Although it can be difficult at times, it’s important to remember that a child with ADHD can’t help their behaviour. People with ADHD find it difficult to suppress impulses, which means they don’t stop to consider a situation or the consequences before they act.
If you’re looking after a child with ADHD, you may find the below advice helpful.
Plan the day
Plan the day so your child knows what to expect. Set routines can make a difference to how a child with ADHD copes with everyday life.
For example, if your child has to get ready for school, break it down into structured steps, so they know exactly what they need to do.
Set clear boundaries
Make sure everyone knows what behaviour is expected, and reinforce positive behaviour with immediate praise or rewards. Be clear, using enforceable consequences if boundaries are overstepped (such as taking away a privilege) and follow these through consistently.
Give specific praise. Instead of saying a general, “Thanks for doing that,” you could say, “You washed the dishes really well. Thank you.” This will make it clear to your child that you’re pleased, and why.
If you’re asking your child to do something, give brief instructions and be specific. Instead of asking, “Can you tidy your bedroom?” say, “Please put your toys into the box, and put the books back onto the shelf.” This makes it clearer what your child needs to do and creates opportunities for praise when they get it right.
Set up your own incentive scheme using a points chart or star chart, so good behaviour can earn a privilege. For example, behaving well on a shopping trip will earn your child time on the computer or some sort of game. Involve your child in it and allow them to help decide what the privileges will be.
These charts need regular changes or they become boring. Targets should be:
immediate (for example, daily)
intermediate (for example, weekly)
long-term (for example, three-monthly)
Try to focus on just one or two behaviours at a time.
Watch for warning signs. If your child looks like they’re becoming frustrated, overstimulated and about to lose self-control, intervene. Distract your child if possible, by taking them away from the situation, which may calm them down.
Keep social situations short and sweet. Invite friends to play, but keep playtimes short, so your child doesn’t lose self-control. Don’t aim to do this when your child is feeling tired or hungry, such as after a day at school.
Make sure your child gets lots of physical activity during the day. Walking, skipping and playing sport can help your child wear themselves out and improve their quality of sleep. Make sure they’re not doing anything too strenuous or exciting near to bedtime.
Keep an eye on what your child eats. If your child is hyperactive after eating certain foods, which may contain additives or caffeine, keep a diary of these and discuss them with your GP.
Stick to a routine. Make sure your child goes to bed at the same time each night and gets up at the same time in the morning. Avoid overstimulating activities in the hours before bedtime, such as computer games or watching TV.
Sleep problems and ADHD can be a vicious circle. ADHD can lead to sleep problems, which in turn can make symptoms worse. Many children with ADHD will repeatedly get up after being put to bed and have interrupted sleep patterns. Trying a sleep-friendly routine can help your child and make bedtime less of a battleground.
Help at school
Children with ADHD often have problems with their behaviour at school, and the condition can have a negative impact on a child’s academic progress.
Speak to your child’s teachers or their school’s special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) about any extra support your child may need.
Adults with ADHD
If you’re an adult living with ADHD, you may find the following advice useful:
Make lists, keep diaries, stick up reminders and set aside some time to plan what you need to do if you find it hard to stay organised.
Let off steam by exercising regularly.
Find ways to help you relax, such as listening to music or learning relaxation techniques.
If you have a job, speak to your employer about your condition, and discuss anything they can do to help you work better.
Talk to your doctor about your suitability to drive, as you’ll need to tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) if your ADHD affects your driving.
Contact or join a local or national support group – these organisations can put you in touch with other people in a similar situation, and they can be a good source of support, information and advice.
For more advice, you can read about living with ADHD on the AADD-UK website. AADD-UK is a charity specifically for adults with ADHD.
AADD-UK also has a list of adult support groups across the UK.
Most people with ADHD have problems that fall into both these categories, but this isn’t always the case.
For example, some people with the condition may have problems with inattentiveness, but not with hyperactivity or impulsiveness. This form of ADHD is also known as attention deficit disorder (ADD). ADD can sometimes go unnoticed because the symptoms may be less obvious.
Symptoms in children and teenagers
The symptoms of ADHD in children and teenagers are well defined, and they’re usually noticeable before the age of six. They occur in more than one situation, such as at home and at school.
The main signs of each behavioural problem are detailed below.
The main signs of inattentiveness are:
having a short attention span and being easily distracted
making careless mistakes – for example, in schoolwork
appearing forgetful or losing things
being unable to stick at tasks that are tedious or time-consuming
appearing to be unable to listen to or carry out instructions
constantly changing activity or task
having difficulty organising tasks
Hyperactivity and impulsiveness
The main signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness are:
being unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings
being unable to concentrate on tasks
excessive physical movement
being unable to wait their turn
acting without thinking
little or no sense of danger
These symptoms can cause significant problems in a child’s life, such as underachievement at school, poor social interaction with other children and adults, and problems with discipline.
Related conditions in children and teenagers
Although not always the case, some children may also have signs of other problems or conditions alongside ADHD, such as:
anxiety disorder – which causes your child to worry and be nervous much of the time; it may also cause physical symptoms, such as a rapid heartbeat, sweating and dizziness oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) – this is defined by negative and disruptive behaviour, particularly towards authority figures, such as parents and teachers conduct disorder – this often involves a tendency towards highly antisocial behaviour, such as stealing, fighting, vandalism and harming people or animals depression sleep problems – finding it difficult to get to sleep at night, and having irregular sleeping patterns autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) – this affects social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour epilepsy – a condition that affects the brain and causes repeated fits or seizures Tourette’s syndrome – a condition of the nervous system, characterised by a combination of involuntary noises and movements called tics learning difficulties– such as dyslexia
Symptoms in adults
In adults, the symptoms of ADHD are more difficult to define. This is largely due to a lack of research into adults with ADHD.
ADHD is a developmental disorder; it’s believed that it can’t develop in adults without it first appearing during childhood. But it’s known that symptoms of ADHD often persist from childhood into a person’s teenage years, and then adulthood.
Any additional problems or conditions experienced by children with ADHD, such as depression or dyslexia, may also continue into adulthood.
By the age of 25, an estimated 15% of people diagnosed with ADHD as children still have a full range of symptoms, and 65% still have some symptoms that affect their daily lives.
The symptoms in children and teenagers, which are listed above, is sometimes also applied to adults with possible ADHD. But some specialists say that the way in which inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness affect adults can be very different from the way they affect children.
For example, hyperactivity tends to decrease in adults, while inattentiveness tends to get worse as the pressure of adult life increases. Adult symptoms of ADHD also tend to be far more subtle than childhood symptoms.
Some specialists have suggested the following list of symptoms associated with ADHD in adults:
carelessness and lack of attention to detail
continually starting new tasks before finishing old ones
poor organisational skills
inability to focus or prioritise
continually losing or misplacing things
restlessness and edginess
difficulty keeping quiet and speaking out of turn
blurting out responses and often interrupting others
mood swings, irritability and a quick temper
inability to deal with stress
taking risks in activities, often with little or no regard for personal safety or the safety of others – for example, driving dangerously
Additional problems in adults with ADHD
As with ADHD in children and teenagers, ADHD in adults can occur alongside several related problems or conditions.
One of the most common conditions is depression. Other conditions that adults may have alongside ADHD include:
personality disorders – conditions in which an individual differs significantly from an average person, in terms of how they think, perceive, feel or relate to others bipolar disorder – a condition that affects your moods, which can swing from one extreme to another obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – a condition that causes obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour
The behavioural problems associated with ADHD can also cause problems such as difficulties with relationships, social interaction, drugs and crime. Some adults with ADHD find it hard to find and stay in a job.