At What Age Should a Child Know they Have ADHD?

“Understanding ADHD Helps me to Not Blame Myself”
By Jason, 9 years old, and his mom Nicole Biscotti, M.Ed.

We don’t generally diagnose ADHD until a child attends school.  The medical community has their reasons for this, mostly revolving around the fact that ADHD does not have a blood test or any other quantifiable measure to diagnose the condition.  ADHD is diagnosed solely on behaviors observed by parents and educators and then evaluated by a clinician. The acting out that we often see in young ADHDers has a big overlap with “typical” behaviors in toddlers and preschoolers.  We also generally wait until children enter school to even consider seeking a diagnosis because their behavior in the school is a determining factor in diagnosis.

Science, of course, has its merits, but so does practical experience.  I can tell you with great certainty that my little ADHDer had very different behaviors from a young age.  The intensity, frequency, and disconnect that Jason’s acting out had from preschool was very different than most other children.

Considering that ADHDers usually stand out with some pretty noticeable behaviors and receive a lot of negative attention, how can we not help them to understand themselves better?  I wish I could have shielded Jason from the almost daily incidents where he was in trouble but that wasn’t possible. I also wish that I could have protected him from noticing that he acted differently than most other children, but that was equally impossible since it was usually him running out the door, fighting, or throwing things.  Those are the visible symptoms of his condition, I can’t even begin to know how he felt internally at preschool.

Jason explains that “What makes me sad is that the teachers never understand me and that other kids don’t understand either. Sometimes I feel sad and angry at exactly the same time and the teachers just get frustrated with me and put me in punishment or something. Then I just get more sad and more angry and then I feel like I’m about to explode and when I feel like that I don’t think about what I’m doing anymore. I don’t like think about if I’m going to hurt somebody or hurt something but I’m just so angry it doesn’t really matter to me what I do at that time.  I’m just angry and I just feel like I need to do something like to get the energy out of me and then afterwards I feel sad and bad about what I did and I feel like the teacher is mad at me. I realize at the end it felt like I was turned off but somebody or something was still moving me and then I realize what I did and I start feeling so sad and angry and I wish I could be good. Like I know it’s possible to be good but at the same time it’s impossible for me but I still know it’s possible for me, I just can’t seem to do it. Sometimes I feel ashamed of what I did and of my actions and I wish I could just like reverse it.”

Getting a label for Jason’s condition was a gift to me as a parent because it gave me something that I could learn about and a framework with which to understand and approach his behavior. Jason shares “When I was little and I heard that I had ADHD I didn’t really know what that meant exactly but I guessed that something was making it hard for me to behave not just like I didn’t want to behave because I really actually did.”

When Jason was small we used to talk about how ADHD would make it hard for him to pay attention or to not move so much because his brain worked really fast. When he took medication we talked about how the medicine would help “ADHD” take a nap so that he could focus better at school.  Every child is different, I don’t know that we arrived at the best explanation but it worked at the time. As Jason gets older, we watch videos together and explore other resources to better understand ADHD. Understanding how Jason’s brain works is an ongoing process. We are all on a continual journey of self discovery.  ADHD is a big piece of Jason’s daily life and to deprive him of the opportunity to learn about the advantages and challenges of ADHD would be to deny him access to a big puzzle piece in understanding himself.

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