After a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), parents and children may have lingering questions. Parents may not know how to start the conversation with their children. Children may not know what questions to ask. Children may be confused or scared about what ADHD actually means. Help children understand ADHD with a children’s book and conversation starter, written by a pediatrician–ADH-Me!
Just so we’re clear, let’s start with what ADHD is. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common behavioral condition affecting children between the ages of 2-17. Children with ADHD may have the following symptoms or behaviors:
- fidgety or restless
- cannot sit still
- forgets to raise hand before talking in class
- easily distracted
- appears to be “daydreaming”/doesn’t appear to be listening
- has difficulty with multistep commands
- has difficulty staying focused on tasks
These symptoms must be present for at least 6 months and become a concern before the age of 12. Symptoms should be seen at home and school. These symptoms should also occur with enough frequency and/or severity to cause problems with relationships at home or school, learning or makes it hard for the child to do what needs to be done day to day.
Children may think, “Is something wrong with me?” That’s where ADH-Me! can be helpful
When children receive the diagnosis of ADHD, it can be confusing for them.
What do those letters mean?
Is this just another thing that is wrong with me?
Why me? What did I do to deserve this?
They may not understand why they need to start seeing a doctor on a regular basis and not just for well child visits.
A child may be unsure, upset or confused as to why they may need to take a medicine if it is recommended by the doctor. Some children may feel different from other kids and refuse or become angry or frustrated.
It is important to get children on board with what is happening so that they can become active partners in their treatment. Helping them understand what is happening can make the situation less overwhelming and scary.
Over time, kids can become confident in their interactions with the doctor and with their parent, but more importantly learn to self-advocate for themselves.
Sounds awesome, right?
So, how to help children understand ADHD?
Readers of my blog will know I LOVE using children’s books as one way to explain what is happening to children. When parents use children’s books, it helps jump start those critical conversations with children. Children may identify with a certain character or storyline. It allows the conversation to unfold in a general and more relaxed way.
When children can “see” and follow a character who struggles in similar ways or has things happen to them that they can relate to, it helps to normalize their feelings. The most important thing in the early days beyond the diagnosis is to help your child understand that there is nothing “wrong” with them. They are not “bad.” Rather, their brain works differently than others. It’s what makes them unique and together, it’s something to learn more about.
Parenting Tip: Use children’s books to aid in understanding
That is why I love the book, ADH-Me! by Dr. John Hutton as a way to help children understand ADHD. It is one of my favorite “go to” books in the office. After the diagnosis of ADHD, I talk with the family and the child about what it means. I take the book and read it to the child, in front of the parent. I will often pause and look at the child and family at key sections to make sure there are no questions.
General themes covered
- Description of common symptoms: the character describes having “so many troubles made me feel sad.” Some of these “troubles” included: daydreaming, climbing and jumping, or kids calling him names. Others are being told to ‘try harder’ or ‘pay attention’. Your child may identify with some or all these traits.
- Defining ADHD for the child: Dr. Hutton does a nice job explaining each of the letters in detail. I especially like the message of hope: “help can be found”
- Remember the child’s perspective: “Was it contagious? Was it like poison ivy?” Getting any diagnosis can be scary. This book reminds readers what thoughts might swirl in the child’s mind.
- Normalize it! I love that the message is upbeat and positive, showing kids ADHD can run in families and that it won’t stop them from achieving their dreams because ‘artists, scientists, business owners’ have it too!
- Teamwork and partnership with family: The character and his family make a plan to help him be his best
- Monitoring symptoms: the storyline models how families work together with the doctor and teachers
- Potential treatments: behavioral strategies, medication, and working closely with the school
The illustrations are playful and sweet are done by Lisa Griffin. The paperback book is published by Blue Manatee Press.
More resources to understand ADHD
Understanding ADHD: Information for Parents (HealthyChildren.org)
Questions, question and more questions about ADHD (past blog post)
How to Explain ADHD to a Child–Without Making It a Bad Thing (AdditudeMag.com)