According to this study, about 90% of parents who have a child with autism noticed symptoms by the time their child reached 2 years of age. Autism spectrum disorder can cause developmental delays or other noticeable symptoms in infants and toddlers, but some children with autism may develop normally and show no observable signs of the disorder. However, because autism is on a spectrum, the severity of symptoms varies and affects every individual differently. A significant number of children with autism may not exhibit any common signs until they begin school.
One parent of a child with autism mentioned in an article that, “My child is developing behavioral problems. That’s because he can’t communicate well at school.” School can cause numerous difficulties for children on the autism spectrum due to the changes that occur in their environment and routines. The stress of school may increase the severity of symptoms, influencing how a child interacts with others, learns, or behaves.
Signs of Autism in Grade School Students
Signs of autism may become noticeable when a child begins school because they tend to have difficulty with different aspects of socializing with others. A child with autism may have difficulty taking turns in conversations, reading the reactions of others, or having conversations about what others want to talk about. Other possible effects of autism in children include:
Signs of Autism in Teenagers
It can sometimes be difficult to notice autism in children if they appear to be doing well in school and don’t seem to have any symptoms that are typical of those on the autism spectrum. However, the onset of puberty, high school, and increased expectations of their achievements may cause the signs of autism to become more apparent. Some common signs of autism in teens include:
Autism in Females
Many people diagnosed with autism may also develop a mental illness, but undiagnosed autism may lead someone to develop mental health issues as well. Psychiatrist Ian McClure has reported that females especially are developing mental health difficulties because they haven’t yet been diagnosed with autism. Girls are most commonly underdiagnosed because the diagnostic criteria for autism is more typical for boys’ behavior and symptoms, while girls may deal with their symptoms differently.
Teenage girls are usually better at studying other people’s behavior and copying them to mask their symptoms, and quieter girls are usually thought of simply being shy rather than unfocused or disinterested. If they show signs that are more typical of autism, such as severe anxiety when their routine is changed, they may be misdiagnosed with a mental illness instead.
One woman wasn’t diagnosed with autism until she was 28 years old, but she had been misdiagnosed with several mental illnesses including bipolar depression and borderline personality disorder. She said that learning she had autism changed her life, and it’s much easier to manage her symptoms now that she finally has an accurate diagnosis.
Advice for Parents
If you think your child may be on the autism spectrum or dealing with a mental illness, it’s important to talk to a child psychologist who does autism assessments and your child’s doctor. The earlier a diagnosis is reached, the sooner your child can learn how to manage their symptoms, succeed in school, and communicate with others.
If your child or teen is found to have autism, there are some ways you can help them adjust to school and other life changes. Try to go with your child to school about a week before classes begin. Show them where their classroom and bathroom is located, and walk around the school with them so they can be better prepared for the first day of school. Getting involved in your child’s school, such as joining the PTA, can help you get to know your child’s teacher and meet other parents who may also have children with autism.
Outside of school, therapy might be helpful if your child or teen is dealing with high levels of stress or anxiety, behavioral issues, or seems overwhelmed. A therapist can help them work through their emotions, find healthy coping mechanisms for stress, and provide an outlet for your child’s frustrations. Scheduling an appointment at Oakville Wellness Center can be simply done online, or you can call for more information.
By: Dr. Syras Derksen
Over the past decade, multiple awareness groups and campaigns have dramatically increased the public’s general knowledge about autism spectrum disorder. There have been changes made to the diagnostic criteria to more accurately identify the signs of autism. As a result, more children are being diagnosed with autism today compared to ten years ago. While there has been some public fear and panic about an “autism epidemic,” autism diagnoses are on the rise simply because autism awareness has made it easier for people to recognize early signs.
So, What is Autism?
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a type of genetic condition that usually causes individuals to have repetitive behaviors and difficulty communicating and interacting with others. The autism spectrum covers a broad range of severity and symptoms, and not all people with autism will have significant impairments. Some people with autism may only have mild symptoms, whereas others may have severe difficulty with communicating, learning, and processing stimuli.
