There is no drug to cure ADHD. There are also no psychotherapeutic methods to fully get rid of the symptoms of hyperactivity. However, this does not mean that we are completely powerless.

Children with ADHD

We can help a child with ADHD to cope as effectively as possible with the difficulties that arise from disorders in different areas of their functioning. What certainly makes it easier for a child with ADHD to function is a clear system of norms and rules communicated through specific, clear commands, consistency in enforcing them, and focusing on the positive and reinforcing the desired behaviour. However, the individual symptoms of hyperactivity, excessive impulsivity and attention deficit disorder require additional specific strategies to help the child cope.

Hyperactivity in ADHD

In dealing with a child’s hyperactivity, it is very important to… creating the right conditions for this hyper-mobility. In other words, it is necessary, on the one hand, to provide space for the excessive need for movement to be realised and, on the other hand, to give it a clear framework, i.e. to define where and when it is acceptable and under what circumstances it is not. However, this framework should be constructed according to the child’s real possibilities. Sometimes the child should be allowed to be hyperactive, e.g. by waving his or her leg while doing homework, otherwise he or she will not be able to concentrate on the task at hand.

Often, the parents’ idea of allowing their child to ‘run around’, and therefore to use their hyper-mobility in an acceptable form, is sport. Indeed, sport helps to satisfy the need for movement. However, the discipline should be well chosen to suit the child’s preferences and abilities – for example, not every child with ADHD will be able to adapt to the rules of a team game, which may only exacerbate their frustration.

Excessive impulsivity

Living with an overly impulsive person is not the easiest thing to do. However, it is difficult for a person with ADHD to control increased impulsivity, because the essence of it is precisely the difficulty of controlling one’s impulses. Therefore, some external intervention is needed, i.e. the help of another person. This person’s task is to remind the child of the rules that he or she does not remember at the moment, despite knowing them. In order for such a reminder to be effective, it is useful to stick to certain rules and sequences.

First the reminder should attract the child’s attention, e.g. by touching or making eye contact. Then clearly and concisely remind the rule, repeating it several times if necessary. Such messages can also be presented graphically (e.g. as a pictogram) or by means of a short written text. The next step is to verify the child’s application of the rule in a specific situation. If the child does not behave in the way we want, we immediately apply the appropriate, predefined consequences.

It may so happen that, in the case of particularly strong impulsiveness, real boundaries need to be set, such as “architectural” boundaries, such as a closed door to a room. In such cases, we are guided primarily by the safety of the child.

One of the more difficult manifestations of the child’s excessive impulsivity is the inability to foresee the consequences of his or her actions while underestimating the risk of dangerous behaviour. The role of the other person is therefore to anticipate “for the child” the occurrence of a risky behaviour and its consequences (e.g. stepping on a cupboard) and to prevent such behaviour. Here again, it is important to remind the other person of a particular rule before the child manages to behave in a particular way – a bit like trying to always be one step ahead of the child. Maximum consistency is needed to minimise the dangers of underestimating risks.

What is often associated with excessive impulsivity is the difficulty a child has in waiting for anything. Such impatience may be evident, for example, in the child interrupting other people’s conversation and interjecting. It may then be helpful to establish a sign that means “don’t interrupt!” and – by using it – to remind the child of this rule. In order not to get into perpetual, breakneck discussions with your child, you can – largely also for your own comfort – try to cut off the conversation with concise, clear and consistent messages.

Unfortunately, the strategies described, although helpful in many cases, do not guarantee success in all circumstances and with every child. Sometimes you just have to come to terms with his or her nature….

Attention deficit disorder in ADHD

Helping a child with Attention Deficit Disorder is a good place to start is by organising the space in such a way that it does not act as a distractor, i.e. another element of distraction for the child when doing homework, for example. Reducing competing stimuli can then be an ’empty desk’ with only essential items on it, as well as covering the window, toy shelves or making the room quiet.

Another difficulty for a child with ADHD, resulting from attention deficits, will be the inability to select different pieces of material and choose those that are actually relevant. It will certainly help if the other person points out what is important and what they should focus on. Strategies that help to reduce the scope of the intended tasks and the time needed to complete them also often prove effective. In other words, dividing up the task and pointing out the parts one by one as the work progresses.

The application of these strategies often requires years of painstaking work, which only produces results after a long period of time. It also requires, importantly, the extensive involvement of the child’s family and school environment. Despite these costs, the risk is worth taking. If we succeed, we will help the child to cope better with the symptoms of the disorder. We will thus give him the chance to live more comfortably with ADHD. And to ourselves too.