By Carrie Jones
Carrie Jones has a master’s in Public Health and is an epidemiologist working at our clinic in Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea. She has ADHD, and she has three sons with ADHD.
The Many Manifestations of ADD1/ADHD
Note: Many typical ADHD behaviors are in fact typical young child behaviors. If a child reaches the age of six and still struggles significantly with attention and activity level, it’s probably time to take them to the doctor for an assessment.
We all know that ADHD kids have difficulty paying attention and are often hyperactive. In addition, ADHD also sometimes manifests as
- Eruptions of frustration and anger (more intense and frequent than most of their peers)
- Physically lashing out (in my sons, usually with immediate remorse)
- Impulsivity; doing things without thinking – and often acting dismayed and seemingly surprised by it afterward! They, therefore, seem to frequently make poor choices.
- Hearing loss; you may have to call their names and repeat questions multiple times.
- Calling out during inappropriate times (e.g., in the middle of class, when the teacher is reading)
- Blurting out answers before people have finished asking the question
- Difficulty waiting for things, including their turn in a group activity or in sharing a toy. May often yank things away from others in their impatience.
- Difficulty sustaining attention enough to enjoy reading a book2
- Difficulty shifting between tasks: suspending focus on one thing and focusing instead on something else
- Hyperfocus on things! As odd as it sounds, kids with ADHD can tend to be too intensely and exclusively focused on what’s immediately in front of them.
- Making careless mistakes; sloppiness
- Failing to complete tasks
- Losing and misplacing things; failing to keep track of belongings or borrowed items
- Disorganization; messiness
- Difficulty making friends and sustaining friendships
- Depression or sadness with or without low self-esteem
- Avoidance or even hatred of school or any kind of schoolwork and homework, especially those assignments that are more challenging for them
Hallowell and Ratey, authors of Driven to Distraction3, list 20 interesting symptoms (some overlapping with the previous list from Mayo Clinic), although most of these are more evident in adults:
- A sense of underachievement, of not meeting one’s goals (regardless of how much one has accomplished)
- Difficulty getting organized
- Chronic procrastination or trouble getting started
- Many projects going simultaneously; trouble with follow-through
- A tendency to say what comes to mind without necessarily considering the timing or appropriateness of the remark
- An ongoing search for high stimulation
- A tendency to be easily bored
- Easy distractibility, trouble focusing attention, tendency to tune out or drift away in the middle of a page or a conversation, often coupled with an ability to focus at times
- Often creative, intuitive, highly intelligent
- Trouble going through established channels, following proper procedure
- Impatient; low tolerance for frustration
- Impulsive, either verbally or in action, as in impulsive spending, changing plans, enacting new schemes or career plans
- A tendency to worry needlessly, endlessly; tendency to scan the horizon looking for something to worry about alternating with inattention to or disregard for actual dangers
- A sense of impending doom, insecurity, alternating with high risk-taking
- Depression, especially when disengaged from a project
- A tendency toward active behavior
- Chronic problems with self-esteem
- Inaccurate self-observation
- A family history of manic-depressive illness, depression, substance abuse or other disorders of impulse control or mood
Possible causes of ADHD include fetal exposure to toxic substances during pregnancy, birth trauma (two of our ADHD sons were meconium babies, indicating distress while in utero; the third experienced low-oxygenation and lots of other traumas during a five-and-a-half-month NICU stay following extreme prematurity), exposure to lead, trauma to the brain from head injury or illness, and heredity (ADHD is very common on my dad’s side of the family).
Only a doctor can diagnose ADHD. Many other mental and physical disorders mimic ADHD symptoms. Please see your doctor to ask about the next steps if you and/or your child’s teacher suspect ADHD. You don’t have to offer Ritalin or other medication; there might be some natural remedies or alterations in your child’s home and school environment you can try first that will suffice to meet the challenges. My sons have benefitted from checklists and reminder pictures posted around the house, chewing gum, inflatable sports balls to sit on, the natural supplements magnesium, 5-HTP, GABA, and L-theanine, as well as frequent snacks and more protein and whole grains. However, none of those has been enough, alone or in combination with each other, to treat their ADHD successfully. All three have been very grateful for the self-control and enjoyment of school enabled by Ritalin. They are thriving now, looking forward to learning each day. Their self-esteems have also significantly increased, and they have more friends.
Other supplements and food changes are suggested here: https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-supplements-foods-vitamins/
ADHD and Ministry
Being in ministry adds a level of complexity in recognizing and appropriately addressing the struggles of ADHD. We are expected to be good examples and witnesses for Christ, and we want to be seen to have our kids under control. After all, they are frequently “on display” during our fundraising and partnership development trips, and on the field, they are held to the high standard of other MKs who don’t have ADHD. We all want our kids to be “good kids,” and usually they want that too! But kids with ADHD simply don’t have the ability to fully control their bodies and minds. When we tell our ADHD kids to focus or sit still or stop overreacting (however your child’s ADHD struggles manifest), it’s like telling someone who needs glasses that they just need to “squint harder.” Usually, these kids are trying tremendously hard, or they’ve tried hard and failed at self-control for so long that they have given up in despair, bitterness, or rebellion. As a parent of three ADHD kids (each manifesting differently) and as an ADHD kid myself who’s now an ADHD adult, I still know how tempting it is to let our pride, our image, take precedence over the needs of the kids with which we’ve been entrusted!
Then there’s the stigma of actual diagnosis, frequently looked down upon as “labeling.” Believers, especially more conservative ones, seem to forget that the human brain is an organ that was also affected by The Fall. No part of our body is ever wholly perfect. We do not serve our children or their peers, teachers, and others around them well when we refuse to effectively address symptoms that cause great distress and inhibit their full participation in the classroom and at home. We wouldn’t refuse to give someone with nearsightedness a pair of glasses!
In dealing with kids with ADHD, the most important thing to remember is punishment is never the most helpful response to ADHD-driven behavior4. Kids with ADHD are already corrected, admonished, and chastised throughout the day. They already tend to be down on themselves, thinking they are just “bad kids” because they do inappropriate things other kids never seem to be tempted to do! Rewards and positive reinforcement—even positively framing reminders and correction—will make a world of difference in helping our children learn to succeed and to trust us as we walk this challenging road together. We don’t want our kids to feel like they just can’t win. We want them to know they are (or can be) winners in Christ, that God knows and cares and made them just as he desired, and that he will enable them (and us as we parent them) to be the people he created them to be. Everyone since the Fall has been born with unique physical and mental challenges, but as God’s children, we are everlastingly loved with the promise of new perfected bodies (and minds!) when Christ returns to make all things new. We can also encourage them that God delights to use our weakness, as described by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, and that he redeems all our hardships for our good and his glory.
To read more about ADHD:
- ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is now called ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), even if kids are not overtly hyperactive. Whatever their bodies are doing, their brains are either jumping around with hyperactivity or “hyper-focused” on one activity or line of thought.
- My 15-year-old son says this is a huge one for him! He has excellent, even advanced reading skills, but says he just can’t focus his brain on the text enough to make the book come alive to him and really draw him in.
- Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood, Edward M. Hallowell, John J. Ratey. Simon and Schuster, 1995. (Link is to revised edition.)