Do you find your child constantly distracted, with difficulty focusing?

Is your child just easily distracted and hyperactive, or might they have a more serious condition known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?  Sometimes, it’s hard for parents to tell the difference.

Before you go self-diagnosing your child, it’s important to seek a professional diagnosis and early intervention, if necessary. Frances Yeo, Principal Psychologist and Programme Director at Thomson Kids Specialised Learning, answers some of your commonly-asked questions. 

Are there different kinds of ADHD? 

There are typically three subtypes for children with ADHD:
1) Both inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity
2) Predominantly inattentive
3) Predominantly hyperactive/impulsive

What are the signs of ADHD in a child?

Children with ADHD who are predominantly inattentive may display the following signs, which usually persist for 6 months or more:

- Failure to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork / during other activities (e.g., overlooks or misses details, work is inaccurate).
- Difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities (e.g., has difficulty remaining focused during conversations or lengthy reading).
- Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly (e.g., mind seems elsewhere, even in the absence of any obvious distraction).
- Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork or chores (e.g., starts tasks but quickly loses focus and is easily side-tracked).
- Difficulty organizing tasks and activities (e.g., difficulty managing sequential tasks, difficulty keeping materials and belongings in order, messy and disorganized work, poor time management, fails to meet deadlines).
- Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (e.g., schoolwork or homework).
- Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities, like their materials, pencils, books or wallet.
- Distracted by extra stimuli.
- Often forgetful in daily activities.

Children who are predominantly hyperactive/impulsive typically display the following signs:

- Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet or squirms in their seat.
- Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected (e.g., leaves his or her place in the classroom)
- Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is inappropriate.
- Often unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly.
- Is often “on the go,” acting as if “driven by a motor” (e.g., unable to sit still for extended time. This may be experienced by others as being restless or difficult to keep up with.)
- Often talks excessively.
- Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed 
- Often has difficulty waiting his or her turn (e.g., while waiting in line).
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations, games, or activities, may start using other people’s things without asking or receiving permission).

Is ADHD a form of autism?

No, it is not.  

How can you tell whether a child has ADHD, or whether he is merely being playful or hyperactive?

There are a few differentiating factors. For children with ADHD, there must be: 

- Clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social, academic, or occupational functioning.
- Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms must be present prior to age 12 years.
- Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms are present in two or more settings (e.g., at home, school, with friends or relatives; in other activities).

Do kids grow out of ADHD?

ADHD is a lifelong condition and children do not outgrow out of ADHD.  

At what age can ADHD be diagnosed?

We can diagnose the condition as young as 3 years old.  

At what age does ADHD peak?

Symptoms peak when demands on the child exceed their capabilities to cope. 

How does ADHD affect the life of a child and his family?

Because learning requires a student to focus and sustain attention and effort, individuals with ADHD will show academic problems or underachievement. Furthermore, ADHD manifests in challenging behavioural problems. These behaviours cause a lot of stress, especially caregiver stress. This affects the family and the child’s social functioning.

Is medication necessary for kids with ADHD?

Many children with ADHD benefit from medication, especially when ADHD conditions affect their social, family and academic functioning.  

Who can diagnose a child with ADHD?

A paediatric neurologist, paediatric child developmental specialist, psychiatrist, clinical psychologist or educational psychologist. 

What kinds of tests determine whether a child has ADHD?

Numerous neuro-cognitive tests have been researched to identify children with ADHD. 
For example, tests of information processing speed, working memory, oral reading speed, sentence writing fluency, math fluency, and inhibition control tests. 

What kind of treatment options are available?

Children with ADHD need a combination of different interventions to help them. As it’s a lifelong condition, these children need to have the interventions throughout their lives.

- Stimulant medication to increase the arousal and activation levels in the brain.

- Medications to treat mental health issues that may arise as a result of the disorder, like depression, anxiety and OCD. 

- Parenting: This is one of the most important types of treatment. Parents need to be trained to understand their child, identify triggers, be aware how their parenting reinforces or worsens the ADHD symptoms.  They have to learn to change their parenting style to address the underlying feelings that children experience, which causes the child to behave a certain way. Being flexible and willing to compromise are very important, as the ADHD child is easily overwhelmed and frustrated. When parents understand their child better, they can change their perspective and see that it's not the child being lazy, misbehaving or acting on purpose. It’s the lack of skills.

- School support: Differentiated instructions, smaller student-to-teacher ratio, extra time to complete tests, assignments and examinations, take examinations in separate quiet rooms, give reminders if they are off task.

- Counselling and psychotherapy sessions if the emotional and behavioural problems are affecting functioning. For example, lack of respect for authority figures, aggressive and disruptive behaviours.  

How does Thomson Kids support children with ADHD?

At Thomson Kids, we provide specialised intervention programmes in English and Chinese language.  The lessons are aligned to MOE school curriculum. 

The learning and teaching materials are designed for children with ADHD, dyslexia and autism, where these conditions affect the way they process information when reading and writing.  Our learning materials break down academic tasks into many small steps, so these students can learn new concepts.

How can parents manage ADHD in their child at home? 

- Stay calm.
- See beyond those challenging and distressing behaviours. These behaviours are like “smoke screens” that distract you from the actual problem.
- Look out for triggers and attune to the child’s underlying feelings.  Is the task too hard for them? Do they feel tired and there is so much to do?
- Have realistic expectations and don’t be too anxious to fix the problem. Overcoming ADHD takes time.  
- Be hopeful and believe that your child will improve over time. 

How can parents work with teachers to support children with ADHD in school?

- Inform the teachers that the child has ADHD.  
- Close partnership with teachers. Discussing what works and what doesn't.
- Trust teachers and know that they will do their best to help the child succeed in school. 

For more information on Thomson Kids Specialised Learning and how they support kids with ADHD, visit their website

Photos: iStock

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