In our fast paced world, with instant gratification at every turn, it is more and more challenging for children to develop sustained attention, focus, organizational and planning skills, and emotional regulation; known in neuroscience as executive functioning skills. Often as a parent is is hard to know how to help your child combat ADHD. You and your child are not alone.
Recently, “the number of children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) continues to climb, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There has been a 42% increase in the number of reported cases of ADHD since 2003, according to a CDC-led study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Today, 6.4 million children between the ages of 4 and 17 – 11% of kids in this age group – have received an ADHD diagnosis, according to the study, which is based on a survey of parents. That’s 2 million more children than in 2007.” (excerpt from: http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2013/11/22/adhd-diagnoses-rise-to-11-of-kids/)
What can parents do to help their child develop good executive functioning skills? Here are some simple things that can make a difference over time:
Develop a daily routine and schedule
The more predictable a child’s day is the greater the chance that they will remember and be successful on an ongoing basis. Often for children with ADHD, having a sense of time is impaired and so planning, organizing, and meeting deadlines is difficult. Having a regular routine for the morning and evening time where they get ready for school, pack their backpack, brush teeth, complete homework, and settle down for bed can be a great aid. Many families use white boards, a large poster sized calendar, or bound note cards to keep their child on track before and after school.
Use ‘cue cards’ with pictures for difficult activities
If your child is not good at making his/her bed, leaves the bathroom a mess, or their closet looks more like a drawer than a closet, then picture prompts/reminders could be helpful. When a child has executive functioning deficits, memory, focus and attention are impaired. What looks like defiant behavior is really a cognitive deficit. By creating a structure around an activity- picture reminders with step by step instructions- it can greatly aid your child’s ability to be successful.
Teach and normalize their growing skills
One of the most difficult and frightening things for children with executive function deficits is growing up and having the sense that something about them is different, yet not really knowing what it is that is different. This can be very distressing and the source of impaired self-esteem and self-efficacy. Low self efficacy can lead to emotional outbursts and refusal to do challenging activities. By teaching and explaining to your child the areas that they are needing some extra support and empowering them with knowledge and tolls, you will be supporting healthy and mature development in your middle school or adolescent child.
To make these interventions are successful, you, as the parent, must take time with your child and walk them through each activity that needs support. Only tackle one skill at a time. “Chunk” it down and keep it simple at first. Also, making it fun and game like will increase your child’s investment level in engaging in the task at hand.
The earlier you are able to implement these supports for your child, the easier it will be for them to be successful. If your child is older, has a history of frustration or shame with regard to their ability, getting additional support outside the home may be necessary. Enlisting the help of a professional that knows how to foster executive functioning is necessary to overcome the history of perceived failure. Also, make sure children are getting the support at school they need. Be sure you talk to your school about an IEP or 504 plan if your child has been diagnosed with any type of executive functioning deficit.
Marie O. Davis, MA, LPC, NCC is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Asheville, NC. She had been working with adolescents (11-17) for 10 years supporting executive functioning at home, in school and with peers. She uses expressive arts therapy and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy to augment new neural pathways in the brain to help develop attention, focus, and emotional regulation. For more information: www.bodysoulspiritasheville.com