02 October 2023

Does my child have ADHD or are they just a livewire?

02 October 2023

ADHD awareness is on the rise – yet it can still sometimes be tricky for parents and carers to know whether their child is affected or not.

It’s estimated that 5% of children in the UK have ADHD, according to the charity ADHD UK. And while the condition has previously been stereotypically associated with ‘disruptive’ and ‘naughty’ behaviour, particularly in young boys, it is now understood to be far more complex and nuanced than that.

“Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental condition that impacts someone’s attention, their levels of hyperactivity and impulsivity,” explains Dr Seb Thompson, consultant clinical psychologist at Cygnet Health Care.

“Typically when someone has ADHD, they tend to struggle with their attention, with hyperactivity and with impulsivity – although it is possible to just struggle with symptoms from one of those,” Thompson adds.

Of course, no child has ‘perfect’ concentration all the time, and many kids can have impulsive moments or bouts of being a bit hyperactive. So, how do you know if they’re actually showing signs of ADHD? To mark October’s ADHD Awareness Month, we talked to some experts…

ADHD does not always look the same

There are some common patterns that crop up with ADHD, however it can also affect individuals very differently.

So, if another child has similar behavioural traits to yours and has had a diagnosis, that does not necessarily mean your child has ADHD too. At the same time, children could have very different behavioural traits, yet both have ADHD.

“Every child with ADHD will probably struggle with a unique set of difficulties,” explains Georgia Chronaki, senior lecturer in developmental neuroscience at University of Central Lancashire. “[For example] One child might struggle with paying attention in class, another may struggle with managing their emotions.”

They find being still and quiet really hard

It may be a stereotype, but uncontrollable fidgeting could be an indicator of possible ADHD.

Thompson explains: “The hyperactivity and impulsivity difficulties associated with ADHD could include being unable to sit still without fidgeting, excessive restlessness, finding the quiet to be uncomfortable, difficulty engaging in tasks quietly, difficulties in turn-taking, impulsively saying or doing things without thinking through consequences, as well as a tendency not to consider the risks of behaviour.”Your child is often forgetful and loses things easilyThompson says if they are “frequently misplacing or losing items, being easily distracted, appearing to be daydreaming, and having difficulties remembering to do tasks and difficulties following through with instructions”, it may be linked with ADHD.

You can tell your child is struggling 

If your child seems to be finding things a struggle, this could be a big indicator.

“Imagine really wanting to pay attention to a conversation that is happening but your brain is not letting you,” says Thompson. “Imagine really wanting to focus on your homework, but your brain is not letting you. Imagine really wanting to sit and watch a TV programme, or sit and eat a meal, or sit and relax and your brain is not letting you.

“The world can be a very frustrating place for young people with ADHD, particularly if they do not understand why their brain works in the way it does.”

They seem down or depressed

Thompson adds that kids with ADHD “can often suffer with low self-esteem, depression and anxiety”.

He explains: “Young people who get frustrated by their difficulties may stop trying at school, or lose interest in their hobbies because they can’t sustain the attention to take part.”

Seeking advice

If any of these things are impacting your child’s wellbeing and making things seem hard for them, or if you are concerned they may have ADHD, then it may be worth seeking professional support.

Diagnoses are typically given by specialist ADHD assessment teams, and referrals tend to be made via schools or Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

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