Does my child have ADHD? As an assessment psychologist working in a pediatric clinic I hear that question quite often. I understand the reasons behind it, but find it’s not exactly the most useful question to ask when trying to understand and help a child who might be having difficulties.
While we have various measures and methods of assessing for ADHD, getting a Yes or No answer to that question doesn’t necessarily provide much insight into effective interventions for home or school. ADHD, which stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a clinical diagnosis that can be provided by qualified providers. The diagnosis provides an overarching label to multiple behaviors or symptoms that can potentially open the door for various services such as formal accommodations at school via a 504 Plan or an IEP. But that is probably where the usefulness of the label ends.
ADHD is a diagnosis that covers a wide range of behaviors and issues including, but not limited to short attention span, increased distractibility, increased activity levels and hyperactivity, impulsivity, and poor executive function skills such as planning, organizing, and self-regulating. ADHD is comprised of three types: 1) Primarily inattentive, 2) Primarily hyperactive/impulsive, or 3) Both. Children who have the same primary diagnosis may not necessarily “look” the same or need the same intervention plan. There are different degrees of severity and accompanying issues to consider. Other individual factors such as self-awareness and insight, anxiety, sensitivity, self-esteem and many more are relevant. In addition, a child’s environment both at home and at school is critical to fully understand the impact of an attention/self-regulation based disorder.
Therefore, when looking for help with your child’s possible attention deficits, limited regulation, or impulsive behaviors, it is far more helpful to consider the specific behaviors, symptoms, issues, and struggles that you and your child are experiencing and ask the following:
- What might be causing, contributing, or helping maintain such difficulties?
- How do such difficulties impact my child’s functioning? (This may be at school and home including learning, interactions with others, sense of self, etc.)
- What are some recommended interventions to address these difficulties and to reduce any negative impact they might have?