The pandemic has dramatically changed our kids’ daily lives, and many parents are noticing new behaviors at home and during distance learning that can be tricky to understand. For example, distraction and hyperactivity that are commonly associated with ADHD may actually be the result of anxiety or challenges adjusting to online education. Schools typically give kids structure, routine, frequent feedback about their behavior, and social outlets—many of which are now missing. Without this structure, children are coping in different ways and need different types of support. Creating structured routines at home as well as opportunities for spontaneity is a good place to start. A mental health professional can help you identify the root of your child’s behavior and provide the tools they need to thrive, even under difficult circumstances. If you suspect that your child may be struggling with ADHD, these common misunderstandings and facts can help you determine when to seek professional support.

#1 My child’s 2nd grade teacher diagnosed him with ADHD.

Fact: Teachers are incredible sources of information about a child’s socio-emotional and behavioral functioning. However, hyperactivity and distraction during distance learning may be a result of anxiety, trouble adjusting to the online format, or ADHD. Only qualified health care professionals (i.e. psychologists, psychiatrists and other physicians, and licensed clinical social workers) can accurately diagnose ADHD. It is possible that his teacher is correct, but it is important to consult a qualified professional who is specially trained in assessing and diagnosing ADHD. This is because there are other physical and emotional disorders—including hypoglycemia and anemia—that can share similar symptoms with ADHD.

#2 My child is diagnosed with ADHD, but I see her able to focus on her favorite activities.

Fact: ADHD symptoms are very often inconsistent. Attention can be strong at certain times, weak at others. This may be exacerbated by changing routines and uncertainty during the pandemic. Talk to your child’s teachers and other care providers about times of the day, activities, or situations that both highlight your child’s strengths and challenge her limits.

#3 I have an incredibly wild and hyper 4-year-old. Could it be ADHD?

Fact: While it is definitely possible that he may be showing initial symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity, it is best to consider the frequency, intensity, duration, and cultural expectations for behavior for his particular developmental stage. Symptoms of ADHD in early childhood should be observed, assessed, and diagnosed by a qualified professional. Young children with ADHD often struggle to follow directions and are quite prone to injuries, due to their hyperactivity and impulsivity. Therefore, there is much benefit to early diagnosis and incredible evidence-based success with early intervention.

#4 I suspect my child has ADHD, but I worry about labeling her.

Fact: Many parents share the fear of pathologizing their child with a mental health diagnostic label. A diagnosis is simply a description of a particular cluster of shared symptoms. Some benefits of grouping these symptoms into a diagnosis include the well-researched interventions that have been shown to reduce negative symptoms and increase positive strengths. Furthermore, people diagnosed with ADHD have often also been described as incredibly creative, exuberant, and energetic. They are often unique and exciting people who can get a lot done, such as very successful artists, actors, and business professionals.

If my child is diagnosed with ADHD, will we have to put him on medication?

Fact: Pharmacotherapy is just one of several strategies that can be selected as part of your child’s treatment plan. Medication can be a very helpful tool for many kids and families, especially when combined with behavioral modification and therapy. But, it is not a panacea. It is best to share all of your concerns and questions with your healthcare providers to create an individualized plan best suited to your child and your family. For more detailed information about ADHD diagnoses, treatment options, and advocacy strategies, schedule a virtual parent consultation with Ellie Pelc, PsyD.