Author: Christina Tempest © 2012
“Imagine living in a fast-moving world, where sounds, images, and thoughts are constantly shifting. You become bored easily, and you find it impossible to keep your mind on tasks you need to complete. Distracted by unimportant sights and sounds, your mind drives you from one thought or activity to the next. You are driven to move, unable to stay still for long and you impulsively respond to events around you without stopping to consider consequences. Perhaps you are wrapped up in this confused world of thoughts, images and feelings that you don't notice when someone speaks to you, and you soon forget what is asked of you. You are so forgetful that you can't remember the simplest daily routine activities. Hence you are constantly in trouble for not listening and following instructions, or for acting "silly" or misbehaving. After a while you start to lie to avoid punishment, getting yourself into yet more trouble” (Duff et al 2009, p.3).
Welcome to the world of what it is like for a child with ADHD!
To their family, teachers or peers, they appear to function in a world full of disorganisation, due to them not being able to sit still, plan ahead, finish tasks, or even be fully aware of what is happening around them. In some situations, and on some days, the child appears to function and behave well. Due to these occurrence adults mistakenly think that the child with ADHD can control their behaviour and that they only misbehave for "attention seeking" purposes. When very often this is not the case (Duff et al 2009).
Imagine being in this little world and then having someone coming up to you and then demanding your attention. This is what it feels like for a child with ADHD and they often do not understand why they are in trouble. In these circumstances the child often becomes frustrated and will lash out aggressively for being disturbed unfairly. You must realise that these children often are not aware of what is going on around them and tend to stay in their own little worlds.
Often children with ADHD experience peer rejection and engage in a broad array of disruptive behaviours (Duff et al 2009). They often end up becoming what is known as the "class clown". Imagine if you felt like all were against you and that because you couldn't focus on tasks, learning difficulties set in. Think of it this way, isn't it easier to tune out and joke around when you don't understand something, than to ask questions that may make you look stupid? Well this is how a child with ADHD may feel.
ADHD children can be very emotional, as they do not understand how to manage their feelings. As their emotions are often changing very quickly, it is hard for them to work through and understand these emotions. Some children often will latch on to one or two others, to the extent of becoming obsessed with these particular people. They will often be like another attachment to the person in question and may become very upset if they are moved away from this person.
ADHD does not only affect the child, but also all of those around them, especially their immediate family. Families may experience increased levels of frustration, added financial burdens, inner feelings of blame, marital discord and even divorce (Duff et al 2009). Other siblings may feel isolated and unsafe, due to the aggressive outbursts often displayed, and will often not understand why it is occurring and why the ADHD child appears to "get away" with and receive "special treatment" for the disruptive behaviour. Families need to have the support as well as the ADHD child.
Leading scientists and clinicians have now come to the conclusion that ADHD is not a single disease nor is it a single identifiable disorder. ADHD is a catch-all acronym that includes a whole range of underlying disorders leading to a range of behavioural and academic difficulties in children. The age onset is before 7 years and symptoms last for at least 6 months. Diagnosis is usually after the child has turned 3 years, so as to rule out normative development behaviours. Research suggests that ADHD’s largest contributing factor appears to be inherited from a family member and/or is due to other influences on individual and body chemistry (Queensland Health 2009). ADHD appears to be passed on from the father and is more common for a male descendant to inherit it and it is even less common for a female to display any ADHD symptoms. Food additives, preservatives (282), artificial colourings, flavourings, natural salicylates, amines, glutamines and other chemicals in food also seem to contribute to adverse effects to the symptoms of ADHD (Duff et al 2009).
Inattention, Hyperactivity and Impulsivity are three of the associated sub-types of ADHD. Displays of Inattention may appear in the form of; does not seem to listen to what is being said, difficulty sustaining attention to task, does not follow through on instructions, avoids or strongly dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort, loses things, easily distracted and/or forgetful in daily activities. Displays of Hyperactivity may appear in the form of; fidgets with hands and feet, squirms in seat, leaves assigned seat, runs around and climbs excessively, has difficulty engaging or playing in activities quietly, seems to be in constant motion and/or talks excessively. Displays of Impulsivity may appear in the form of; difficulty waiting in line, waiting for own turn, interrupts others and/or blurts out answers (Duff et al 2009).
