Managing ADHD effectively takes a team of professionals who can offer the right treatment. Your child’s doctor is a key person to have on your team to oversee your child’s overall health.
Your doctor can provide education about ADHD and medications and help map out a treatment plan for your child. Doctors do not, however, provide formal behavioural or counselling support, which is why you will need a whole team of professionals to support you and your child.
Choosing the right doctor
It is important to find a doctor who has a thorough understanding of ADHD, along with associated difficulties. For example, the emotional component of ADHD can look like depression or anxiety so it is important to find someone who understands these nuances to maximize treatment success. Some family doctors have the required training and understanding of ADHD to help manage treatment. If not, you may want to get a referral to another expert.
Since your doctor is a major part of the team and someone you will be seeing regularly over time, you want to ensure you find someone that is not only well-trained but someone you and your child are comfortable with. Your doctor should be approachable, caring, and communicates clearly and openly with you. Your doctor should welcome your questions and concerns and create a treatment plan based on your child’s specific needs.
When you go to your appointment, go prepared to maximize the limited amount of time you have with your doctor. Think about what questions and concerns you have and write them down.
Things to bring
If you have a report documenting your child’s difficulties and summary/diagnosis, give a copy to your doctor to review (send it to the office beforehand if possible). Bring along any other additional information you feel is helpful for your doctor to know, including any notes or comments from other family members, caregivers, teachers, and even coaches; video recordings of problematic behaviours; and a list of things your child has difficulty with.
Be sure to also bring a list of your child’s strengths!!!
Detailed behavioural notes
When jotting notes, be specific as possible about the challenges your child is having. When behavioural outbursts occur, for example, and how you or teachers respond. How difficulties affect your child’s learning or friendships. Document as much detail as possible. When documenting behaviours, it is best to note:
- What happened right before the behaviour occurred? Where was your child? Who else was around?
- What the behaviour looked like. Did your child yell, stomp away, or drop to the ground? Be as specific as possible.
- The hypothesis of why you think the behaviour happened. Did your child want something but couldn’t have it? Did your child have to move away from something fun to something less preferred?
- What happened right after the behaviour occurred (i.e., your response)? Did it help?
Use an ABC worksheet to help you keep track. This information will be important clues to help you and others figure out what is going on for your child and how to best help.
Consider the list below to identify other areas of difficulty your child has to help you get started.
- My child has trouble paying attention.
- My child makes careless mistakes.
- It’s very difficult for my child to stay focused on homework or other tasks.
- My child rarely completes an activity before moving to the next activity.
- Even when spoken to directly, my child seems to not listen.
- My child is disorganized and even with my help can’t seem to learn how to become organized.
- My child loses things necessary for tasks, such as toys, assignments, & pencils.
- My child tries to avoid activities or does them grudgingly when they require focus and/or a lot of mental effort.
- My child frequently forgets to do things, even when constantly reminded.
- Even the smallest distractions throw my child off task.
- My child has trouble following instructions and finishing tasks.
- My child always seems to be squirming in the chair or fidgeting.
- No matter how hard he tries, my child has problems remaining seated.
- My child talks a lot.
- My child has difficulty engaging in quiet activities without disturbing others.
- In class or at home, my child blurts out answers to questions before they are fully asked.
- My child has difficulty waiting patiently to take turns, and frequently butts ahead in lines or grabs toys from playmates.
- Sometimes my child seems intrusive. She/he interrupts constantly other peoples’ activities, conversations, and games.
Questions to ask
Other medical concerns.
Sometimes we do not realize that there are other underlying difficulties that can affect kids’ ability to attend. Chronic ear infections, anemia, low blood sugar, slow thyroid functioning, poor sleep habits, hearing difficulties, and visual problems can make paying attention hard. Be sure to discuss potential medical problems that could be contributing to your child’s difficulties and have them investigated if they are a concern.
Also be sure to discuss whether your child is on any other medications, herbal supplements, vitamins, or other minerals. If you do end up going the medication route, some supplements, for example, can affect how the body absorbs the medication. Other medications can interact with ADHD medication. Be sure to tell your doctor everything your child takes to optimize treatment.
If your child has more than one diagnosis, be sure to ask about what the treatment plan should look like to address all difficulties. Many kids with ADHD also have anxiety, so it is important to consider which approaches will support ADHD without worsening the anxiety. Often times, once ADHD is managed effectively, anxiety goes away. But, there are times that medications can make it worse.
You will want to talk to your doctor about treatment goals to help you determine whether your treatment plan is on target. Common goals include reducing the problematic symptoms your child is experiencing, such as hyperactivity or trouble following along with class instructions. Perhaps the goals are to target specific problem behaviours or learning difficulties. Other goals will focus on improving social success or boosting your child’s self-esteem. Think about what difficulties your child has that are most impairing for them. Attention? Hyperactivity? Impulsivity? Aggression? Anxiety? Think about what your main goals are and discuss with your doctor.
Talk to your doctor about different treatment options. No one single treatment is sufficient to manage ADHD effectively. Research has demonstrated that the most effective treatment in managing ADHD is a combination of interventions, including education, behaviour strategies, and medications. Be sure to share what you are currently doing to help manage ADHD at home and school.
Your role in the treatment process.
You are an important member of your child’s team. Be sure to ask the doctor what role you play based on their perspective. You will be the one overseeing the treatment process, so it is critical you have a clear understanding of how you can help the most.
Doctors are responsible for overseeing medications and will be a valuable resource to discuss any questions and concerns you have about medications. Medications do not cure ADHD but do help them manage better through their day. It is important to note that while medications work for most kids, there are some kids who don’t experience any changes at all.
Questions to ask about ADHD medication
Before making a final decision about medications one way or another, it is critical you educate yourself about medications rather than rely on media or the opinions of others. Use the time with your doctor to ask all your questions. Some questions include:
- Does my child need medication?
- What happens if my child does not take medications?
- What are the different types of medications?
- When is the best time to start medications?
- How do medications work?
- Do medications work for everyone?
- How do we know which medication is best for my child?
- What will I notice when my child starts medications?
- Are there any side effects?
- Is there anything to help reduce the side effects?
- How will I know if the medication is working?
- What do I do if I don’t think the medication is working or isn’t the right fit for us?
- Does my child have to take the medication every day?
Keep asking questions
Whether your child takes medication or not, your doctor will be in the picture long-term, with lots of follow-up appointments. Use the above advice to help you prepare for every visit to the doctor.
Here are resources to get you started in preparing for your doctor’s visit.
ABC sheet: To track your child’s behaviours
SNAP form: common questionnaires doctors use to determine if medications are needed and to monitor medications