10 Tips for Explaining ADD to Children

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Has your child or student just been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder? In their book, Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood, psychiatrists Edward Hallowell and John Ratey share ten tips for explaining ADD to children.

  1. Tell the truth. This is the central, guiding principle. First, educate yourself about ADD, then put what you have learned into your own words, words the child can understand. Don’t just hand the child a book or send the child off to some professional for an explanation. Explain it to yourself, after you have learned about it, then explain it to the child. Be straightforward and honest and clear.
  2. Use an accurate vocabulary. Don’t make up words that have no meaning, or use inaccurate words. The child will carry the explanation you give him wherever he or she goes.
  3. The metaphor of nearsightedness is a useful one to use in explaining ADD to children. It is accurate and emotionally neutral.
  4. Answer questions. Ask for questions. Remember, children often have questions you cannot answer. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. Then go find the answer. Books by professionals who deal with ADD are good sources of information; see, for example, Paul Wender’s Hyperactive Children, Adolescents, and Adults, and Russell Barkley’s Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and CHADD (Children with Attention Deficit Disorders), a national organization devoted to educating parents, teachers, and professionals about ADD (CHADD, 499 NW 70th Avenue, Suite 308, Plantation, FL 33317; telephone: 305-587-3700).
  5. Be sure to tell the child what ADD is not: stupidity, retardation, defectiveness, badness, etc.
  6. Give examples of positive role models, either from history, such as Thomas Edison, or from personal experience, like a family member (Mom or Dad?).
  7. If possible, let others know the child has ADD. Let the others in the classroom know (after discussing this with the child and parents), and let others in the extended family know. Again, the message should be that there is nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of.
  8. Caution the child not to use ADD as an excuse. Most kids, once they catch on to what ADD is, go through a phase of trying to use it as an excuse. ADD is an explanation, not an excuse. They still have to take responsibility for what they do.
  9. Educate others. Educate the other parents and children in the classroom. Educate members of the extended family. The single strongest weapon we have to ensure that children get proper treatment is knowledge. Spread the knowledge as far as you can; there is still a great deal of ignorance and misinformation out there about ADD.
  10. Coach the child on how he might answer questions other people might have, especially peers. The guiding principle is the same: tell the truth. You might try role-playing a scene where a peer is teasing the child in order to anticipate and deal with such a problem in advance.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., is in private practice in adult and child psychiatry. He lives in the Boston area with his wife, Sue, and children, Lucy and Jack. John J. Ratey, M.D., is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is in private practice. He lives in the Boston area with his wife, Nancy, and children, Jessica and Kathryn. They are the authors of Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood (Copyright (c) 2009 by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. And John J Ratey, M.D.).

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