While learning of the diagnosis of attention deficit disorder (ADHD) makes many parents feel relief, the real work begins in finding the right treatment approach for a child or teen diagnosed with ADHD.
If the diagnosis was made by a pediatrician or family physician, the first thing you should ask for is a referral to a mental health professional trained in the treatment of attention deficit disorder. This should happen before any treatment is prescribed, because, as you’ll learn, the order and focus of treatment is important. Although the inclination may be to start medication treatment immediately (with drugs such as Ritalin or Adderall), you should not give in to this feeling that you need “do something.”
Since the diagnosis of ADHD requires the child to have inattentive behavior in at least two settings — the home and school most often — the obvious interventions to change the child’s behavior involve those two settings. Comprehensive, effective treatment of childhood ADHD involves four different treatment strategies, used individually or combination:
- Behavioral Parent Training
- Behavioral School Intervention
- Child Interventions
Parents shouldn’t expect instant changes in their child’s ADHD or behavior. Improvement and learning is a gradual process that takes time, especially with the behavioral interventions and training. However, research has shown that such interventions are longer-lasting, while the effects of medications will fade over time.
Behavioral Parent Training
Parental training benefits the child with attention deficit disorder because most parents simply don’t know what to do when dealing with an ADHD child. Even if a parent has raised other, non-ADHD children, learning how to best help a child or teenager with ADHD is a unique situation most simply have never had experience with.
Parents of ADHD children also usually have significant stress, and sometimes they may simply lack basic parenting skills. Some parents are often grappling with their own mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. ADHD children unintentionally contribute greatly to parental
stress and disturbed parent-child relationships. Learning good parenting skills can actually mediate most negative outcomes and therefore it makes sense to make it one of the main focuses of treatment.
Parent training usually takes on a focused, behavioral psychotherapy approach. The focus is on parenting skills, the child’s behavior, and family relationships. In parent training, parents learn skills and implement treatment with child, modifying interventions as necessary based upon how the child is doing. One of the key components of parent training is creating ADHD behavioral interventions for the home. These are easy to learn and implement and are a must for virtually any parent. Parents should also consider implementing the home daily report card (PDF).
Parent training is often done in a group-based, weekly session with therapist initially that lasts from 8 to 16 sessions. Most therapists will continue being in contact with the parents once the group sessions are done, as the parents need it (often for years). If a parent needs additional help throughout that time, most therapists will be glad to see the parents to help them through difficult childhood transitions (such as becoming a teenager).