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Learning About ADHD

Treatment for ADHD starts with learning about it. It is important for everyone involved to become informed about ADHD, including you, your child, his teachers, and other caregivers. Learning about ADHD will help you understand:

  • what ADHD is
  • how inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity affect your child's behaviour
  • why your child seems to have trouble with certain things
  • how you can help your child
  • how and why some approaches will work better than others

Learning about ADHD will also help you feel more confident and better able to cope as a parent.

To learn more about ADHD, you can:

  • read about the condition in books and web sites like this one
  • see a counsellor who has experience with ADHD
  • discuss it with your child's doctor or psychologist
  • join a support group for parents of children with ADHD

Helping your child learn about ADHD

Understanding ADHD can help you to share appropriate information with your child. It is helpful to include children as partners in their care as soon as possible, by sharing information and encouraging them to ask questions and express their concerns.

The information that you share with your child will depend on:

  • your child’s age, maturity level, and personality
  • what your child already knows and wants to know
  • what you know about ADHD
  • your child’s specific diagnosis of ADHD (hyperactive, inattentive, or combined type)

The following suggestions may help you to help your child learn more about ADHD:

  • Find out what your child already knows. You could ask, “Can you tell me what you already know about ADHD?”
  • Clarify your child’s understanding. Children may use correct words, such as “attention,” but may still have misconceptions. You could ask, “What does ‘attention' mean?” 
  • Ask to share more information. You could ask, “Can I tell you what I know about ADHD?”
  • Share information in a clear and positive way. Provide manageable pieces of information and use language your child can understand. For instance, most children can understand that “The brain is the boss of your body and it controls everything that you do, from scratching your nose to talking to kicking a ball. Your brain works a bit differently than most kids’. Sometimes your brain jumps from idea to idea and that makes it hard to pay attention to only one thing." How you share the information will depend partly on your child’s age and on which subtype of ADHD your child was diagnosed with. 
  • Let your child lead the discussion as much as possible, as this will give you a better idea of what he wants to know.
  • Be aware of how your child responds to the information. Listen to what he says and watch for non-verbal cues and changes in mood or behaviour, as these may all be signs that your child is having a difficult time with the information. He may not understand, he may be bored, or he may be worried or confused. You could ask, “Do you have any questions about anything we’ve talked about? What do you think or how do you feel about all this?” 
  • Maximize opportunities to talk and share information when your child is curious and asking questions about ADHD.
  • If you don’t know the answer to your child’s questions, take the opportunity to find the answer together, for example by talking to the doctor or getting information from a web site you trust.
  • Use varied resources to help talk to and educate your child, including books, videos, pamphlets, drawing, play, or joining children’s groups. Some of these resources are listed on the "Resources" page of this site.
  • Don't try to tell your child everything at once. Learning about ADHD is a continuous process. As your child gets older, he will be able to understand more complex ideas. Check back every few months to confirm what you both know and see if he wants or needs more information.

Tara McAuley, PhD, CPsych

Peter Chaban, MA, MEd

Rosemary Tannock, PhD