This is the first in a series of posts about learning and behavior I will do over the next several weeks. Parents are often afraid of labels when it comes to getting an appropriate assessment of learning or behavior issues.
I see a lot of children with various behavioral and learning issues. Teachers and parents often first think of ADHD with any problem, but that isn’t always the problem, or at least the primary one. It’s simply one of the most common diagnoses. Since it’s so common, I will focus on this topic often, but it can mimic other problems and it often coexists with other issues.
I firmly believe that kids with learning and behavioral problems cannot just “work harder” to fix the problem.
We would never ask a child in a wheelchair to “just try harder” to walk up stairs. We shouldn’t expect someone who has trouble focusing to be able to “just try harder” either.
When I’m sleep deprived, I cannot focus as well. I cannot read and comprehend what would typically be easily understood and retained. I lose track of things. I lose my temper more easily or get upset about the little things that usually wouldn’t phase me. I must put extra effort into everything, which is even more exhausting.
I liken this to how some people feel most of the time.
How can we possibly expect them to just try harder without professional assessment and treatment?
What about labeling?
One reason parents don’t want to have their child diagnosed with ADHD or any other learning or behavioral problem is that they fear a label.
What’s a label?
It’s not a diagnosis, but the way we’re perceived. Think about how many judgements and labels you make in a day.
I try really hard to not judge because it’s not my place, but those thoughts sneak into my mind all the time:
- That person is rude.
- That’s my shy (hyper, loud, smart, active, loving, etc) child.
- That outfit is inappropriate.
- That group of giggling girls is too loud and out of control.
I don’t say anything with these thoughts most of the time because it’s not my place.
I often mentally rebuke myself for having them, but I still have the thoughts.
The truth is that we all make judgements all the time. And when a child acts out a lot, he is judged and labeled.
If a child never seems to be organized, she is judged and labeled.
If a child falls behind academically, he is judged and labeled.
If a child bothers other kids in class with movements or talking, he is judged and labeled.
It happens with or without a diagnosis. The label is there.
With proper management, your child might lose the negative labels and be able to succeed!
Aren’t behaviors and focus problems from bad parenting?
Probably in part due to this stigma, parents worry about how the diagnosis will reflect on the child and family. If a child has an infectious disease or a chronic condition such as asthma, there is much less hesitation to assess, diagnose, and treat the illness.
If this is just due to bad parenting, how does medicine help?
Diagnosing isn’t always easy.
One of the problems with diagnosing many learning and behavioral disorders is they’re difficult to test for since there is a continuum of symptoms of normal and atypical and there are so many variables (such as sleep) that can affect both learning and behavior.
There are diagnostic tools that should be used to assess the issues at hand. Your child shouldn’t be diagnosed without a standardized assessment. There are many available, depending on the concerns (ADHD, anxiety, dyslexia) and the age of the child, and sometimes kids need more than one type of assessment. Some of these can be done at your physician’s office. Others can be done with a professional who offers that type of assessment.
There is no proof that electroencephalography (EEG) or neuroimaging is helpful to establish the diagnosis of ADHD.
So many excuses to wait…
There are many reasons for parents to be hesitant to begin an evaluation when their kids are showing signs of a learning or behavioral problem.
- Some think it’s just a phase.
- Many wonder if another few months of maturity will help the child.
- Some think the child is just misbehaving and stricter rules or harsher punishments will help.
- Others think the child is just looking for attention and giving more praise will help.
- Some parents think it is because of the other children around — you know, “Little Johnny is always messing around in class so my Angel Baby gets in trouble talking to him.”
- We should try something else. (Linked blog is from a parent who shares her story.)
Why not wait?
While I’m all for looking for things on your own that can help a child’s behavior and optimize their learning (to be covered in a future post), I also think that avoiding the issue too long can lead to secondary problems:
- academic failures
- poor self-esteem
- drug/alcohol abuse
- accidental injuries due to impulsivity and hyperactivity
- strain on family life
- social issues with peers
Working with the school and seeking professional help outside of school can help your child succeed.
If a parent is not wanting to start medication, there are other things that can be done that might help the child succeed once the specific issues are identified.
Not treating ADHD and learning differences has consequences.
The children suffer from poor self-esteem because they constantly are reminded that their behavior is bad or they fail to perform at their academic potential.
They have a harder time doing tasks at school because they lose focus. They get distracted and miss important information.
Children get in trouble for talking inappropriately, acting out or for invading other’s personal space.
Social skills lag behind those of peers and they often have a hard time interpreting how others react to their behaviors.
Their impulsivity can get them into dangerous situations, causing more injuries.
Older kids might suffer from depression and anxiety from years of “failures”.
Teens often try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
Why are you hesitant?
If you still worry about labeling your child with a diagnosis, think about what the root of your worry really is.
Remember that the diagnosis is only a word. It doesn’t define the best treatments for your child, but it opens the doors to allow investigation of treatments that might help your child. In the end most parents want healthy, happy kids who will become productive members of society.
How can you best help them get there?
Looking for more?
Many parents benefit from support groups to learn from others who have gone through or are currently going through similar situations, fears, failures, and successes. Find one in your area that might help you go through the process with others who share your concerns. If you know of a support group that deserves mention, please share!
CHADD is the nationwide support group that offers a lot online and has many local chapters, such as ADHDKC. I am a volunteer board member of ADHDKC and have been impressed with the impact they have made in our community in the short time they have existed (established in 2012). I encourage parents to attend their free informational meetings. The speakers have all been fantastic and there are many more great topics coming up!
Many parents are surprised to learn how much anxiety can affect behavior and learning. To look for local support groups, check out the tool on Psychology Today.
The Autism Society has an extensive list of resources.
Dyslexia Help is designed to help dyslexics, parents, and professionals find the resources they need, from scholarly articles and reviewed books to online forums and support groups.
Learning Disabilities Association of America offers support groups as well as information to help understand learning disabilities, negotiating the special education process, and helping your child and yourself.
Tourette’s Syndrome and Tic Disorders
Tourette’s Syndrome Association is a great resource for people with tic disorders.
General Support Group List
For a list of many support groups in Kansas: Support Groups in Kansas .
Choosing schools for kids with ADHD and learning differences isn’t always possible, but look to the linked articles on ways to decide what might work best for your child. When choosing colleges, look specifically for programs they offer for students who learn differently and plan ahead to get your teen ready for this challenge.
Midwest ADHD Conference – April 2018
Check out the Midwest ADHD Conference coming to the KC area in April, 2018. I’m involved in the planning stages and it will be a FANTASTIC conference for parents, adults with ADHD, and educators/teachers.