Many Australian children are affected by Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). While causes of ADHD are unknown, there is a strong genetic component. ADHD symptoms are seen in all children from time to time, which can make it difficult to diagnose. ADHD impacts an individual’s attentional abilities, executive function processes, resulting in them being over-active and acting on impulse rather than thoughtfully. ADHD can affect children’s home, social and school life. It’s important to note that ADHD affects children in different ways, and so support and intervention strategies need to be tailored to individual needs.
KidsMatter is a framework that supports schools and early childhood services to promote positive wellbeing and mental health for children. KidsMatter supports schools and early childhood services to identify children who show signs of mental health difficulties, such as ADHD, and reduce the risk of mental health difficulties by focusing on early identification and intervention. KidsMatter supports schools, early childhood services and families to find professional support when intervention is needed. Health and community professionals play an important role in supporting schools and early childhood services when working with children and families. Professionals can provide their expertise for targeted interventions and referral pathways for those children showing signs of ADHD.
Component 1 of KidsMatter, Creating a positive community, supports children to gain a sense of belonging and connection, and fosters the development of positive relationships in education and community settings. Children with ADHD experience difficulties in self-management and organisation, and may need support at home, in early childhood settings and school, to engage in learning and guide their behaviour. Supporting children with ADHD to feel connected to school and develop positive relationships is a key protective factor that fosters resilience.
Underlying Component 1 of the KidsMatter framework, health and community professionals can provide important advice to parents and carers regarding the general principles for assisting children with ADHD. These general principles include:
Children with ADHD require more routine and structure in their day than other children of a similar age. Try to ensure that rules and instructions are clear, brief and, where possible, presented in charts and lists.
Maintaining a good relationship
Relationships can become strained with children with ADHD whose behaviour is often stressful to deal with. Having fun and taking note of children’s interests are important in relationships. Trying to maintain a good relationship with children will assist with their self-esteem and help them to be more cooperative. Taking some time out where possible can also be important and can benefit everyone.
Being involved and providing support at social events
Being part of school social events can help build a sense of belonging and provide education and support opportunities. This can provide sound openings for advice on strategies such as to keep an eye out for the things that trigger certain behaviours in the child (e.g., over-stimulation at birthday parties). Noticing these things will help in managing behaviours, namely by being able to put strategies in place to manage the situation.
Developing social and emotional skills
Supporting children with ADHD to develop social and emotional competence and build resilience is important. Component 2 of KidsMatter, Social and emotional learning for children, provides opportunities to teach social and emotional skills which leads to the promotion of effective problem solving skills. Adults can model and teach these skills for children to adopt. Psychoeducation for families and children can help parents and carers gain knowledge and skills to manage challenging behaviours and children learn new skills that can help them gain control over their main symptoms more quickly. Children may benefit from universal programs but also may require new targeted support. Children with ADHD often benefit from adapting instructions for different areas of difficulty in education settings and can benefit from setting clear expectations and routines and having prolonged discipline strategies to help develop children’s self-management abilities. This is a key area that health and community professionals can provide support with; for example by providing ways of adapting school and early childhood setting instructions and behavioural management, and assisting families in developing discipline strategies, instructions and routines to improve the child’s self-management.
Working collaboratively with families, early childhood services and schools
Component 3 of KidsMatter, Working with families, supports early childhood services and schools to connect with families. Parents and carers are key supports to children’s good mental health, so fostering strong connections between education staff and families is important when supporting children with ADHD. Health and community professionals can play an important role in working with families, early childhood services and schools to support families to feel connected to their child’s education setting as well as connecting with other parents who share similar concerns about their children. Specifically, children with ADHD often benefit from a coordinated approach that establishes a plan between home and early childhood services or schools. This plan should focus on ways to help the child overcome difficulties with executive functions as well as using the child’s strengths. Health and community professionals play an essential role in working with and promoting collaboration between families, early childhood services and schools in building a tailored individual plan.
Connecting children with ADHD to external support
Component 4 of KidsMatter, Helping children with mental health difficulties, assists early childhood services and schools to recognise signs of mental health difficulties as soon as possible, and work with families to provide support. Health and community professionals can help to support children with ADHD to engage and connect with school, and can also offer support and intervention outside the education setting.
Health and community professionals can offer valuable support to families and education staff when working with children with ADHD by:
- providing psycho-education to family members and education staff about ADHD including identification of early warning signs, referral pathways and targeted intervention strategies
- implementing support strategies to build on a child’s strengths, skills and resilience through day-to-day interaction and planning
- supporting families and education staff to build their skills and confidence when responding to children with ADHD
- assisting with referral pathways to appropriate professionals
Children with ADHD benefit from a learning environment that adapts instructions tailored to the child (e.g., short, simple, clear instructions; ensuring understanding; asking for child to repeat instructions; listing equipment needed) that support the different executive functions affected by ADHD through self-management and organisation. Health and community professionals can be involved in helping early childhood services and schools to implement tailored strategies and targeted intervention for supporting children with ADHD. Research shows that best outcomes for children’s mental health are more likely when schools and early childhood services work together with families and health and community agencies. A collaborative approach ensures children remain connected to education settings and there is a coordinated effort to support children and families at home and at school/early childhood services.