Behavioral Skills in Children With ADHD

By Nancy Lovering
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If your child has symptoms of inattention, impulsivity or hyperactivity which have persisted for at least six months in multiple settings he may meet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV - Text Revision diagnostic criteria for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Simply stated, ADHD is a neurobiological condition involving reduced dopamine activity that results in developmentally inappropriate behaviors or lagging skills. If your child has ADHD he will likely need additional support and training in these skills to reach his full potential.

Reading Social Cues

Social cues are a set of signals pointing to appropriate behavior. For example, if one child appears irritated by another, the child causing the annoyance can tell that he needs to calm down by reading the social cues coming from the other child. If he misses the social cues and keeps bothering his friend, he'll find himself alone or at the receiving end of angry or frustrated behavior. According to a University of Toronto study published in the September 2000 issue of the "Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry," children with ADHD were less successful at reading emotions when compared to children without the disorder. Attentiveness and impulse control are two of the lagging skills found in ADHD, and are necessary for reading and responding appropriately to social cues. While non-ADHD kids learn these skills implicitly, children with ADHD benefit from explicit instruction in this regard.

Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation is another skill that is related to impulse control. Massachusetts General Hospital psychiatry instructor, Dr. Craig B. H. Surman, agrees that unlike the average person, ADHD sufferers have trouble with emotional regulation even when they are not experiencing stress. Over 50 percent of ADHD sufferers struggle with this issue. Those who do lack the inhibitory ability that enables non-ADHD children to censor emotional reactions. Tell your children that beach day has been canceled due to the weather and even though they're all disappointed, it's your child with ADHD who has the temper tantrum and tears. Weak emotional regulation skills makes the child with ADHD seem immature and emotionally volatile, and can isolate her from her peers.

Task Persistence

The inability to persist with a task when it becomes boring or difficult plagues many children and adults with ADHD. A Purdue University study in the April 2001 "Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology," involving 83 boys with ADHD and 66 boys without revealed that the ADHD group were not able to persist at tasks requiring sustained mental effort as well as the control group. A child with poor task persistence has difficulty maintaining concentration and seeing an activity through to completion. This causes frustration for his friends who want to finish the game that was started or who are content with the current activity that no longer interests the ADHD child. Poor task persistence wreaks havoc in the classroom for both the child who cannot seem to finish his work and the teacher who struggles to keep him on task.

Impulse Control

Disregard for possible consequences, excessive impatience and inappropriate curiosity are all behaviors that can get a child in trouble. The skill of impulse control is critical for a child to manage these and other important behaviors such as waiting her turn to speak and resisting tactless comments when she does. According to ADDitude, an online resource, lack of impulse control may plague kids with ADHD more than other lagging skills. The impulsivity-stricken ADHD child needs clear behavioral expectations and plenty of reminders about those expectations. Expect your ADHD child to require more instructional repeats than your typical child.

Managing Transitions

Ironically, the child weak at task persistence who bounces from one activity to the next may also have difficulty managing transitions. Transition-challenged kids with ADHD benefit from the use of a timer to warn them of upcoming change. Provide visual references for your ADHD child such as a family calendar or check list on a white board to provide accessible reminders of what's coming next in his day.

Time Management

ADHD is an insidious time disrupter, rendering its sufferers trapped in only two time categories: "now" and "not now." The "now/not now" trap results in procrastination followed by panic or an angry adult. Any family who is ready to leave the house for an outing only to have to wait for their last minute, scrambling ADHD sibling knows the frustration this causes. Homework completion also suffers under the "now/not now" regime as the ADHD child engages in a leisure activity of choice while disregarding the clock and her impending deadline.