ADHD can bring a storm of chaos into your home. You are tense, waiting for the next outburst or phone call from your kid’s teacher. You are tired, struggling, and trying to figure out how to assimilate all the information being thrown at you. The great news is that there is a great deal of data and research available to parents today. The bad news is that it can be overwhelming, or take too much time to find the information you really need, much less figure out how to apply it to your family’s individual situation. Decisions around treatment and management are areas of confusion and, often, frustration.
There is an enormous range of treatment and management options, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. ADHD shows up differently in each child, even in children from the same family. What works for one kid may not work for another; what works for your kid today may not work next week. It is a process of trial and error to figure out a workable plan – and it changes over time. We find that kids are most successful with a wide range of supports from all sides – from parents, from health professionals, from counselors, and from school and community.
In fact, the research is conclusive: ADHD is best addressed by a multi-modal approach. For example, research suggests that a combination of medical treatment and other supports, such as parent training, is most effective in helping kids with ADHD. But how do you know what to choose?
As a parent, when you have a well-stocked toolbox, you can consider all of your options, enabling you to make the best decisions possible for your child at any given time. To keep that toolbox well organized, we have found it particularly useful to make a distinction between treatment and management of ADHD. While this is not a hard-and-fast distinction, and some may argue for a different system of organization, we have found that when parents view treatment and management as distinct “buckets,” it is easier to take that multi-modal approach.
- Options for treatment include (but are not limited to): medication, occupational therapy, talk therapy, play therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, nutrition and exercise.
While there are many aspects to the treatment of ADHD, medication remains one of the most common approaches used to treat ADHD. Some parents choose not to medicate their children, while others find it to be a valuable part of their treatment plan. While we are neither for or against medication, it is important to remember that medication is not a quick fix, and it can bring with it side effects that are difficult to understand and handle. It is also not a surefire treatment, as some children do not respond well to the medication. The ultimate goal of medication is to address the chemical processes in the brain. For families who choose not to or are unable to use prescription medication, nutrition, and exercise may influence the metabolic processes of the brain.
In addition to medication, various forms of therapy are often used in the treatment of ADHD. It is important to look at all the ways ADHD shows up in your child, and develop a treatment plan that may include a range of strategies over time. For example, occupational therapy in small children may give way to talk therapy for teenagers. You will change your approach as your child matures.
Treatment for ADHD can be extremely helpful to long-term success, but it is not enough on its own. Some aspects of Executive Function cannot be addressed metabolically, and are best managed behaviorally. A child with a messy backpack is not likely to magically start putting everything in place as a result of a pill. Parents need to understand what is possible, and help the child learn to put systems in place that will work for him or her. That is why a multi-modal approach includes both treatment and management.
- Options for management include (but are not limited to): parent training, parent coaching, behavior management therapy, social skills groups, tutoring, special education, and ADHD coaching.
While treatment plans address the medical and therapeutic needs of children with ADHD, management plans can help address executive function challenges, assist families in coping in a positive and effective way, and set their children up for long-term success. Ultimately, since ADHD is a challenge of self-regulation, parents must learn how to effectively manage their child’s ADHD, and then teach that child to manage his or herself.
Conscious management of ADHD, such as parent training and coaching for adults, or social skills groups for kids, helps you discover and practice essential skills and strategies. It gives you the structures you need, and guidance on how to apply what you know about ADHD to what your family’s needs. Management strategies help you make it through another day, and start to look forward to tomorrow. When you have a handle on your own stress and on your own emotions, and some structure for making the many decisions required of you around treatment and management, it is much easier to help your child learn to deal with ADHD.
When you fly, you’re told that, in an emergency, you should put your own oxygen mask on first. That way, you have the wherewithal to help your kids. Parent coaching is your oxygen mask. Take a deep breath: you can help your ADHD kid. You can quiet the chaos that ADHD has brought into your life and reconnect with the joy of parenting and family.
As a parent, you are one of the most important pieces of the puzzle – or rather, you’re all four corners and the border. You are the decision-maker in your child’s ADHD treatment and management. When you have the tools to help your child manage ADHD, your child has a much better shot at success.