As people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) grow older, how the condition affects them changes over time. But many with undiagnosed ADHD lack the skills needed to thrive in life, especially as they move into new environments.

For children with ADHD, graduating into secondary school, for instance, is a time of heightened vulnerability. As research published in BMC Paediatrics shows, a poor secondary school transition can lead to low self-esteem and academic failure — factors that cause a difficult adolescence.

Some of the most critical and consistent challenges of having ADHD arise from difficulties managing executive functioning — these are skills that enable us to plan, maintain concentration, organise time, control our emotions and remember instructions. Managing executive function is as valuable for children in preschool as it is for an adult in a professional environment. 

While ADHD is for life, the right treatment can minimise the negative impact of ADHD, improve executive functioning and help people with ADHD live happy lives. Below, we explore ADHD treatments for people at different stages of their development. But first, let’s unpack the role that parents play in managing ADHD symptoms in children.  

ADHD Treatment: The Importance of Attunement and Parent Teaching

All children learn from watching their parents. This means that parents can have a huge impact on helping their children manage ADHD. While parenting tips can help, the following two concepts are key to dealing with your child’s ADHD:

1. Attunement

Understanding a child’s needs is challenging because not all children communicate in the same way. Attunement represents our ability to be aware of and respond to our child’s needs, regardless of their temperament. 

Attunement is an active process of first figuring out your child’s emotions and motivations, and then helping them understand and connect with their internal world. This is tricky as it is difficult for parents to see beyond challenging behaviours and attune to their child's feelings. But by strengthening your attunement, your child will become better at recognising and expressing their emotions. This will help them self-regulate their behaviour. 

2. Parent training

Behaviour therapy teaches children how to manage their ADHD symptoms. Parent training teaches parents how to work with their children to foster good behaviours while minimising inattentive, challenging or impulsive behaviours. This enables ADHD behaviour therapy to continue at home. 

Learning and practising behaviour therapy requires effort and patience, but it has lasting benefits for the child and the family.

Managing ADHD for Children Under Six

At this stage, ADHD symptoms resemble the everyday behaviour of children: impulsiveness, poor concentration and restlessness. But children with ADHD display these symptoms to a higher degree, with some kids experiencing difficulties such as delayed development and poor social skills. 

Treatment involves seeking guidance from developmental specialists, who will give you the support and strategies you need to improve parent-child interactions. This may include parent training so that you can provide behavioural therapy at home. 

If delayed learning has occurred, enrolling your child in an early intervention programme will ensure that they do not lag behind their peers. 

ADHD Treatments for Primary School Children

Behavioural therapy remains crucial throughout this period, particularly as children with ADHD start to notice that they are different from their peers. At this point, classmates develop the skills needed to succeed in mainstream schooling environments. Children with ADHD struggle to develop these skills, often leading to learning difficulties. 

The symptoms of ADHD also lead to disruptive behaviour. As a result, children with ADHD are often labelled as ‘troublemakers’ or as ‘difficult to deal with’ by family or teachers. Compounded by poor academic achievement, these factors can trigger low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. 

Along with behavioural therapy, effective treatment involves medication that manages ADHD symptoms. In fact the largest ever long-term study on ADHD treatment, found that the best treatment outcomes result from combining therapy with medication. This approach is particularly effective at helping people with ADHD manage aggression and improve their social skills. Eating healthily, sleeping well and living a balanced life also play a huge role in mitigating ADHD symptoms. 

Figuring out what your child needs to succeed in school is vital to supporting their academic journey. This can involve providing one-on-one help with schoolwork or asking for your child to have extra time to complete tasks like tests. 

ADHD Treatments for Teens

After primary school, children with ADHD tend to be less overactive. But struggles regulating impulsiveness, restlessness and inattention remain and continue to affect school performance. Youths with ADHD are eight times more likely to drop out of school — as revealed by research published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

If young adults remain undiagnosed and haven’t received targeted support, they are more likely to develop antisocial conditions such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) — a disorder characterised by disruptive behaviour, defiance and aggression, particularly towards authority figures. They are also more likely to develop anxiety and depressive disorders. 

Combining medication with behaviour therapy is best for treating teens with ADHD. Maintaining a healthy diet and sleep cycle will improve your child’s ability to regulate their behaviour. To help your child through school, create a weekly or monthly plan and work with teachers to set learning goals. Setting a good example and creating a structured and nurturing home environment will ensure your child feels supported through any social or academic challenges.

Helping Adults Manage Their ADHD Symptoms

ADHD symptoms continue into adulthood, with people often experiencing difficulty concentrating, following directions, remembering information, organising tasks and finishing work on time. 

The consequences of untreated ADHD are high for adults. Research published in Biological Psychiatry reveals that adults with persistent ADHD symptoms are at a higher risk of drug and alcohol abuse. They are also more likely to experience lower employment rates and earnings — as revealed by a study published in The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics

Treatment includes medication, therapy and education about their condition. For many adults with undiagnosed ADHD, learning about their condition has a profound and positive effect on their well-being. Discovering that many of their behaviours are unintentional and aren’t a product of inherent laziness, for instance, can improve self-esteem. And once people find out about their condition, they can learn ways to manage their symptoms.  

Early Diagnosis Significantly Improves Treatment Outcomes

Regardless of age, securing an early ADHD diagnosis is the first and most important step in receiving treatment. The symptoms of ADHD overlap with those of other learning and behavioural conditions. A diagnosis will pinpoint a person’s condition so the appropriate treatment can be pursued. 

Early diagnosis and treatment is key to helping children with ADHD overcome learning difficulties. With a treatment plan in place, children can better manage their ADHD symptoms before developing conditions like Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), depression, anxiety and learning delays. 

How Thomson Kids Can Help

At Thomson Kids, we offer internationally recognised ADHD assessments for children. Once a diagnosis has been made, our team of educational specialists and child psychologists will work closely with you to help you understand your child’s condition.

We then recommend a tailored treatment plan and provide parent training. This approach will help your child manage their symptoms and thrive both in and out of the classroom.