As a Clinical Psychologist in Venezuela, I have been devoted to helping families with different health issues, syndromes, disorders and challenging circumstances. My work changed when my 5 year old son, Sebastian, who is now 10 years old, was diagnosed with ADHD. Since then, it has been one of my private practice passions to better understand the path of success for us. He's gone from a boy who could not stay still 3 minutes and had very loud tantrums, to a pre-teen who is extremely athletic, practices Karate-Do and Swimming, is fluently bilingual, does well in school, and is a mature, sensible person. That makes me proud. We are prepared for what is yet to come.
Sharing the experience of parenting a child with ADHD has helped me relate to stories and heart-felt stressed words from parents. As a parent, you have the power to make an enormous difference in the life of your child. I see it in my practice. And I've seen it with my son. It's not always easy. But the rewards are worth all the effort.
As a parent you can find thousands of references, publications, journals, books, blogs, websites etc, with all sorts of trends, intervention plans, naturalistic vs. pharmaceutical treatments, etc. I highly recommend following, systematically, this 7 step plan for managing life with an ADHD child.
1) Specialist Team
Create a team capable of providing the information and coaching needed to make a difference. I have often seen parents wander form one team to another, from physician to physician, in search of a different diagnosis. It is common to look for second opinions. But I suggest that parents learn the basics of ADHD scientific data, and establish their own opinion. Then you can rely on a professional team to guide you through every step of the way. If the stigma of having a diagnosis is too much to bear, I encourage parents to work on behaviors that are obvious. Diagnostics have the purpose of providing an intervention plan and goal. It is the starting point, nothing else. It tells parents where they're at, and where they need to be heading. It also allows the intervention team to set goals and track development. So if there is certain fear of diagnostics, fear not!!! Embrace the information it brings, along with a working plan.
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2) Behavioral Management Techniques
Cognitive-Behavioral tools are key to the intervention plan, and parents are part of the solution. Parents always have the widest behavioral sample of their children, as they have seen and felt the range of behaviors that their children can present. Parents may become co-therapists or co-coaches, and train themselves and all those relevant to the child's success in life, with behavioral techniques worth applying. For example, children need a reason to strive -- motivation! If the reinforcing plan is not working, it is very likely you haven't discovered the child's motivation. If the consequences do not impact the child's misbehavior, then something in the formula is not right. Usually, one of the basic principles is out of base. A Behavioral Intervention Plan should be: Simple, Observable, Measurable, Motivating, Consistent and Effective. Specialists are trained to seek the gaps and make it work.
Consistency is KEY to success at any level. If parents want to see improvement, they have to show the child stability, habits, routines, and repetition. What is practiced becomes easy. The same applies for parents. Despite the difficulty, parents must be persistent in taking their child through the training and activities they must attend to show improvement, such as working with Teaching Specialists, Psychologists, Occupational or Language Therapists, Coaches, etc. ADHD behavior is usually variable, so parents will see improvement and setbacks. If parents surrender, development and success stops. Parents must understand that there will be set backs – they're normal -- and when they happen, the person who needs encouraging words and actions is the child.
4) Diet does matter
It is scientifically proven that a gluten free diet impacts behavioral impulsiveness, inattention symptoms and general health. The fact is, gluten and processed carbohydrates are long known to promote a slower intestinal system and make people become lethargic. Now, if we all know this information, is it too much to ask to improve the family's overall health? I don't think so. Once again, there are big differences and contradictions on ADHD diet recommendations in online sources, so rely on your chosen specialist.
5) Sports and Arts
As a Psychologist, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of extra-curricular activities in everyone's lives. Physically, a child´s brain receives extra oxygen when performing an aerobic activity. Socially and emotionally, a child becomes part of a different group from the school classroom, with a better opportunity to feel welcome or to exceed expectations. Intellectually, learning another discipline creates new neurological circuits and addresses some of the motor skill deficits common in kids with ADHD.
6) Parents Health
Managing children with ADHD can feel like an uphill battle some days, while things go smoothly on others (God bless those days!). Yet, I always encourage parents to take a break, have fun, relax with the family and spend some time alone. It's a matter of Self-Care, as my dear friend Elaine D´Beauport taught me. An exhausted parent is rarely of any help at all. So, parents should become aware of their personal signs and symptoms of stress, and address them as soon as possible. Better still, parents should have a personal quality of life plan and schedule, rather than waiting for stress signals to arise. When you are a healthy, happy and well-trained parent, you will do a better job in dealing with ADHD and so many other challenges that life brings along.
7) Team Work, Groups and Networks
It is more common today to see parents and families sharing their success and debates, and listening to and helping each other. The Children and Adults Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Organization (CHADD) has a Parent to Parent training for understanding ADHD. There are many very well organized groups, like Impact Parents' Coaches Club, that handle the ADHD subject successfully, and coach parents to manage the process. Educational Consultants offer trainings to help with Educational Accommodations. Team up and advocate for everyone's child.
With today's plan and actions, you can create tomorrow's dream for you and your children. I wish all readers great success, and hope you will ask me questions, which I will be happy to answer. Best regards and success to Impact Parents and its incredible program of parent support. God knows, we all need it!!!
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