Explaining ADHD to Others

Filed under: Special Needs, Behavior, Development: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Development: Big Kids, Development: Tweens

explaining adhd

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Dealing with an ADHD diagnosis can be tough. The complexities of this disorder -- like when your child has a meltdown in the supermarket checkout line -- are not easily understood. You know that it's all part of the disorder, but all around you, eyeballs roll, and you hear judgmental comments like, "Why can't you control him?" or "She just needs to cut back on sugar." If only it were so easy!

Does ADHD define your child? Of course not! So how do you help others see past attention issues and appreciate your whole child? How can you explain your child's disorder to others, without sounding apologetic or preachy?

Not every situation allows you to fend for your child, but among friends and family, it's good to set the record straight and separate the symptoms of ADHD from your child's overall demeanor. As we've all been told: knowledge is the key to understanding.

When possible, inform friends and family of your child's disorder in advance of an encounter. This will sensitize onlookers and help you manage the situation. With its prevalence (the AAP reports that 4.4 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD) many people are already sensitive to its impact.

But for those novices, give them the bare facts:

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition of the brain that makes it hard for children to control their behavior. Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are the key behaviors of ADHD. Children with ADHD have frequent, severe problems that interfere with their ability to live normal lives. ADHD is usually diagnosed in childhood, although the condition can continue into adult years.

Analogies are another popular and useful way of explaining ADHD to outsiders. But since there are many different ways ADHD controls the brain, there are just as many appropriate analogies. Comparisons have been made to a moth drawn to the brightest light or the brain as a brakeless bike.

One particularly compelling one comes from an ADHD message board:

"When normal people look up at the night sky they see a starry night and they see the stars. They may focus on one particular star but they still see the rest of the sky around it.
When an ADHD person looks up at night, they see a star, then they look at another star, and then another. When they see another star they get distracted and lose their focus on the previous one. They see only single stars without seeing the whole picture."

For those who are deeply interested, or who continue to express skepticism about your child's disorder, invite them to accompany you to a doctor's visit. Check with the doctor first, of course, and then allow the doctor to address concerns and questions. Even though you are the expert on your child, some people need to hear from a professional to get the message!

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.