Reading Time: 7 minutesADHD has become a buzzword these days for any child who seems to have a bit of extra energy. But what is it really and what can you do if your child is struggling? We caught up with paediatric occupational therapist Maria Del Rosario, owner of Learn to Grow Therapy Centre, to find out more about the disorder.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to pay attention, control impulses and regulate their behaviour. As with most disorders, it appears on a scale of severity, thus it is possible for your child to suffer from a mild form known as ADHD inattentive type. Many symptoms of this, such as a difficulty staying focused on tasks that are not interesting to them, can be common in young children, so it may be hard to know whether it is cause for concern. As a parent, you should trust your instinct and investigate if you feel that these issues are having a significant impact on your child’s daily life.
What to be on the lookout for
Of course young children aren’t exactly known for their organisational skills and ability to follow instructions, but difficulty with these things can be a sign of ADHD in some form. The disorder can be diagnosed in children as young as 4, so it’s worth knowing what symptoms to look out for:
- Lack of organisational skills: It may be difficult for them to keep track of their belongings, such as their backpack, toys, or school supplies. They may also have trouble organising their time and find it hard to do things within a time frame, such as getting ready in the morning.
- Difficulty paying attention: They may have trouble staying focused on tasks and be easily distracted. They may also have difficulty following instructions or completing tasks.
- Forgetfulness: They may forget what they were just told, what they were doing, or what they have been asked to do, such as putting away their toys.
- Impulsivity: They may find it more difficult to consider the consequences of their actions and thus act impulsively often. They may interrupt others, blurt out answers, or have trouble waiting their turn.
- Hyperactivity: They may feel the need to be constantly moving or fidgeting and have trouble sitting still. They may also find it difficult to play quietly or engage in quiet activities.
Strategies for managing ADHD at home
While it can be challenging to handle your child’s ADHD at home, Maria recommends some tried and tested strategies that have been known to help.
- Set clear expectations: Be clear and consistent about your expectations for your child’s behaviour. Use positive reinforcement for good behaviour and consequences for negative behaviour.
- Establish structure and routine: Like all children, those with ADHD benefit from regular routines for mealtimes, bedtime and homework, as it makes them feel more in control.
- Avoid overstimulation: They may feel overwhelmed when things are hectic. Creating a calm and quiet environment can help your child to focus and stay on task.
- Break down larger tasks: Giving children with ADHD smaller tasks can be effective in helping your child to manage things more easily and feel more successful.
- Use visual aids: Calendars, checklists and timers, among other visual aids, can all help your child to stay organised and manage their time more effectively.
- Limit screen time: Too much screen time can make the symptoms of ADHD worse. Try to encourage other activities such as reading or playing board games.
- Increase physical activity: Playing with their friends outside or participating in sports can help them to burn off their excess energy and improve their attention, mood, and overall cognitive function.
- Mindfulness meditation: Depending on your child’s age and personality, this can be a useful strategy to develop your child’s awareness of thoughts and feelings and thus increase their attention.
Dietary strategies to help with ADHD
A healthy, balanced diet is key to keeping your child’s brain healthy, but there are some nutrients that are thought to help to manage symptoms of inattention and distractibility.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These are essential fats found in fish, nuts, and seeds. Research suggests they may help improve cognitive function.
- Zinc: This mineral is important for cognitive function and brain health.
- Iron: Essential for brain function and development.
- Magnesium: A mineral that is important for brain function and mental health.
- Vitamin B6: Important for brain function and the production of neurotransmitters.
When to consult a healthcare professional
If you suspect that your child’s daily life is being impaired by ADHD, you can begin by speaking to your paediatrician, as they can help recognise whether your child’s symptoms are related to ADHD or to another condition such as sensory processing, anxiety, depression or learning disabilities. They may ask you to keep a diary recording your child’s behaviour at home, school, and in other settings, so they can better determine if they meet the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis.
If it is decided that you need to investigate further, you’ll probably be referred to a mental health professional who specialises in ADHD. These may include, but are not limited to, psychologists, clinical social workers, paediatric occupational therapists (OTs), and child and adolescent psychiatrists.
They’re likely to begin with an evaluation of your child, which may include assessments from multiple sources, such as parents, teachers and healthcare professionals. It may also include cognitive and behavioural testing to help determine the severity of symptoms and any other related conditions. They may also evaluate how your child perceives and processes sensory information, as symptoms of ADHD are often similar to those of sensory processing problems.
