If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, chances are you have so many questions that you don’t even know where to start.
Can your child succeed in school? What does he need from you at home? How can parents and teachers help her in her relationships with peers and family members?
And most of all, you might be wondering what kinds of interventions your child will need.
The ADHD facts that answer these questions can be complex. Every child with ADHD is different. What works for one child may not work as well for another.
But some evidence based interventions for ADHD have a good track record in helping children kids manage their ADHD symptoms. Keep reading to learn more.
What is ADHD?
We first need to talk about exactly what ADHD is and isn’t.
ADHD is a common neurobiological disorder that manifests itself in a child’s early years, though symptoms can persist into adulthood.
The most common symptoms of ADHD are:
- Excessive movement (hyperactivity).
- An inability to focus (inattention).
- Impulsivity (acting without thinking first).
The symptoms fall into three primary clusters:
Some ADHD sufferers simply have trouble paying attention.
A child with this cluster of symptoms may daydream a lot. And they may become easily distracted during lessons or instructions. It may be difficult for them to sustain their attention to specific tasks, such as reading a book or finishing a set of math problems.
Children with these symptoms are prone to acting on urges recklessly. They often talk out of turn during instructional time or interrupt others during conversation. They might throw something across the room if they get frustrated.
A small number of children with ADHD exhibit symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity without any attentional problems. While they may find success in academic tasks, their relationship with others can be problematic.
As adults, these symptoms can manifest as risky behaviors like excessive spending.
Combination of Hyperactivity and Inattention
Most children with ADHD have a combination of hyperactive, impulsive, and inattentive symptoms.
These symptoms look different in different children. A child with ADHD might be forgetful and disorganized, often losing or forgetting essential items. They might engage in behaviors that are thoughtless, even risky. And they might have trouble getting along with their classmates.
Other common symptoms are squirming, fidgeting, excessive talking, and excessive daydreaming.
Because of these symptoms, children with ADHD are likely to experience setbacks in almost every area of their lives. They may have few friends at school. They might have challenging relationships with parents and siblings, making home life unpleasant for everybody.
And, of course, ADHD symptoms can harm learning as well.
Is ADHD a Learning Disability?
As mentioned above, the symptoms of ADHD can make it difficult for children to learn.
It’s hard to learn when you struggle to focus on a lesson or on your teacher’s instructions.
Losing your belongings or forgetting necessary materials at home can also make learning a real challenge.
For this reason, ADHD is often considered a learning disability. But the reality is that although it can coexist with learning differences, ADHD itself is not an independent learning difference.
While ADHD impacts the executive functions that support learning tasks, learning differences directly affect how children process information.
Children with learning differences may struggle with reading, writing, or performing mathematical calculations if taught using conventional methods.
Some of the most common learning disabilities are:
- Dyslexia is known as the most common and most well-known learning difference. It affects visual and auditory processing, making it hard for children to read, write, or process directions.
- Dyscalculia impacts a child’s ability to understand numbers and learn math facts.
- Dysgraphia makes it difficult for children to write. They struggle to hold their writing utensils and have little spatial understanding of how letters should look on the page.
Other learning disabilities can affect motor skills, coordination, or the ability to use and understand spoken language.
The symptoms of ADHD and some learning differences may look similar. Usually, ADHD has to be ruled out before a learning difference can be appropriately diagnosed.
But diagnosis can be complicated when ADHD and LD exist hand-in-hand. Once ADHD is diagnosed, it can be tempting to write off any real or perceived learning challenges as an ADHD symptom.
But ADHD and learning differences, though they frequently coexist, are two separate disorders.
LD-related problems will persist even when ADHD symptoms are well-controlled. So if you suspect your child has both LD and ADHD, these problems have to be addressed separately.
A Parent’s Role in ADHD Treatment
Successful management of ADHD requires support, treatment and intervention on a several different levels. This is usually described as a “multimodal” approach. Different levels include behavioral, educational, psychological and parental.
A parent will typically be the primary point person for managing and coordinating all of these activities.
Parents who educate themselves about ADHD and research-based or evidence-based treatment options can make informed and effective decisions regarding their child’s care.
What is an Evidence Based Intervention?
In the education field, the word “intervention” means a specific curriculum or program developed to address a target problem for a particular student or group of students.
When an intervention’s outcomes have been carefully evaluated, it is referred to as an evidence-based (or sometimes a research-based) intervention.
To be considered evidence-based, the intervention needs to have shown success in several carefully controlled studies. The criteria for this success are unambiguous and specific.
First, the intervention has to match the problem that it’s trying to address. For example, it’s not helpful to test an intervention for ADHD students in a group who have been diagnosed with autism or dyslexia (but not ADHD). The intervention has to show success with the group that it’s meant to target.
Furthermore, the conditions in the study have to remain consistent. Making changes to the population of materials midway through a study can invalidate the results.
Finally, the intervention needs to show success in either a large-group study or a series of small-group studies. For example, if you do a study on a group of five students, and it’s only successful on two of them, this doesn’t give you a solid idea of how effective the intervention is. To truly prove its effectiveness, you need a larger group to discern patterns and gauge overall success.
Based on these criteria, any evidence-based intervention you choose to implement for your child has been tested thoroughly. And, it’s been proven against a strict standard to determine its overall effectiveness.
