Children diagnosed with ADHD face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. First, an ADHD diagnosis conjures unflattering stigmas. The labels are detestable, but a regular part of an ADHD child’s life. Second, special accommodations in the classroom cause deep resentment in peers and the teachers responsible for implementing the accommodations. Most important, children diagnosed with ADHD rarely have an advocate who looks after their best interests.
ADHD advocacy is a nascent trend in the mental health industry. For years, children struggled without advocacy support while trying to cope in social environments and in the classroom. ADHD clinicians began to heed the call for advocacy, but their role was limited to medical education for parents and education personnel. National ADHD advocacy organizations have been effective in lobbying politicians for ADHD laws, especially in the areas of education and the workplace. National organizations have a macro sphere of influence, not the micro attention to detail that is parental ADHD advocacy.
Parents are the only true advocate for ADHD children. Their sphere of influence ranges from medications to ensuring education equity. While researching ADHD is a positive first step in becoming an advocate, knowledge of the condition is not enough to make an impact on an ADHD child’s life. Parents must become involved and make the commitment to advocate for their child. Here are some important areas that demand parental ADHD advocacy:
Recognizing the signs
ADHD education begins with recognizing the complicated signs of the condition. By complicated, I mean that some symptoms of ADHD mirror other disorders like anxiety and depression.
The best place to research ADHD symptoms is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). The manual provides a general list of 18 symptoms and the requisite criteria for making an ADHD diagnosis. Dr. Daniel Amen breaks down the 18 symptoms further by providing a detailed list of symptoms in checklist form.
Parental ADHD advocacy is ineffective if parents do not understand the basic symptoms of the condition.
ADHD clinician testing and evaluation
An ADHD diagnosis is a two-step process. Parents must make it a three-step process by carefully scrutinizing a list of clinician candidates. I recommend choosing a clinician based on your friends or family practitioner referral.
Parental ADHD advocacy involves creating a list of questions for each clinician candidate. Questions should include:
- How do you make a diagnosis?
- Do you have references?
- What is your position on ADHD medications?
Parents are usually involved in the second step of the diagnosis process, which entails the attendance of a significant other. Parents should also participate in the first step of the process. The first step is a series of psychological tests that determine if a second consultation is warranted. Parental ADHD advocacy during this step is observing how the clinician conducts the tests. Moreover, parents must eliminate any clinician who aggressively pushes ADHD medications during the first step.
The purest form of parental ADHD advocacy is understanding one fact: ADHD medications do not cure ADHD. The medications are prescribed to mitigate the symptoms. They are not a panacea, and there are other options that help children manage ADHD. The same concern for illicit drug use should be applied to the prescription of a stimulant narcotic for an underdeveloped human being.
If parents decide that ADHD medications are the best course of action, they must be vigilant when it comes to monitoring their child’s prescription. Side effects occur when a child takes the wrong dosage during the wrong time of day. This usually happens at school, so parents must clearly communicate their child’s ADHD medication regimen with a school nurse and administrators. They must also ensure that the medication does not fall into the hands of other children who are looking for a stimulant “high.”
Above all, parental ADHD advocacy means promoting the alternative treatments for the symptoms. This may entail banging heads with the clinician. Banging heads is a good thing when your child’ health is involved.
The physical and mental benefits of a regular exercise routine far outweigh ADHD medications. Exercise is a long-term solution for rampant hyperactivity. ADHD medications are a quick fix that introduces potent chemicals into a child’s system.
Parental ADHD advocacy for exercise is more about changing a child’s sedentary lifestyle. Parents should encourage their children to refrain from playing video and computer games. The encouragement needs to start at a young age, when unhealthy habits are easier to change.
The ADHD establishment continually dispels the theory that too much television causes ADHD. While television does not directly cause ADHD, lying around without significant periods of exercise exacerbates the condition’s symptoms. Parents are the first line of defense to prevent a sedentary lifestyle from firmly taking root in a child’s lifestyle.
Diet and Nutrition
Sugar was once considered a contributor to ADHD symptoms. Once again, ADHD science seems to dispel the sugar attribution as myth. Nonetheless, a healthy diet based on nutritional components is, like exercise, an integral part of maintaining a healthy body and mind.
Parents may not have a stronger advocacy role for their ADHD children than the decisions they make about sustenance. Fast food is out. Fruits, vegetables, and fish rich in Omega fatty acids are in.
Many parents operate under the false assumption that sports participation curtails impulsiveness and hyperactivity. The energy released during a sport competition will calm an ADHD child. The problem, however, is distraction is a characteristic that ruins athletic performance.
Enrolling an ADHD child in sporting leagues is an excellent strategy to circumvent the mind numbing games played in front of television and computer screens. True parental ADHD advocacy means thoroughly explaining to the child’s coach what exactly constitutes the condition known as ADHD. Most coaches are amenable to adapting their coaching style in order to promote an ADHD child’s strengths.
Advocacy also means not pushing your child into a sport that he or she does not enjoy. Find the right sport and encourage the child to participate in it until they reach a level of superior performance or lose interest all together.
A child’s ADHD diagnosis is often the result of school performance. Teacher and administrators notice the child’s distraction and hyperactivity, and bring the behavior to the attention of the parents. Parental ADHD advocacy for a child’s education achievement is irrefutably mandatory.
Pay attention to how the school system makes changes to enhance your child’s learning capability. Knowing ADHD laws is a start, but constant monitoring of your child’s performance and persistent insistence that the school adheres to ADHD laws strengthens parental ADHD advocacy. Part of Mark Norris`s work consists of developing a strong partnership between parents and academic professionals. With the parents consent, he organizes school meetings and follow ups with them, their child and the academic team involved in the child’s success. An objective and detailed portrait of the child’s strengths and challenges is presented and when necessary, classroom accommodations are established.
Parents can also provide a nurturing environment at home, where one-on-one tutoring complements the instruction given in school. The ultimate strategy in parental ADHD advocacy is to instruct your child in a home school environment.
Political advocacy means becoming involved in ADHD organizations that push legislators to write ADHD friendly legislation. At the very least, involvement in ADHD organizations will allow you to stay abreast of legal status changes that affect your child.
ADHD coaching is a growing industry. Most of the attention given to this alternative method for managing ADHD is how a coach benefits adults. Parent coaching is not about mentoring your child. It is about taking courses and assimilating information from a certified ADHD coach.
Parent coaching places you in the student’s role. You learn many strategies on developing your child’s strengths and mitigating the more onerous ADHD symptoms. Mark Norris is at the forefront of this invaluable movement. He has developed a comprehensive site dedicated to the issue and a detailed coaching program that he implements for adults.
Four to six percent of the United States population is estimated to have ADHD. Recent trends indicate the percentages will sharply increase. Most of the increase is due to the burgeoning diagnosis rate among children. As the rate continues to rise, parents must be aware of the advocacy responsibilities they inherit as their child navigates the turbulent waters of ADHD.
Advocacy means involvement. Involvement does not happen unless you have a deep commitment for your ADHD child’s progress.