When more help is needed
Most mild cases of ADHD can be managed via the above strategies. However, if further intervention is deemed necessary, Maria suggests that the following may be recommended.
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy: Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) involves teaching children how to recognise and change negative thought patterns and behaviours. This may include identifying triggers for ADHD symptoms, developing strategies for managing them, and practising relaxation techniques.
- Social skills training: Social skills training involves teaching children how to interact with others in positive ways. This may include teaching communication skills, problem-solving skills, and conflict resolution strategies.
- Biofeedback: Biofeedback involves using electronic devices to
monitor and provide feedback on physiological processes such as heart rate and muscle tension. This can help children learn to regulate their behaviour and manage their ADHD symptoms.
Every child is unique, so it’s likely that the healthcare professional will develop a personalised plan that meets your child’s specific needs. The same behavioural therapy may not work for everyone, so it will involve some trial and error to see what is right for your child. Medication is unlikely to be prescribed for mild cases of ADHD.
If your child receives a diagnosis of ADHD, no matter how mild, it’s important to work with your child’s school to develop a plan to support their needs. Schools are well-versed in strategies that work to improve the focus and concentration of children with this disorder, so making sure you are consistent in your behaviour management is crucial. Communicating with your child’s teacher(s) regularly to discuss your child’s progress and any challenges they may be facing is an important first step in being able to develop strategies to manage their behaviour and support their learning.
If you are working with a mental health professional, they may recommend behavioural classroom interventions, which involve working with teachers to create a structured and supportive classroom environment. This may include many of the strategies recommended for use at home, so your child will be getting a consistent message. Depending on the age of your child, the school may also make accommodations for them, such as giving extra time for assignments or providing a quiet space for taking tests.
There are resources available to you
Finally, remember that it is natural to feel worried or concerned if you suspect that your child may suffer from any form of disorder, but don’t let this put you off getting the help you need. ADHD is a common condition that affects many children and adults and, with the right treatment and support, these individuals can lead happy and successful lives.
Child Assessment Service
Under the Hospital Authority, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and Departments of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine offers behavioural and developmental assessments for children with AD/HD symptoms, as well as interim support for the family including parent workshops and parenting skills training groups.
The Child Development Centre
They provide support to those with Special Educational Needs (SEN) in both English and Chinese. They work closely with the Social Welfare Department, but you can fill in an enquiry form online to apply for a very reasonably priced private assessment.
This charitable organisation specialises in early intervention for children with special educational needs aged from newborn to six. They provide assessments and programmes in both English and Cantonese.
This trusted resource for Hong Kong parents, educators and medical professionals seeks to learn how to better support the academic and social lives of children with mainstream learning differences. It aims to improve educational and life outcomes of children with ADHD by expanding understanding and raising awareness of what it means to have a mind that learns differently.
Sprout in Motion
They provide a range of educational assessments and have wonderful “Resources” section on their website with a range of articles to increase awareness about learning, emotional and behavioural challenges.
This children’s therapy centre provides many different assessments and services, as well as clear information about the most common learning difficulties on their website.
Central Health Development Centre
Offering a comprehensive range of mental health and developmental support services that are individual to the needs of each child and their family. The experienced team creates treatment plans that are both accessible and practical for caregivers and schools, to support and empower the child to fulfil their potential.
Jadis Blurton Family Development Centre
Offering psychoeducational assessments as well as therapy and counselling. Contact them
for a free 20-minute consultation.
Brain Infinity Neurofeedback provides cutting edge Neurofeedback training for children with ADHD/ADD, with a particular focus for those having a range of co-existing problems that medication could not help.
Online ADHD Test for Adults
Undertake a quick and simple online test. The Adult Self-Report Scale (ASRS) Screener will help you recognise the signs and symptoms of adult ADHD. The test will take approximately 3–10 minutes to complete through the Attention Deficit Disorder Association.
ADHD Foundation HK
A non-profit organisation founded by a group of professionals and advocates in Hong Kong in 2005 to raise public awareness and promote knowledge of ADHD and ultimately equal educational and career development opportunities for sufferers.
- Child and Family Centre
- Adler Family Center
- The Psynamo Group
- Maple Tree Counselling
- Heep Hong
- Learn to Grow Therapy Centre
- Best for general ADHD information: Driven to Distraction
- Best for kids: Thriving with ADHD Workbook for Kids
- Best for teens: Thriving with ADHD Workbook for Teens;Smart but Scattered Teens
- Best for adults: You Mean I’m not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?!
- Best for parents: Healing ADD by Dr. Daniel Amen;
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