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ADHD: What is it, what are the symptoms and how can I get my student diagnosed?

It's good to know there are multiple treatments and resources in the Tampa Bay area to help students.

TAMPA, Fla. — While many students went back to school earlier in 2021, some have been learning remotely for more than a year now.

And with most counties here in the Tampa Bay area heading back into the classroom this fall, now may be the last parents have to really watch how their children learn.

Since the pandemic began, the nonprofit Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has seen a 62-percent increase in calls to their helpline regarding ADHD.

As a parent or guardian, it’s good to know there are certain things you can look for in your child if you believe they have ADHD.

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is defined as a disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Most cases are diagnosed in a child’s elementary school years. It may be more common than you might think: nine percent of kids in the US have it.

If you think your student may be one of them, here are some things you should look for according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Is your child missing details and making careless mistakes, having trouble with sustaining attention in things like schoolwork and in play, and being easily distracted by unrelated thoughts or things?

The NIMH also says that kids with ADHD may also fidget and squirm, leave their seats when they’re not supposed to, as well as talk non-stop.

According to Dr. William Kronenberger from Riley Children's Hospital, "Every child is going to fidget. Every child is going to have attention problems… at times. The question is: is it unusual, and does it affect their daily functioning and so you start by watching your child."

If you’re noticing these symptoms in your child, here’s what you can do.

First, get a doctor’s diagnosis. A pediatrician, psychologist or psychiatrist with a background in ADHD will need to do a comprehensive evaluation.

They’ll determine if your child’s symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity are chronic or long-lasting. They’ll also look at whether the symptoms impair the child’s functioning, causing them to fall behind development for their age.

While there is no cure for ADHD, there are multiple treatment options.

According to the NIMH, these treatments will help reduce symptoms and improve functioning.

First, you have medication. The most common type is a stimulant. It works by increasing brain chemicals, which play major roles in thinking and attention.

You’ll need to work with your child’s doctor to find the right combination of medications and dosages. Be patient, this can take time.

If your child has bothersome side effects or a stimulant medication isn’t effective your doctor may opt to use non-stimulant medications.

There are also a variety of psychotherapies and psychosocial interventions.

And it’s more than just treating the physical.

Your child may be feeling frustrated, angry and may even blame themselves. That’s where mental health counselors can help both your child – and your family.

There are behavior therapies that can help to change behaviors associated with ADHD. Children can also learn to be accepting of their thoughts and feelings and improve focus in therapy.

There’s family therapy and parenting skills training. Parents will learn better ways to handle disruptive behaviors and ways to reward positive behaviors.

According to Dr. Trevor Bixler from Boys Town, "I think on average a child with ADHD needs more reinforcement, in other words more carrots to work for so to speak, more motivators than youth who do not have ADHD and that's been much harder with online learning."

There are also support groups for families to connect with others with similar concerns.

Here locally in the Tampa Bay area, there are counseling centers and behavioral health specialists that can help with evaluations, counseling and coaching.

And keep in mind that many of those therapies can be done virtually.

A good first step if you’re noticing ADHD symptoms in your child is to contact their primary care doctor. They can point you in the right direction of an evaluation and treatment from a behavioral health specialist.

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