Attention-Deficit, Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects an estimated five to eight percent of school-aged children throughout the United States. Every day, millions of students attend class suffering from key symptoms of the disorder including inattention, distraction, over-activity and impulsivity. While each of these symptoms can be a part of normal childhood behavior, children with a diagnosis of ADHD suffer from multiple symptoms beyond what is normal given a child’s age and development.
Currently, treatment for ADHD focuses on reducing the symptoms and improving functioning. Treatments include medication, which is not a cure, but effective only as long as it is being taken. Other treatments include various types of psychotherapy, education or training for parents, teachers and children, or a combination of treatments.
ADHD and the Classroom
Often, teachers are the first to notice the symptoms of ADHD, when a child has trouble following rules, or frequently “spaces out” in the classroom or on the playground. Although the medical condition of ADHD can only be diagnosed by a qualified, licensed medical or mental health professional trained in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, the school is most likely seeing the impact of ADHD symptoms on your child’s education or behaviors at school.
While they cannot formally diagnose ADHD, teachers and other school personnel can play an important role by evaluating your child’s learning ability and determining educational deficits. This information should be part of the comprehensive evaluation done by the medical or mental health professional.
It is also important for teachers to have the needed skills to help children manage their ADHD. Since the majority of children with ADHD are not enrolled in special education classes, their teachers will likely have some techniques like:
• Use a homework folder for parent-teacher communications
• Make assignments clear
• Give positive reinforcement
• Be sensitive to self-esteem issues
• Involve the school counselor or psychologist
To Medicate, or Not to Medicate?
Parents of kids with ADHD face a tough choice: whether to medicate their children or not. It’s a touchy subject, and it got even thornier after recent reports linked popular ADHD drugs to increased health risks, including heart problems, and over-use.
But the top experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as at other professional groups for ADHD and cardiology experts, say the drugs are safe. Medications to treat ADHD are 80 to 90 percent effective, and reports of major problems are extremely rare.
Understandably however, many parents are reluctant to medicate their young children, and so there’s lots of interest in alternative treatments. Alternatives to the stimulants used to treat ADHD include ongoing counseling for the child, educational support in the form of smaller classes and individualized attention, tutoring, and training in social skills. Some parents have turned to such different treatments as biofeedback, megavitamins, and blue-green algae. Any alternative treatments should be discussed with your health care provider before trying them.
What’s a parent to do in choosing the right treatment for their child with ADHD? Have careful discussions with your child’s doctor.
Here’s what to cover:
• Is it possible that medications might help? How likely is it?
• If your child uses medication, what is the right dose to start with?
• How closely should your child be monitored? How often should you see or call the doctor?
• What is the role of diet, counseling, or behavioral therapy? They may offer help with or without medication.
• How can you get teachers and other school officials to help?
(Editor’s Note: Michael Yim, M.D., is a Family Medicine physician practicing with Northwest Allied Physicians. His office may be reached at 825-5719 or www.mytucsondoc.com)