When people think of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), they often picture a child bouncing off the walls, going from one unfinished activity to the next. But this stereotype is unfair and fairly inaccurate.
Children with ADHD present in various ways and it can be tough for parents to know whether their child’s challenging moods and behaviors stem from their ADHD or something else entirely.
Most parents can easily recognize the classic symptoms – hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. But kids experience a wide variety of moods and behaviors that go beyond the big three.
Some parents are surprised to discover that the problematic moods and behaviors they once attributed to a bad attitude are actually related to the ADHD rather than a character flaw.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines ADHD as a brain disorder that is associated with a consistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, or a combination of all three, which impacts daily functioning.
ADDitude Magazine recently published an article that explored some recent brain research as it relates to ADHD. The authors discussed the ways in which the ADHD brain differs from the typical brain, indicating that ADHD brains are just wired differently.
Some of the differences include the following:
Researchers believe that these differences in brain structure directly impact differences in brain function. What’s more, typical behaviors seen in children with ADHD that are sometimes labeled as laziness, messiness, or absent-mindedness, may actually stem from these biological brain differences, rather than behavioral choices.
For example, the part of the brain that activates when we daydream does not quiet down when it’s time to focus the mind for someone with ADHD. In other words, daydreaming continues in the background when it’s time to pay attention. Though it might look like they are disengaged or uninterested, the person with ADHD may not be able to devote their total attention because of the way their brain functions.
While it can be difficult for a parent to distinguish between mental health symptoms and typical developmental challenges in their child, there are loads of resources to guide you.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth edition (DSM-5) lists the comprehensive criteria required to receive a diagnosis of ADHD. You can review the entire criteria list on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website in their ADHD section, but here is a basic overview of the most common symptoms and behaviors:
Most parents understand that their child with ADHD may struggle with organization, sitting still, staying focused, and completing assigned tasks. However, there are some lesser-known symptoms and behaviors that are not so obviously attributed to ADHD.
In an article about commonly misdiagnosed ADHD symptoms and behaviors, ADDitude Magazine shared some of ADHD markers that sometimes get mistaken for other mental health issues. In her podcast, Parenting ADHD and Autism, prominent ADHD expert and mom, Penny Williams, discusses some elements of ADHD that go beyond the classic inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity in her Parenting ADHD podcast as well.
There are loads of strategies, tools, and supports available for families who are touched by ADHD. Some of the most common supports are listed below:
NOTE: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the use of behavior therapy in lieu of medication for children between the ages of 4 and 5. The AAP further encourages professionals and parents to try medication only after behavior therapy proves ineffective. Additionally, for children and adolescents between the ages of 6-18, the AAP prefers that FDA-approved ADHD medications are administered alongside evidence-based behavior therapy.
Hayley Gallagher, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor, writer, and mom, with more than 15 years of experience working with kids and families. She is the creator of thecenteredparent.com – where she shares her expertise on parenting, mental health, self-care, and family wellness.