Diagnosing ADHD not easy

By Amy Bloch
Therapy Talk

Question: I came back from my 9-year-old daughter’s school conference a few weeks ago and the teacher suggested “Kate” might have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). I really respect her teacher, but I don’t understand this. She is getting good grades and not having any behavior problems in school or at home. Her teacher said that she doesn’t stay focused on her work and seems to daydream when she isn’t interested in the subject or when she is supposed to be reading. She also said Kate jumps from topic to topic when she is talking. Kate was there (not when the teacher mentioned ADHD) and said that there are times it is hard for her to focus on what they are talking about, but not always. On the ride home we talked about it and she said that she thinks she can improve on this. Is this ADHD? The teacher said maybe I should have Kate “checked out.” Does this mean my daughter needs medication? I am not sure what to do. I want Kate to be successful in school, but I also worry that they are over-reacting and that she is only nine. I would appreciate any thoughts you have about my situation. – Anne W.

Response: There is nothing worse than hearing that our child is having problems with something and it sounds like you were caught off guard by the information. This makes it even harder to process.

I wish that I could give you answers to what exactly is going on with your daughter, but unfortunately I can’t. What I can do is provide you with information – some suggestions – and reassure you that regardless of whether or not Kate has ADHD, she is still your Kate, just as she was the day before you met with her teacher.

That being said, let me tell you what ADHD is and what it isn’t. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a diagnosis that is given to kids and adults, that describes a pattern of behavior. We often hear those letters and may think of kids who are hyper, not sitting still, or may be having behavior problems. While some kids have a type that is hyperactive, others have a type that is called “inattentive.” Some symptoms of this are:

  • trouble staying focused; easily distracted/gets bored with a task before it’s completed
  • appears not to listen when spoken to
  • difficulty following instructions; doesn’t pay attention to details
  • trouble staying organized
  • frequently loses or misplaces homework, toys, or other items.

Having your child “checked out” for this would entail meeting with a psychologist who is trained in diagnosing ADHD. They gather information from you as the parent, as well as from your child’s teacher and then make recommendations to you as the parent. One recommendation may be medication. This is sometimes used to help kids’ brains slow down enough to help them focus and stay on track. This can be a scary prospect for parents, but for many kids it is a life-changer. Other alternatives include behavioral intervention both at home and school. These often include positive reinforcement targeted at improving staying focused on the task at hand.

Kate may or may not have ADHD, but it sounds like she has both a mom and a teacher who want her to be successful. My biggest piece of advice is to schedule a time to meet with her teacher when she has more than the standard 10 minutes during a jam-packed night of conferences. Get more specifics. Talk about some things the two of you can work on together to help Kate with the areas she may be struggling in. Regarding Kate’s daydreaming, you got me there. I have a daydreamer myself and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Amy Bloch, LISW, is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Sioux City. Sioux City contact information is (712) 252-4547. Please send all Therapy Talk questions to info@cathchar.com.

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