Before selecting an intervention, teachers and counselors must start with baseline data and goals that make sense for your child and then match him with an appropriate intervention to his needs.
Finally, they will examine data about your child’s goals and needs to determine which of these interventions would be the best match for her.
Examples of Evidence Based Interventions for ADHD
A wide variety of evidence-based interventions exists to help children with ADHD.
Some interventions are best for the school setting; others can be used at home or in social interactions with peers.
Some interventions are more effective with either hyperactivity or inattention. Other interventions are effective with both. Some of them involve training parents and/or teachers; others address the student directly.
Here are some of the most popular evidence-based interventions for ADHD.
A positive relationship with parents is one of the best weapons in the arsenal of any kind, especially for a child with ADHD. Unfortunately, mutual frustration can complicate that essential relationship for these children.
A specialist can work with you to help develop strategies. You’ll learn what sets off problem behaviors for your child (“antecedents”). You’ll also learn how to administer consequences effectively and consistently. Over time, you will become adept at strategies like positive attention, positive feedback, time-outs, and planned ignoring.
As a result, you’ll be able to closely monitor your child’s behavior and respond to it in a calm, consistent, and positive way, leading to a happier home life for everyone.
Some examples of established parent training programs:
- CHADD’s Parent to Parent training available locally or online. (www.chadd.org)
- Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) (www.triplep.net)
- Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (www.pcit.org)
As with parents, training for classroom teachers can make a massive difference in outcomes for students with ADHD. Teachers can also learn to watch for antecedents, often heading off a problem behavior before it starts.
Though the most effective classroom interventions will differ from one child to another, some of the most successful include consistent limits and consequences and clear, specific classroom instructions.
Teachers also find success with ADHD students by focusing on positive reinforcement of desired behaviors while ignoring undesirable ones (if possible).
Children with ADHD often have low self-esteem because of the frequent negative feedback they receive from classroom teachers. So generous and specific positive feedback can have a significant impact on their self-image and success.
Daily Report Card
Children with ADHD often benefit from frequent and specific feedback. A Daily Report Card is a simple and effective way to provide that feedback daily.
For each day, a few specific goals are listed out. Examples of reasonable goals might be “hands to self,” “finished work,” or “stayed in my area.” Adults who work with your child during the day can then simply check off whether or not your child achieved each of these goals. You can then reward your child’s success with something meaningful to him, like extra time on his device or the opportunity to invite a friend over.
A daily report card is a wonderful way for your child to receive plenty of positive feedback. And it gives everyone a visual reminder of how much your child achieves every day. It also helps you, as a parent, stay connected with the school in a constructive manner.
Technology is a fantastic asset in delivering instruction and tracking progress for ADHD students. For one thing, many computer programs can automatically break large tasks into smaller chunks. They can emphasize the most critical information for your child, an excellent support if she struggles with retaining essential material from a lesson. It can also present information through all five senses, helping your child sustain his elusive attention span.
Besides that, many computer programs will automatically track your child’s progress towards specific goals. That saves tons of time and provides a more accurate picture of her progress than you would have otherwise.
Immediate feedback on his responses also helps by providing a quick reward for attentiveness.
Research shows that some computer-assisted instruction can be an effective strategy for improving the academic skills of students with ADHD.
Discussions of ADHD medications can generate a surprising amount of controversy. Particularly when some of the participants in that conversation are ill-informed. Many families view the use of medication to treat ADHD as a last resort. However, the treatment of ADHD with medication has been very successful overall. In fact, 70% of children with ADHD have experienced positive effects from taking stimulant medication.
Stimulants are highly effective in improving classroom productivity and behavior.
However, medication use (for ADHD treatment or any other condition) always brings with it risks and the possibility of side effects. Loss of appetite and insomnia are among the most common. Any medication regime should be closely monitored by a trained health care professional.
Other Helpful Interventions
While these interventions are not evidence-based (yet), they are still commonly used for students with ADHD with good results.
Modifying Academic Work
Taking on lengthy homework assignments can be overwhelming to a child with ADHD. But there are strategies to make the homework load more manageable.
One great strategy is “chunking,” which simply means taking a long assignment and breaking it down into smaller, more manageable subtasks. Teachers can do this for an ADHD student when they give the project, but parents can also do this for their children at home.
The length of time each subtask takes will depend on the child. For a younger child, five minutes is a feasible time frame. For an older child, in grades five and above, twenty minutes might be reasonable.
Social Skills Training
Social skills training has proven to benefit in helping ADHD students manage their relationships with peers. Such programs work best if they are intensive. Summer treatment programs, where students receive multimodal training on their social skills 6-8 hours a day, 5 days a week, seem to have the best track record.
In such programs, students receive direct instruction, which they can put into practice through coached recreational activities. Token systems are used to reward students for properly using the strategies they have learned. You can reinforce this further by providing rewards at home.
The most important thing for parents of children with ADHD to remember is that there is nothing wrong with your child or your parenting.
In fact, children with ADHD often show a greater level of creativity, energy, stamina, and leadership skills than their peers.
Once problematic symptoms of have been managed under control with appropriate evidence based interventions for ADHD, the sky is truly the limit of what can be achieved.