What is ADHD?

A lot of parents struggle with this question. They’ve been told by either a teacher or a doctor that their child has or may have ADHD. What’s important here is to not get hung up on a label but rather look at the symptoms. It is an inability to focus, concentrate effectively, have sustained attention, or have sustained self-control (always on the go or fidgeting/squirming). This can be more challenging in low-stimulation environments such as the classroom.

What causes ADHD?

Trying to understand what causes ADHD can be like trying to understand what caused a cold or other illness. This can be a combination of genetic, developmental, neurological, physical, and environmental influences. While there is some insight into causes, ultimately the symptoms have to be managed or treated in order to recover or foster a noticeable change.

Ask a

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that we receive. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Always on the go, unable to sit still, can’t pay attention in class, chatting constantly, and causing “trouble”. ADHD symptoms in boys can be similar to those seen in girls, but sometimes the way boys react to the frustrations of not being able to focus, remain calm when asked, and sit still can result in tantrums, blow-ups, and emotional outbursts that are more aggressive in nature than girls and may include more anger, screaming, and physical escalation.

ADHD symptoms in toddlers are sometimes harder to notice, especially for new parents who can’t make heads or tails of what their toddler is even doing half the time. Some things to be on the lookout for can include fidgeting or moving about excessively, unable to sit still to perform simple tasks (such as eating), constantly engaging in some sort of movement (always on the go), and making noises or speaking excessively.

It can become rather frustrating as a parent trying to navigate between the wealth of information (and sometimes misinformation) available around you, whether through the Internet or other source. So what can you as a parent do to ensure the best for your child? A comprehensive psycho-educational assessment is the ideal way to understand the needs of your struggling child. Trained professionals, utilizing an array of tests, will assess the unique way your child learns, understands, and senses their world around them.

ADHD behavioural problems can be alleviated by building connections in the brain through strategic and simultaneous sensory training. Imagine your child’s brain like a network of roads with too many “cars” (thoughts or signals) getting stuck on only a few roads. By building many roads, these “cars” will move more freely and effectively. By training how the brain responds to stimulation and how to effectively hone that ‘brain energy’ toward favourable and requested outcomes the symptoms of ADHD are reduced.

Besides enrolling your child in a carefully tailored program that addresses the root causes of their ADHD symptoms both through a neurological and behavioural therapeutic approach, there are some strategies that you can try at home. These include:

  • Creating clear structures for daily activities
  • A whiteboard task and chore tracking system with rewards at home
  • Understanding the problem is not the child, but rather the elements around the child and how the child interacts with these elements.

Disturbed sleep can be common and frustrating for parents of ADHD children (as well as exhausting). Often ADHD children are unable to fall asleep consistently, stay asleep effectively, have restful sleep, or wake up at regular times. Their ADHD brain sometimes doesn’t understand when to “turn off” and go effectively and consistently into conserve and rebuild mode (some of the main theories behind why we sleep). Common side effects that are expressed by some children taking stimulant medications can also include deregulated sleep patterns and waking during sleep; if you concerned about this possibility, be sure to discuss it with your child’s physician and never make any changes to medication without the physician’s approval.

Children 4-12:
What we see as outward symptoms in children with ADHD are normally a hard time with learning, focus, and attention in the classroom. Usually parents are first told by teachers that their child is struggling in these ways and an intervention may be needed. These children normally have a hard time regulating behaviours at home, doing what they are asked to do, eating consistently, and have tantrums or emotional outbursts. There can be an impact on their grades and learning early on and frustrations are magnified at home with emotionally-charged interactions with family members.
Teens 13-18:
Teens with ADHD are more often than not labelled as the “bad kids” who are always getting into trouble. This is unfair, as it may be a cry for help. Their frustration with their own inability to remain focused and focus their attention when needed can lead to emotional and behavioural outbursts. People usually blame the teen themselves for these negative or hostile actions, but seldom do they actually try to understand that these are symptoms of an underlying problem.
Adults 19 +:
Being an adult suffering from ADHD can be incredibly frustrating. For many, it is something that has haunted them for as long as they can remember. Difficulties caused by the symptoms of ADHD can affect their careers, post-secondary education, and personal relationships. The most common complaints are the familiar symptoms seen in kids with ADHD; however, those symptoms become exacerbated with the responsibilities and commitments of adulthood.

A parent’s struggle to do all they can for their children can be overwhelming; without having to worry about labels. When a teacher or doctor suggests that their child may have problems with focus and attention there are many questions that could arise. A common question is “Does my child have ADD or ADHD?”

The answer to this question is a bit complex. ADD is no longer a recognized diagnosis on its own; not because it does not exist, but because it is now considered a subtype of ADHD, specifically the predominantly inattentive subtype.

Before this change, those diagnosed as specifically ADHD were distinguished by the physical inability to remain still or calm and being inappropriately restless, squirmy, or fidgety. These kids are often thought of as being always on the go and constantly moving even when there is no need for movement. Currently, ADHD can be diagnosed with the recognized subtypes of predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, and combined (which has traits of both inattentive and hyperactive/compulsive).

What most parents do not realize is that ADHD has a very real neurological basis. The easiest thing to see naturally is the behaviour that the child outwardly presents. However, it is very important to understand that the way the brains of these kids are literally wired may play a huge part in their outward behaviours. Behavioural problems manifest through frustrations. Even if there is a genuine attempt for focus and attention, with ADHD the problem is that no matter how hard the child tries, sometimes it just isn’t doable. The fact that our brains (especially those of children) are able to retrain and grow new connections has had a huge impact on the way ADHD is treated. Neuroplasticity is the key here (the brain’s ability to grow and reconnect in new, useful ways). Also unknown to most, ADHD kids can be very bright, caring, altruistic, and intelligent.

