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ADHD requires professional diagnosis. If you believe your child may have ADHD, please see your GP. They may carry out an initial assessment and then provide the necessary referral to see a specialist, such as a paediatrician or child psychologist.
There are no specific tests to diagnose for ADHD, so the assessment is made using a wide range of information provided by the child’s carers and school. Assessment can also include any history of the child’s behaviours, illnesses or traumas, and family relationships.
In Australia, ADHD assessments follow the criteria outlined by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). Assessment criteria include:
- Symptoms must have persisted for at least 6 months to a degree that is inconsistent with the development levels of the individual.
- There is clear evidence that symptoms interfere with, or reduce the quality of social, academic or occupational functioning.
- Symptoms must be present before the age of 12.
- Impairment of symptoms is observed across multiple settings, such as home, school or childcare.
Positive parenting strategies
Positive parenting strategies can involve routine building around the home and classroom, and planning out the learning environment so the child is appropriately stimulated and rewarded for positive behaviour. Some examples include:
- Uncovering what your child’s interests and strengths are. Try to weave these things into the learning and home environment to help build their confidence and peak their interest throughout the day. For example, reading them books that relate to their interests and passions.
- Understand your child’s unique challenges. Try to empathise with them and uncover whether there are any small changes that can help them, especially within the school environment.
- Provide regular praise. Remember that everyday tasks might be hard for someone with ADHD. What is usually deemed a ‘small thing’ might be a big thing to them. Providing positive re-enforcement will go a long way.
- Create a deep understanding of your child’s ADHD. This will help you recognise when your child’s behaviour is a physiological response and outside of their control and help to prevent maladaptive parenting responses.
- Build consistent routines at home and school. Consider using whiteboards to document key tasks, events and routines as visual prompts can help your child stick to their task.
- Ensure constructive language is used when discussing ADHD. There are many negative stigmas associated with the condition so focusing on a strength-based approach can help with self-esteem.
- If there is any undesirable behaviour, it’s important to address it, but it may be best to set a time to discuss it once you are both calm.
A referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist can also be an option, based on your GP’s recommendation. As is counselling for the child or the family.
Medication for ADHD
Sometimes medication is required to help manage the symptoms of ADHD and is generally prescribed by paediatricians, child psychiatrists or neurologists.
Stimulant medication has been the standard medication treatment for children with ADHD since the 1970s. Acting on the parts of the brain involved in controlling attention and arousal, these medications help to improve concentration, impulse control and hyperactivity in about 80 per cent of children with ADHD. It’s important to understand that whilst medications can help reduce symptoms and normalise behaviours, it is not permanent. It lasts only so long as the medication is active.
There are some side effects with stimulant medications, such as decreased appetite, and to a lesser extent stomach aches, dizziness or headaches, and trouble falling asleep. Some children may experience no side effects at all. As always, it’s important to be aware of any side effects, and that prescribed medication is regularly monitored by a treating doctor.
The best place to start is by speaking to your GP. They will be able to assess your individual situation and recommend the best next steps for your child.
Our team of mental health professionals are here to support you on our 24/7 Mental Health Phone Support line. It’s available to Medibank members with hospital cover 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1800 644 325~.
There’s no doubt that raising a child with ADHD can be challenging and stressful at times. But when surrounded by care, understanding, patience, and appropriate evidence-based support, a child with ADHD can thrive at school and at home.
~ OSHC members should call the Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.
While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees).
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