The first thing to do when your child gets an ADHD diagnosis is to take a deep breath. That’s also the second, third, and fourth things to do. This is especially true if it feels like a shock or confirmation of your worst fears. I promise you: It isn’t as bad as all that.
For families who are old hands with the condition, the response might be, “Well, duh” or “Yep, her too” – that level of blasé may feel beyond you right now, but remember that ADHD is at its worst when you don’t know that that is what’s making your life harder and therefore don’t know what to do to make things better. The good news about an accurate diagnosis is that it puts us in a much better position to identify the strategies that are most likely to be effective. As I often say, knowledge is power.
Just Educate Yourself
The next thing to do with a new diagnosis is to educate yourself about it – with no pressure to do anything with that information yet. Just gather information and try to wrap your brain around what ADHD is (and isn’t). You’ll probably find that a lot of things that didn’t make sense before, suddenly make sense when seen through the lens of ADHD. As in, “No wonder he did so well with the hardest math teacher that he really liked, but kind of tanked that easy but boring social studies class.” It can feel like getting to the last chapter in the mystery novel when suddenly all the random bits and pieces fall into place and make sense.
Talk with friends and family who have a child with ADHD and benefit from their wisdom, but remember that everyone is unique. Ask what websites, books, podcasts, blogs, etc. they recommend and why. Check out the national ADHD advocacy organization, CHADD (www.chadd.org). There’s a ton of information available, but don’t try to get to it all, or you’ll feel like you’re drowning. Absorb it at the pace that you need to.
Your job right now is to inform your thinking, but don’t feel pressured to make any decisions or do anything about it. Unless there’s an actual crisis (for example, your child is on the verge of failing the school year), you have time. A smart decision is better than a fast one. Some people who’ve been here before you may push you to cut to the chase more quickly than you feel comfortable with, because they feel like they know what you need to do. Be open to input, but stand your ground on decision-making until you feel comfortable taking steps.
Also, remind yourself that because ADHD often lasts into adulthood, you’ll continue to educate yourself about it (and all the rest of parenting) as your child goes through different developmental stages. Life is a moving target, so we need to keep learning.
The good news about ADHD is that it tends to respond pretty well to treatments. Future posts will cover them in more detail, but you may want to start by talking with your pediatrician about medication – what it does, the risks and side effects, and to what extent it might be warranted for your child at this time. Again, talking about it carries no obligation to do anything about it. However, consider the fact that generally the medication tends to be quite effective and also safe and helps your child be consistent in a way that they just couldn’t without it. Many families I see who were hesitant about medication but eventually try it often wish they had started it sooner, because of the preventable suffering.
You may also want to get a recommendation from your pediatrician or guidance counselor for a therapist that you can see. A therapist can help you and your child better understand the impact of ADHD and help everyone work better together to manage life’s demands. With younger kids, it’ll probably be mostly family sessions and some with just the parents. With teens, there may be more individual sessions, but there should still be some sessions with parents.
Managing ADHD well is a process, so seek out the support that will give you good ideas and keep you sane.
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