Published on April 21st, 2014 | by Meredith Crislip

ADHD or Being A Kid?

My friend Kathryn is a single mom of three. When her oldest son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) at the age of four, Kathryn asked a question that many parents have considered: what is the difference between ADHD and “just being a kid”?

She researched ADHD and found facts like these from the American CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):

  • The ADHD-diagnosed percentage of children is growing, from 7% in 2003 to 11% in 2011
  • Boys (13%) are more likely than girls (5%) to be diagnosed with ADHD
  • As of 2011, approximately 11% of children between four and 17 years of age had been diagnosed with ADHD (that’s about 6.4 million children)

Why are more children diagnosed with ADHD each year? As a society, are we more educated on the behaviors associated with ADHD, which leads to an increase in identification and diagnosis? Or, perhaps, do we no longer accept “typical and appropriate” levels of energy and activity for a given age and gender?

Here are two perspectives—one from a loving mother, Kathryn, and one from a practicing Clinical Mental Health Counselor, Dr. Andrew Burck.

ADHD through the eyes of a mother

Kathryn has experienced both good times and challenging times since her son’s diagnosis of ADHD. She has also gained a wealth of knowledge—factual and practical. She fully acknowledges that her son has ADHD; however, she also feels that “so much of the time kids aren’t allowed to be rambunctious and, if they are, we assume they need medication.”

ADHD or Being A Kid? Are your child's actions normal behavior or symptoms of ADHD?She says we sometimes expect a level of maturity from our children that does not correlate with “appropriate behaviors” for their current ages. For example, four- and five-year-old children will try to push the limits and see what they can get away with. Children this age (especially young boys) might also wrestle in play and be more active, overall, as their bodies are experiencing growth changes and bursts of energy. In Kathryn’s opinion, these characteristics—energetic, playful, and rambunctious—are often misinterpreted as being signs that a child has ADHD.

Kathryn acknowledges the true signs of ADHD in her own son, which include:

  • less control of his emotions at times
  • difficulty concentrating on one thing at a time (e.g. reading a book)
  • trouble “staying still” for any significant amount of time—he must always be moving

His motion and activity levels seem to be extremely excessive compared to his peers who do not have an ADHD diagnosis.

As a mother, Kathryn has learned about medications, education, and services for her child. Here are a few pointers she has to offer a caregiver for a child with ADHD:

1. Be an advocate for your child. No one will truly know your child as well as you. Trust your caregiving or motherly instincts. If you feel your child is not showing the proper signs of ADHD, if a medication is not working, or if your child is not responding in a healthy way to treatment, be sure to make your opinion known to doctors, counselors, educators, and so on.

2. Choose the right school for your child. Not all schools will offer the proper services, care, and parent-teacher communication. Kathryn emphasizes the importance of being involved in your child’s education—whether your child has ADHD or not. If you can build a positive relationship with the school and with your child’s teacher, you can better communicate your child’s needs, any changes, and potential for growth in each setting (home and at school). Again, be an advocate for your child.

A non-traditional option like homeschooling could provide a freeing environment for a child with ADHD.

3. Be aware of medication limitations. Not all medications are created equal, and not all medications are right for your child. Be aware of the potential and manifested side effects of your child as he or she uses a prescribed medication. Again, you will know best. If your child’s behavior changes for the worst (e.g. becomes violent or overly docile) you will recognize this before a doctor and even before a teacher. Trust your instincts. If medication is necessary for your child’s treatment plan, work with your physician to find the best medication for your child.

4. Love your child unconditionally…and vocally. At times your child’s behavior may be frustrating or inconvenient for you or teachers, especially in circumstances that require one to be still and quiet (e.g. church, wedding, funeral, etc.). If you must correct or remove your child, let her know that even though you do not love her behavior, you will always love her. Nothing (not even behavior or diagnosis of ADHD) could ever stop you from loving your child.

5. Go easy on yourself. It’s hard being a parent! It does not matter who you are, being a parent is a challenging endeavor. Parents carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Go easy on yourself. You will make mistakes. You will mess up at some point. But don’t dwell on the mishap; instead, look for the lesson and acknowledge those things you do well as a parent.

ADHD through the eyes of a counselor

Dr. Andrew Burck is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and an assistant professor at Marshall University. Dr. Burck has worked with several clients with ADHD. He acknowledges that it can be challenging for some counselors (with little previous experience) to determine if a child truly has ADHD or if he or she is simply “being a kid.”

Before addressing this topic, he clarified the difference between ADHD and ADD. It is easy to confuse the two diagnoses, but there is one major difference. Children with ADD and ADHD are easily distracted, their minds wander, and they are typically unorganized.

Children with ADHD have a hyperactive element to their diagnosis. They are not simply distracted easily, but they are unable to sit still for any significant length of time. Dr. Burck compares a child with ADHD to a room with two or three bouncy balls going at once, bouncing from wall to wall and never losing speed or energy. He explained that children with ADHD would be comparable to a person without ADHD drinking several liters of Coke all at once and then experiencing the resulting sugar and caffeine rush.

Dr. Burck also mentioned the complexity and difficulty in defining “normal.” Normal for one individual may not be normal for another. There is a “spectrum” of normal. We can say we expect certain behaviors from certain individuals, and we consider those behaviors to be “normal.” The question when diagnosing ADHD is not necessarily, “Is this behavior normal?” but rather, “Is there an extremity to this behavior?”

According to Dr. Burck, there are two things to look for when attempting to determine whether or not a child may require an ADHD diagnosis. Is it ADHD or being a kid?

1. Is the behavior consistent? Is the observed behavior by the child happening consistently across multiple environments and settings? For example, is Jessica expressing ADHD behaviors only while she is at home? Or is Manny only expressing ADHD characteristics while at school? If there is inconsistency between environments, alternative possibilities should be fully examined before seeking an ADHD diagnosis.

2. Is the behavior extreme? There should be an extremity to the child’s behavior. Is the child exhibiting behaviors because he or she is a five-year-old who just finished a carton of chocolate milk at lunch? Or is the child truly hyperactive to an extreme degree and consistently over time and across different environments? It should be determined whether the child is simply energetic or is excessively hyper.

A final word of advice…

Kathryn says that faith plays a huge role in the way her son copes with his ADHD symptoms. When her son has trouble processing his emotions or feels frustrated, she has taught him to say a prayer to God for peace in the moment. If her son is feeling unusually hyper or anxious, she plays his favorite Christian music and lets him “dance it out” and “be wild” for a little while. After he releases some energy dancing, he is “back to his happy self.”

Kathryn also has faith in God’s peace, and she hopes these words from a mother will encourage you today.

Photo by FCKW



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