Monday, May 6, 2024

Talking to Your Child About ADHD Diagnosis


MBE Guest Post
by Dr. Katia Fredriksen and Dr. Yael Rothman
Pediatric Neuropsychologists

Readers Note: This guest post is for informational purposes only and it is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice.

How to Share ADHD Diagnosis with Kids

Has your child recently been diagnosed with ADHD? And are you wondering if/how to share this information with them? Here we will explain why it is important for a child to understand how they think and learn, and we will share ideas for how to speak with them about their diagnosis.

Parents Daughter Hug Garden Gate

First, get comfortable with your child’s ADHD

MBE participates in the Amazon Affiliate program, this post includes links

Before sharing information with your child, make sure that you have had a thorough discussion with the doctor/evaluator, that you have all your questions answered, and that you understand your child’s profile. 

Many parents are hesitant to share a diagnosis because they worry about their child’s reaction to being “labelled.” They fear that their child will feel badly about themselves and their abilities when they learn about their diagnosis. However, it is important to remember that children are often much more self-aware than we realize. They often have a sense that they are struggling with something, and without an explanation, they are unfortunately prone toward making negative self-attributions (e.g., “I can’t do anything right,” or “I’m not as good as my classmates”) and applying inappropriate negative labels (e.g., “I’m stupid”). 

Telling a son or daughter about their diagnosis (i.e., giving them an accurate and appropriate label to use) and explaining their individual profile of strengths and weaknesses and how they think and learn can help dispel misconceptions and create more positive self-attributions. For example, a child may feel it’s harder for them to read quickly because of attention problems, but still acknowledge to themself that they are a good reader.

There are also times when parents hesitate to share a diagnosis because they themselves have a similar profile and recall associated challenges from their own childhood. They may fear that if their child shares this profile, they are bound to have the same sorts of negative experiences. Fortunately, we have come a long way over the past decades in our understanding of neurodiversity, as well as how to support neurodiverse individuals. So, your child’s journey will likely be much smoother than yours was, especially with your understanding and support.

How to start the ADHD discussion

When the time is right, parents can enlist the help of their neuropsychologist, psychologist, or pediatrician to provide direct feedback to their child. Alternatively, the discussion may arise organically. For example, if your child expresses frustration about something such as constantly getting in trouble in class for speaking without raising their hand. Or maybe they're having difficulty paying attention in their "boring" history class. Whatever they're experiencing in the ADHD areana, this is an opportunity for you to initiate the conversation by sharing with your child something like, "I spoke with your doctor and learned why you might be having that/these experience(s).”

It is important to recognize and discuss the idea that we all have strengths and weaknesses and your child is no different. You can give examples from your child’s profile and even incorporate some of your own experiences to illustrate this, you might say, “you are so amazing at solving puzzles, which is not so easy for me.”

Then, going a bit deeper with explanations your child is able to understand, you can discuss how there is a name for what they're experiencing called Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. Check in with your child to see if they know anything about this diagnosis, and then educate them about it. You tell them that this means that it is harder for your brain to focus during activities that are less interesting to you”. This is an excellent opening for you to discuss and dispel any misconceptions they may have. 

Finally, talk about the next steps, and the plans that are being established to support your child. For example, they will be given extra breaks to move and stretch at school, and they will be meeting with their pediatrician to see if medication could help.

Different Thinkers ADHD Parenting Book

Review the notion of neurodiversity

We also encourage introducing the idea of neurodiversity or using the phrase "different thinkers." You can explain how neurodiversity is to human culture as biodiversity is to the ecosystem, helping your child understand that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways. That there is no single "right" way of thinking, learning, or behaving.

You can also emphasize that there are many strengths associated with having a different thinking brain. For example, research shows that individuals with ADHD are often more creative and can focus passionately on preferred topics. This can be an amazing advantage when channeled into their future careers. These kids can also be very resilient, are often more spontaneous and willing to take risks, and can possess abundant energy. Many famous people have discussed how their ADHD has benefitted their careers, including CEOS and entrepreneurs, athletes, actors, and journalists. 

Give your child time to process this information

To aid in the child's adjustment to their diagnosis by providing them with developmentally appropriate resources. Many children are relieved to learn why they have been struggling and to hear that there are ways to help.

However, keep in mind that your child may not initially identify with their ADHD diagnosis and may need more time to think and learn about it. If this is the case, begin by validating your child’s feelings and give them the space and freedom to process the information at their own pace. 

Regardless of your child’s initial reaction, this will be an ongoing conversation, which will evolve and mature as your child gets older. Encourage them to ask questions, and provide developmentally appropriate resources, such as our new book Different Thinkers: ADHD which explains brain development and ADHD for an elementary-aged child. You can also connect your child with peers or family members who have similar profiles, to provide them with a sense of belonging. 

Always keep in mind that while difficulties with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity in children can result in challenges, there are also many advantages to having a different thinking style. Different thinkers can and do make wonderful things happen!

Pediatric Neuropsychologists Katia Fredriksen, Ph.D and Yael Rothman, Ph.D
Katia Fredriksen, Ph.D and Yael Rothman, Ph.D

About the Authors of this Guest Post 

Pediatric Neuropsychologists, Katia Fredriksen, Ph.D and Yael Rothman, Ph.D, are authors of the book Different Thinkers: ADHD (Boys Town Press, 2024). This is a resource written especially for elementary students in a relatable way that they will understand. When also read by moms and dads, this title can also serve as a good launching point for a family discussion about ADHD.

Dr. Fredriksen received a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from University of Massachusetts Boston. Her clinical training included inpatient and outpatient psychotherapy and asssessment with children, adolescents, and adults. Her graduate work focused on health behaviors, including sleep and substance use. She completed her post-doctoral training at a Boston-area private practice where she focused on autism, genetic disorders, learning disorders, and attention and executive functioning in a pediatric population. She has published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at national and international conferences. Dr. Fredriksen continues to lecture to parent groups and professional organizations.

Dr. Rothman spent a year teaching young children with autism prior to earning a doctoral degree from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology at Yeshiva University. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Children's Hospital, Washington, D.C., she was a pediatric neuropsychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Department of Pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine. She currently works at Stixrud Group, Silver Spring, Maryland, conducting comprehensive evaluations for children, adolescents, and young adults with a range of conditions impacting learning, behavior, and/or socioemotional functioning. In addition, she has done clinical research with a primary focus on autism spectrum disorders and has presented at conferences worldwide. Dr. Rothman has also published more than a dozen articles in medical journals and given lectures to parents and educators.

DISCLOSURE: MBE participates in the Amazon Affiliates program and receives a small bit of compensation, at no extra cost to buyers, when readers click on links in this post which result in a purchase.

No comments:

Post a Comment