October is ADHD Awareness Month

Having ADHD means that what you pay attention to is different to people without ADHD. Most likely, your teachers, parents, friends, colleagues and partner may complain that you have difficulty concentrating, following directions and focusing, or that you are impulsive.

Common issues associated with ADHD include having trouble paying attention in class or meetings, finding it hard to sit still, low marks at school, trouble meeting deadlines, losing papers, impulsiveness, getting distracted, talking too much, difficulty in relationships, daydreaming, forgetting homework, trouble following instructions, getting into fights and anxiety issues.1

Some people are relieved when they or their child receive a diagnosis of ADHD because it helps them make sense of their issues. Other people are devastated, as they feel that the diagnosis means that they or their child are not normal and will never succeed. All of us have challenges in life, and when you or your child are diagnosed with ADHD it can be helpful to remember that you are not alone in your struggles. A diagnosis of ADHD doesn’t need to be the end of the world, and there are many successful people that have a diagnosis of ADHD. In this article I will focus on how parents and teachers can help children with ADHD reach their full potential.

As a parent you can help your child not only meet the challenges of school but to flourish and reach their full learning potential. It is vital that you communicate your child’s diagnosis and needs to the school and classroom teacher so that you can work together to formulate an effective learning strategy.

Here are some important tips for parents:

- Clear boundaries around behaviour. Have clear rules and consequences. Write down the house rules and discuss with your child so they are clear about what is expected.

- Structure in the day. Have a morning routine, school routine, bed routine and use timers. Create a visual reminder of routines and display on a wall where it can be seen.

- Organisation at home is important.

- Break down instructions. Check for understanding- get your child to repeat instructions back to you so that you know they have heard and understood.

- Limit screen time.

- Exercise- improves concentration and helps with sleep.

- ‘Green’ time- research has shown that time in nature reduces symptoms associated with ADHD.

- Social skills- have conversations and role play different scenarios if your child is having difficulties socially.

- Nutrition- cut out processed foods and preservatives. Be aware of any foods that may be affecting your child’s behaviour.

- Look for good behaviour and provide positive reinforcement. Focus on your child’s strengths and encourage activities that they are good at e.g. dancing, art, sport.

- Once you have identified the most appropriate treatment plan for your child it is imperative that you develop a good working relationship with your child’s school. It is important to schedule in regular meetings to discuss your child’s progress and to formulate specific goals.

Lifestyle factors

Good nutrition and sleep are important for health and have also been found to have a direct impact on ADHD symptoms.  Evidence suggests that a diet high in protein and good fats is important to maintain blood sugar throughout the day. It is also important to be aware if any particular food or food groups affect your child’s ADHD symptoms. There are many websites devoted to diets, food groups and nutritional plans for ADHD.

Exercise has been shown to improve ADHD symptoms and is known to boost endorphins and serotonin in the brain which reduces stress and anxiety. Exercise helps to regulate stress, hyperactivity and improve concentration. 2

Omega-3 and Fish Oil- Omega-3 fatty acids are important for parts of our brain used for memory, learning and reasoning. Research has shown that children with ADHD are more likely to show symptoms of low omega-3 levels and have lower levels in their blood than children without ADHD. There is some evidence that increasing omega-3 reduces the severity of inattention in some children, and some children with reading difficulties have shown major improvement. It is safe to take a fish oil supplement and ADHD medication. Fish oil quality varies and it is important to get high strength good quality oil.

Tips for Teachers

  • Make eye contact with student before speaking.
  • Break down instructions – one or two at a time.
  • Check with student for understanding- ask student to repeat instructions back to you.
  • Use visuals when possible e.g. charts, graphs and pictures.
  • Encourage students to seek clarification or for information to be repeated in a different way.
  • Use a signal to refocus student such as a tap on the shoulder.
  • Check that the student has written homework in diary.
  • Keep classroom noise to a minimum.
  • Use peer assisted learning to increase interest and engagement.
  • Sit near the front of the classroom.
  • Build rest breaks into the lesson.
  • Maintain structure in the classroom.
  • Provide scaffolding and structure for all activities and assignments.
  • Colour code materials and resources.
  • Extra time in assessments.
  • Rest breaks during assessments.
  • Provide a printed hand out or electronic copy of notes in advance.
  • Allow the use of a digital recorder.
  • Allow student to use a computer.
  • Allow student to play with a stress ball while working.
  • Email parent’s details of assessments and when they are due.

And here are some tips for building self-esteem:

  • Focus on student’s strengths.
  • Acknowledge and look for good behaviour.
  • Acknowledge their achievements with verbal praise and awards.
  • Set achievable goals.

Psychological Intervention

Psychological interventions for ADHD include a range of approaches, including behavioural interventions and cognitive behavioural therapy, social skills training and psychoeducation. The main behavioural technique involves the use of rewards to encourage the child to implement targeted changes in impulse or attentional control. Tangible rewards are often used, such as a preferred activity or a token system such as a star chart. Another type of reward is social approval such as praise and social recognition such as an award. It is important to choose rewards that are meaningful for the individual child.

Cognitive behavioural approaches can help with many of the symptoms of ADHD such as impulse control, by explicitly teaching the link between events, thoughts, emotions and behaviour. A second component of the therapy is learning to change these thoughts and feelings to produce more desirable outcomes and consequences. 2Psycho-education for both individuals, families and teachers to understand how ADHD affects functioning is vital to a successful intervention program.

Mindfulness training for adults and teens with ADHD has reported benefits of increased attention, less distractibility, awareness of thoughts, feeling and impulses and reduction in stress and anxiety.2 Mindfulness training for ADHD helps an individual to become more self-aware and less driven by impulses.

For more information on intervention approaches for ADHD, please contact The Perth Brain Centre on 6500 3277.


Sign up to Neuro-Newsletter