrough Program that Allows You to See and Heal the 7 Types of ADD that provided insight on the different variations of ADD/ADHD. His book identifies, examines, and explains the 7 types of ADD/ADHD and discusses a multitude of treatment approaches. Dr. Amen adopts the term ADD, rather than ADHD because he believes ADD is a more appropriate term for the condition.
To further comprehend the disorder, it’s helpful to understand what’s happening inside the brain. This has been discovered through brain imaging which shows, in the most common types of ADD, a lack of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex which controls executive functioning. In other words, the brain is understimulated and about 3 years behind in executive functioning and self-regulation skills.
Common ADD/ADHD Symptoms
While there is overlap in many of these symptoms, not all types of ADHD exhibit all symptoms. Common ADD/ADHD symptoms include:
- Executive Functioning Skills
- Low Self-Esteem/Negativity
Difficult Behaviors in children (and some adults) Due to ADHD
While many of these behaviors exist to some extent in all young children, ADHD brains are more prone to these behaviors due to their low (or sometimes excess) dopamine levels and delayed executive functioning and self-regulation skills. Some behaviors due to ADHD include:
- video gaming
Because ADD/ADHD can cause problems with daily functioning and personal relationships, the earlier the diagnosis is made, the better. We were fortunate enough to have a wonderful counseling team at my son’s school when he was in kindergarten and got a confident diagnosis from them. While some states may offer public school services to homeschool families, my experience has been that many do not so you will have to seek a diagnosis on your own.
To effectively diagnose ADD/ADHD it is best to have an ADHD counselor or psychiatrist with experience testing young children perform your child’s diagnosis. While much of the advice around will tell you to consult your pediatrician, keep in mind that not all pediatricians have a background in or understanding of ADHD. If this is the case, it is best to refer to a specialist who can administer a more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
How To Homeschool with ADHD
Having a proper ADHD diagnosis can help pave the road for homeschool success. The more you research, the more you understand about the disorder, the better equipped you will be to guide your child. Many homeschool families I have chatted with talk about the need for a consistent rhythm (which is different than a strict schedule!), short lessons, breaks, following the child’s interests, making the learning relevant to the learner, using sensory tools, and focusing more of the home learning on soft skills such as emotional intelligence and executive functioning.
Although ADHD cannot be cured, you can set your child up for increased success by providing yourself and your child with holistic ADHD treatment and an array of “tools” to pull from during ADHD flair-ups. An ADHD diet, consistent sleep, exercise, mindfulness practices, and medication are great places to start. Working with a family therapist who has a focus on cognitive-behavioral and ADHD therapy can provide an added layer of support and many children (and their parents) experience significant progress through the use of these sessions.
From one ADHD mom to another, I get it. I see you and I feel your struggle. I also believe in you and know, without a doubt, you are the best person to guide and aid your child on his or her unique journey.
And for even more support, I highly recommend this ADDitude Magazine Webinar from Merriam Sarcia Saunders, LMFT to learn how to manage challenging behavior problems in children and teens.
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