"Is this normal?" was a question my husband and I often asked ourselves, our pediatrician and teachers about our oldest child during her first six years of life.
She frequently fidgeted, she was impulsive and she needed constant reminders - not to run, not to climb on furniture, to pick up toys, to pick up her clothes, to slow down while talking, to focus on what she was trying to do, to stop and breathe, to sit down, to try to be calm.
It could be just her age, we were told during preschool. She’s a tomboy, a bright and active child, we told ourselves - because she had always been. Our child could easily pay attention when it was something she was interested in, like building with Legos. But oftentimes, those moments of dedicated solitude were far and few between.
It was while sitting in a parent-teacher conference with my child’s first grade teacher that I received a different answer to my questions. When my daughter’s teacher showed me a video of my then-first-grader reading a book while walking in circles at the same time, constantly having to keep in motion, tears streamed down my face.
"Get her tested," the teacher said.
A screening test and follow-up appointments with a psychiatrist confirmed what we suspected, but feared: Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.
As a parent, you want your kids to be "normal." You pray for them to be healthy, to be happy, and anything out of that norm is feared or even dreaded. But as I’ve realized over the last three years since the diagnosis, having a child with ADHD does not make our child abnormal or even unique. Instead, it’s simply a facet of who she is, much like her curly brown hair or hazel eyes; it’s like her love of cucumbers and her uncanny ability to remember every single word of any song she’s ever heard. It’s a part of who she is, but it does not make her who she is. It’s a diagnosis, but not a definition.
ADHD is also not something caused by her schooling, or not having enough time in P.E. (between physical education, time on the playground, soccer practice and time spent running around with friends at our neighborhood park - my kids have plenty of time to "get their energy out.") That’s not the issue.
At least 9.4 percent of children ages 4 to 17 had been diagnosed with have an attention disorder, according a 2016 report by the National Survey of Children’s Health. In some states, including Alabama, the diagnosis rate is even higher. Around 14 percent of children had been diagnosed in 2011, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the CDC, there are three subtypes of ADHD, including predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and combined, which is the most common and includes a combination of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.
Inattention and hyperactivity in children can be normal. But ADHD can be more than that and can cause problems with school, problems at home and difficulties in social settings or with friends. According to the CDC, children with ADHD may:
- Frequently daydream
- Forget or lose things a lot
- Squirm or fidget
- Talk too much
- Make careless mistakes or take unnecessary risks
- Have a hard time resisting temptation
- Have trouble taking turns
- Have difficulty getting along with others
But a diagnosis is not a bad thing. For us, it was a positive move, leading us to become educated on ways to help our kid. ADHD can be controlled, through various methods, and the symptoms sometimes fade as children get older. Other times, ADHD can last well into adulthood. The important thing is recognizing it, diagnosing it and taking actions so that your child - and yourself - can cope, but also flourish.
For more information on ADHD from the American Academy of Pediatrics, go to www.healthychildren.org.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.