In some cases, signs of autism may be recognizable in infancy, and medical professionals can accurately diagnose autism in children at just 2 years of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends scheduling both regular developmental screenings throughout childhood, as well as specific autism screenings when your child is 9, 18, and 30 months old.
Signs of Autism in Infants
Autism can cause some developmental delays in infants, so it Is important for parents to notice if their baby isn’t reaching certain milestones. For example, it is common for 12-month-old babies to laugh, make different facial expressions, and babble. It can be a cause for concern if your child turns a year old and hasn’t been displaying any of these behaviors. Recognizing signs of autism in infants doesn’t involve actively looking for symptoms, but rather noticing a lack of normal behaviors such as:
Signs of Autism in Toddlers
Autism can cause a number of social, behavioral, and communication differences by the time your child reaches 3 years of age. Around this time, signs of autism can become more apparent when your child is around other kids their age, as they may not respond to other children at all, or they might have trouble noticing facial expressions. Social and communication differences in children with autism can include:
Children with autism may have some noticeable behaviors by the time they are toddlers. These behaviors tend to be repetitive or obsessive, which can be difficult for parents to understand. Physical manifestations of autism, especially in young children, are typically ways for them to manage anxiety, block out unliked stimuli, or simply to pass the time. Some examples of these behaviors may include:
What to Do If You’re Concerned
If you think your infant or child may be on the autism spectrum, you should schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician for an autism screening as soon as possible. When it comes to your child’s health, you shouldn’t take the advice to just “wait and see” if the signs improve or disappear. Visiting your child’s doctor will allow them to give their professional diagnosis, as well as recommend early intervention programs for your child.
Early intervention has been extremely successful for children by helping them develop social skills and learn how to manage challenging symptoms. If you believe your child needs more assistance with communication, Oakville Wellness Center offers other resources, as well as qualified speech-language pathologists who can help your child become more comfortable with social interactions.
It is normal to feel worried about your young child and what their future holds, but it should be reassuring to know that autism is becoming widely understood and accepted across the country. People with autism today have more opportunities to speak out about their experiences, find employment, and have better support in their education. With early intervention and support from you, your child should expect a bright future.
By: Dr. Syras Derksen
Awareness and understanding of autism have been steadily improving over the past several years. Groups such as the Organization for Autism Research coordinate events to educate people of all ages about autism and use donations to continue research about autism. This organization also offers resources such as scholarships and employment opportunities for adults with autism and gives self-advocates a platform to speak about their experiences.
Although organizations like these do a great job of educating people about autism, there is still a lot of work to be done. Research must continue before we can fully understand autism, but even with the information already available, many people still have misconceptions and questions about it.
1. What is Autism Anyway?
The Centers for Disease Control refers to autism, or autism spectrum disorder, as “a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.” The autism spectrum includes a wide range of various symptoms, but people on the autism spectrum typically tend to think, communicate, learn, and behave differently than others.
Autism was first recognized in 1943 by Dr. Leo Kanner when he reported on eleven children who all showed similar symptoms of being uninterested in people, but rather highly interested in their environment. There is no single known cause for autism, but research done by various scientists today have proven that it’s a genetically based condition.
2. Symptoms of Autism: They Vary
People need to understand that autism is on a spectrum, and not every person with autism will have the same symptoms. People with mild autism, which used to be referred to as Asperger’s syndrome, may go undiagnosed for years, whereas others on the autism spectrum may be nonverbal or have significant cognitive impairment. While these are some common signs, this is by no means a comprehensive list or representative of everyone on the spectrum.