Parents genuinely want to help their struggling and frustrated child in every way possible. Giving their child the best chance at a successful and stress-free life is always a driving factor behind everything parents do. To truly help an ADHD child, one needs to look at the brain and the body. There has to be an understanding that goes further than the label of a diagnosis. A treatment plan that works on the neurology behind the symptoms and training that addresses the negative behaviours involved must be implemented to truly help these struggling kids.

Yes. But one must be cognizant of the fact that it relates to how the brain is wired as much as it is related to the emotions and behaviours problems that manifest. Only then can a treatment protocol be made that is truly helpful with such a complex and dynamic problem.

The way your child is behaving can have a lot to do with the levels of hormones, minerals, and chemicals in their body. This can be indicated by many observable symptoms, such as allergies, rashes, mood swings, irritability, sleep issues, and food sensitivities. There are a number of ways to gain some clarity. These can range from a body mineral analysis utilizing a hair sample to a comprehensive blood analysis.

Stop that! Leave that alone! Come here. Come here. COME HERE! It is just as frustrating for the parent to tame a hyperactive child as it is a challenge for the hyperactive child to gain their much wanted self-control. Neurology and how the brain is connected has a lot to do with the outward behaviours seen in these types of children and thus how they respond to their environment. Sensation-seeking behaviours and being constantly on the move to find the next bit of stimulation has a very real link to the amount of information that is successfully reaching the brain itself from each stimulus.

Incredibly frustrating! Even though people with ADHD try and try to remain calm, focused, and concentrate, they are simply unable to do so, as they are compelled from within to jump to the next thing of interest and forget what they are engaged in presently. Furthermore, despite genuine effort, the inability to focus on what they are doing is almost impossible as they are urged to look elsewhere for stimulation. Can you imagine how hard that must be?

It’s incredibly frustrating and challenging, but you’ve done great so far with resilience and determination. Just remember that asking for help is okay. Your child may just need more than discipline, lecturing, punishing, rewarding, and good parenting. This may involve a “whole”istic approach; concentrating on retraining behavioural responses, building brain connectivity, changing how the child sees and reacts to their environments, and also a potential shift in the way the parents parent.

Adults whose ADHD was not treated in childhood often experience poorer outcomes. This is because ADHD is highly impairing and affects many aspects of one’s life.

Do not wait to get an evaluation if you spot the patterns above. Children do not grow out of ADHD. They must learn to manage it, and waiting will not make it better.

Here are the benefits of a diagnosis:

1. A diagnosis can accurately identify ADHD and any other difficulties that may be getting in the way of your child’s success. ADHD is complex; an evaluation is the best way to clarify what is actually going on.

2. Students who obtain an ADHD evaluation are usually more open to getting help because they already understand what is happening. When I meet them, they often express relief at knowing that they are not lazy or flawed. The evaluation process validates their experience and shows them that there is something they can do to have more control over their life.

3. Schools are required to provide accommodations, such as extra time on exams, if recommended by your professional. Your child’s report is kept confidential and only used for the purposes of providing what your child needs to succeed. In my experience, schools respond very well when parents are open with them about their child’s needs.

Are you worried that an ADHD evaluation will lead to a label that will follow them the rest of their life? Are you concerned that it will limit your child in the school system? That they may be misunderstood?

These are all good questions.

Here is what I know to be true from my years of experience in and outside of the the school system.

  • Not having a diagnosis leads to misunderstandings. When treatments and school interventions are based on an inaccurate picture of the problem, things get worse for the student. Diagnostic “labels” are merely frameworks to understand what is already present; they do not change what is actually happening, but they often lead to better outcomes.
  • An ADHD diagnosis is the first step in creating a roadmap for your child’s success. For example, when the results show that visual memory is strong, your teen will know to cue themselves visually as often as possible. They can practice using charts or post-it notes, and teachers can ensure they have written down all the instructions for a project.
  • Students who understand themselves feel more confident, make better choices, and advocate more effectively.

When you are debating whether or not to take this step, notice what feelings are coming up for you. Helplessness? Fear? It may be that you need support to understand how best to navigate what you are going through. Take it! Feeling clear in your own mind will help you make the best decisions.

Accept that ADHD can be highly impairing AND that it is one of the most treatable conditions.
Set yourself up for success.
Parenting a teen with ADHD can be an interesting challenge that pulls on all of your weak spots. Make sure you have what you need to remain centered, calm, and focused on the goal of skill-building. If you need help with this, get it. You are part of the solution.
Make friends with failure
Accept that failure will be part of your teen’s learning experience. Learning new skills is about taking risks and falling, and getting back up again. The bumps in the road provide the best opportunities for choosing better strategies. Model staying the course when these moments occur. Model consistency. When parents comfortably view failure as a learning opportunity, teens are more likely to take responsibility. Teens with ADHD often have trouble accurately evaluating how well things are going, but they do feel the bumps and don’t like them. This is when their motivation is highest, along with their willingness to learn more helpful habits— when they are given the support to do so.

If you have a child who was recently diagnosed with ADHD, it’s important to know that ADHD impacts all areas of life and can profoundly impact your family. When you are parenting a child with ADHD, you are parenting a child who requires more patience, greater supervision, increased structure, and more creative limit-setting and discipline. Add to the mix a sibling or two and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Support and education about ADHD are essential.

Therapists & Mental
Health Specialists

Experience Matters:

    • We’ve supported 35,000+ individuals
    • Completed over 300,000 sessions to date.
    • Country-wide network of therapists