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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Behavioral ManagementBehavioral techniques for managing the child with ADHD are not intuitive for most parents and teachers. To learn them, caregivers may need help from qualified mental health care professionals or from ADHD support groups. At first, the idea of changing the behavior of a highly energetic, obstinate child is daunting. It is futile and damaging to try to force a child with ADHD to be like most children. It is possible, however, to limit destructive behavior and to instill in the child a sense of self-worth that will help overcome negativity.
Behavioral Techniques at HomeBringing up a child with ADHD, like bringing up any child, is a process. No single point is ever reached where the parent can sit back and say, "That's it. My child is now OK, and I don't have to do anything more." The child's self esteem will evolve with an increasing ability to step back and consider the consequences of an action and then to control that action before taking it. But this does not happen overnight. A growing child with ADHD is different from other children in very specific ways, presenting challenges at every age.
Setting Priorities for the Parent. Parents must first establish their own levels of tolerance. Some parents are easygoing and can accept a wide range of behaviors, while others cannot. To help a child achieve self-discipline requires empathy, patience, affection, energy, and toughness. Some tips to help parents include:
- Parents should prepare a list giving priority to those behaviors they think are the most negative, such as fighting with other children or refusing to get up in the morning. The least negative behaviors on the bottom of the list should be ignored temporarily or even permanently (refusing to wear anything but red T-shirts).
- Certain odd behaviors that are not hurtful to the child or to others may be an indication of creative or humorous attempts to adapt (making up silly songs or drawing violent pictures). These should be accepted as part of the child's unique and positive development, even if they seem peculiar to the parent.
- It is important to keep in mind that no one is a saint. Loving parents who occasionally lose their tempers will not damage their children forever. In fact, non-abusive open disapproval or dismay is far less destructive to both parent and child than harboring resentment beneath a false calm.
Managing Aggression. Some useful tips for managing aggression include:
- Parents should try to give little attention to mildly disruptive behaviors that allow this energetic child to let off some harmless steam. The parent will also be wasting energy that will be needed when the negative behavior becomes destructive, abusive, or intentional.
- The use of "time-out," isolating the child immediately for a short period of time, is an effective measure for allowing both the caregiver and the child to cool down. The child should immediately (and without emotion) be removed from a situation in which they are endangered or endangering others. The child should view time out as a way of cooling off and getting a distance on their behavior, not as isolation from others.
- To channel physical aggression and impulsivity in a toddler with ADHD, the parents must teach them to use verbal responses. (A parent may need to allow verbal responses that would be unacceptable in another child.)
- When the child becomes older and if the verbal responses become intentionally abusive and socially undesirable, the parent must redirect this form of aggression into more acceptable activities, such as competitive one-on-one sports, energetic music, video games, or big colorful paintings. Competitive video games, such as sports games, may also be an option.
- Sometimes a parent can anticipate situations when a child with ADHD is likely to misbehave, but all too often the child explodes for no apparent reason. If the blow-up occurs in public, the parents should complete their activities and leave as quickly as possible.
Some suggested tips for rewarding the ADHD child are:
- Create charts with points or stars for good behavior or for completed tasks. It is important to give points for even simple positive behaviors, which may be taken for granted in other children (responding happily to a change in plans, changing an obscenity to a more acceptable expletive).
- Rewards for any child can include playing a favorite game, extending bedtime by an hour, or allowing an extra half-hour of TV.
- Rewards of food or gifts should be used infrequently, if at all. They can create other problems, such as being overweight, having a bad diet, or making continuous demands for objects.
- A reward system should rotate different types of rewards, because such children are easily bored.
- Children with ADHD respond better with small rewards promised in the short-term than large rewards offered in the future. One approach that uses both short- and long-term rewards is a system that gives the child points for specific positive behaviors. As the children accumulate points, they can use them for larger tangible rewards, such as a favorite video game or CD.
- Rewards should be promised only when caregivers are fairly certain they can follow through. Children with ADHD respond with much greater frustration than children without ADHD to disappointment, and are likely to have a strong (and noisy) negative reaction. A parent must remember that this response is part of the child's make-up and not necessarily in their control.
Martial arts, such as Tae Kwon Do, can also offer an appropriate and controlled emotional outlet, and help to focus attention, and teach self-restraint, self-discipline, and tolerance. Learning an instrument can help a child to develop a more rhythmic and balanced sense of self.
Management at SchoolEven if a parent is successful in managing the child at home, difficulties often arise at school. The ultimate goal for any educational process should be the happy and healthy social integration of children with ADHD with their peers.
Preparing the Teacher. Although teachers can expect at least one student in every classroom to have ADHD, there is generally little training that prepares them for managing these children. The teacher should be prepared for certain behaviors in the child with ADHD:
- Students with ADHD are often demanding, talkative, and highly visible.
- Inattention is a major factor in low academic performance and can cause children to frequently forget homework or miss assignments. Children with ADHD often require frequent reminders or visual cues (such as posters) for rules and regulations. Having the child sit in the front of the classroom may be helpful for both increasing attention and reducing noisy activity.
- Lack of fine motor control makes taking notes very difficult, and handwriting is often poor. Using a computer can compensate for this.
- Rote memorization and math computation, which require following a set of ordered steps, are often difficult. (Children with ADHD may do better with math concepts .)
- Many children with ADHD respond well to school tasks that are rapid, intense, novel, or of short duration (such as spelling bees or competitive educational games), but they almost always have problems with long-term projects where there is no direct supervision.
Special Education Programs . The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires the school to identify and evaluate children who may need help and to provide special services. However, parents sometimes report pressure by the school to put their children on medication or force them into special classrooms without clear educational justification. The schools, in these cases, may be acting illegally.
High-quality special education can be extremely helpful in improving learning and developing a child's sense of self worth. However, programs vary widely in their ability to provide quality education. Parents must be aware of certain limitations and problems with special education:
- Special education programs within the normal school setting often increase the child's feelings of social alienation.
- If the educational strategy focuses only on abnormal behavior, it will fail to take advantage of the creative, competitive, and dynamic energy that often accompanies ADHD behavior.
- There is no federally funded special education category specifically targeted to ADHD.
Special programs are also required under the Rehabilitation Act and by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for students at institutions of higher learning. It is the student's responsibility, however, to inform the administration at their college or university that they need such services.