Children may also exhibit difficulties with short-term memory, visual motor integration, insatiability, inconsistent performance and social difficulties. Intellectual ability and actual productivity in children with ADHD often exhibit a lack of production rather than an inability to learn. Development Areas affected may be Social and Emotional Development, Cognitive Development, Language and Communication Development, and Physical Development (PSCQ 2012).
Social and Emotional Development characteristics displayed may appear in the form of; becoming easily upset and frustrated with themselves or others, exhibit inappropriate behaviours that result in negative attention from peers, may develop a low self-esteem, exhibit inappropriate behaviours in order to gain attention, withdrawn and go unnoticed, seem 'immature', require help with 'self-help' tasks, invades the personal space of others, argumentative with other children and/or acts impulsively without considering the consequences (PSCQ 2012).
Cognitive Development characteristics displayed may appear in the form of; learning disabilities due to the inability to focus or pay attention, experiences difficulty thinking before acting, easily distracted by sounds or visual stimuli, unable to finish or complete a desired task in an appropriate way, disorganised, unable to finish a group task, difficulties concentrating and paying attention, new tasks appear frustrating and/or delays in cognitive skills (PSCQ 2012).
Language and Communication Development characteristics displayed may appear in the form of; require professional speech and language evaluation, exhibit speech and language problems, exhibit expressive language problems, speech may lack fluency and be disorganised, lack of communication control, listening skills often poor, lack of attention contributes to poor listening habits, unable to follow simple instructions and/or may lack the ability to control or predict consequences of their words, and say inappropriate things at the wrong time (PSCQ 2012).
Physical Development characteristics displayed may appear in the form of; experience difficulty with visual-motor integration, difficulty tuning out excessive stimuli in the immediate surroundings, poor motor coordination, exhibit delays in fine motor skills, body may appear to be in constant physical motion, enjoys participating in rough and tumble play, crashes into walls and floors and/or may exhibit Sensory Integration Disorder (PSCQ 2012).
The most commonly used treatment available is through medication therapy. Dex-amphetamine and Ritalin are the most popular medications used which help treat some of the "symptoms" of ADHD, but do not treat the causes. Social behaviours may improve, and hyperactivity and aggression may be reduced whilst on these medication treatments, but there is no evidence of a long term improvement. What educators and families need to be aware of with using these medications is that they only work when in the system, and since they clear the system in about 4 hours, up to three doses may be required. Up to 90% of children experience side effects such as; loss of appetite, headaches, sleep problems, gastrointestinal disturbances, increased tic disorders, mood instability and growth reduction (Duff et al 2009).
This topic is very close to my heart as I have a son, Jacob, who is now 19 years old who has been constantly victimized and stigmatized all of his life for being what others assumed a ‘difficult’ child. This comes from the lack of knowledge about this mental disorder and the inability to understand that these children are not deliberately being ‘difficult’ or ‘attention seeking’, they are just trying to get through the day the best that they can. And most times all that they want to do is please and do what everyone expects of them, even though they don’t understand what is wrong with them when they are trying so very hard to comply with all that is expected of them. Especially when there is little to no consideration of how they feel or how they may view the world. I do hope that this article opens your minds and hearts to these children that struggle every minute of every day with this disorder. These children need a ‘super hero’, so how about we step up to the challenge by educating ourselves and others.
Duff, J, Nastasi, J, Butt, H, Emms, T & Shum, D 2009, ADHD: Identifying and treating some of the root causes of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders and childhood mood and behavioural disorders, Behavioural Neurotherapy Clinic, Doncaster, viewed 16 February 2012, <http://www.adhd.com.au/download/clinicadhdbook.pdf>.
PSCQ 2012, ADHD Fact Sheet, Noah’s Ark, South Brisbane, viewed 16 February 2012, <http://www.noahsark.net.au/PDF/factsheets/ADHD.pdf>.
Queensland Health, 2009, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder ADHD Factsheet, Queensland Government, Queensland, viewed 16 February 2012, <http://access.health.qld.gov.au/hid/ChildHealth/MentalHealth/attentionDeficitHyperactiveDisorderAdhd_is.asp>.