Common Symptoms in Infants and Young Children
Common Symptoms in Adolescents and Teenagers
3. Mental Illness Goes Hand-in-Hand with Autism.
It’s fairly common that those who fall somewhere on the autism spectrum often deal with other challenges or mental illness. Symptoms of autism such as feeling uncomfortable in new places or interacting with others may cause anxiety disorders. Sometimes when people with autism notice how they’re different from others around them and feel unable to communicate, they can feel isolated and depressed. Along with anxiety and depression, other challenges people with autism might encounter include eating disorders, aggressive behavior, insomnia, or other difficulties with sleeping.
4. Many Myths Still Surround Autism.
While the general public knows more about autism than they did ten years ago, there are still misconceptions that people believe. A few myths about autism include:
5. Parental Support is Just As Important As Professional Support.
Noticing early signs of autism is extremely beneficial for both you and your child. If you recognize any symptoms of autistic behavior in your infant or toddler, it’s recommended to seek a professional diagnosis. Children can be diagnosed accurately at just 18 months of age, and this early intervention can be the key in helping children develop communication skills and manage stressors.
However, while professional guidance is important, you must never underestimate the importance of supporting your child and helping him to better understand his symptoms. The most important thing for parents to remember is to be open-minded to how their child communicates. Listen to phrases your child may repeat, or focus on nonverbal cues, and then communicate in their preferred way. This can lessen confusion and misunderstanding, and can bring you and your child closer together.
If your child has been diagnosed with autism and you’re unsure of where to turn, Oakville Wellness Center has several resources available. If your child has delayed speech or trouble communicating, it can be helpful to contact a speech-language pathologist.
If your child is experiencing a major life change, such as entering school, or you fear they might be struggling with an underlying mental illness, there are resources to help your child.
By: Dr. Syras Derksen
Over the past several years, people have become more aware of autism and what it entails. This of course is great news for those who cope with its challenges every day. Parents can take comfort in knowing that they are not alone and that there are abundant resources available to help them best meet their children’s needs after diagnosis. Even teachers can access a wide range of lesson plans that appropriately serve children on the spectrum. But what about adults who think they may have autism? How can they get a proper diagnosis? If you are wondering if you might fall on the spectrum and are not sure what to do next, read on for some information and helpful tips.
To start, below are some characteristics commonly observed in adults with autism.
You Are Fixated on One Specific Topic
Maybe you know more about birds than anyone you know and are always eager to share interesting facts about geese migration patterns. Perhaps you can drone on endlessly about 19th century poets. Having an obsession with a specific topic to the point of struggling to discuss anything else is a classic symptom of autism and similar disorders. People who manifest this symptom might even see their “obsession” as a safe haven from things that scare them, like large crowds.
Making Friends is Difficult for You
A lot of people struggle to meet new people and maintain meaningful, lasting relationships with them. However, making and keeping friends is notably challenging for those with autism. Even those who do make friends regularly might struggle to relate to them on a basic level, straining the friendship as a result.
Irony, Sarcasm and Figures of Speech Often Fly Over Your Head
So, somebody told you a really funny joke. At least--it was supposed to be funny. Other people are laughing. Many are at least smiling, knowing something you don’t. All you can do, however, is think “huh?” You might face similar confusion when someone uses figurative language or gives a sarcastic response.
You Struggle to Abandon the Familiar
Many people have a daily routine so familiar to them that they perform it without much thought. For people with autism, breaking that routine can be distressing. For instance, the average person probably would probably be just mildly annoyed if they had to wait an extra ten minutes to go to lunch at work. Someone with autism, however, would probably get anxious over this disruption.
You Feel Very Introverted
Because of their difficulty in social situations, some people with autism prefer to forgo those situations altogether. As a result, they keep to themselves. They might spend this alone time doing things that make them feel most at ease, like reading or listening to music.
I Think I Might Have Autism. What’s Next?
If you fit several of these descriptions, you might fall on the autism spectrum. However, there are some steps you should take to get a proper diagnosis. Read on to learn more.
First Up: Get a Proper Evaluation
As with any condition, it is extremely important you seek out a professional’s opinion before looking into treatment. You must understand that most psychologists who specialize in autism and spectrum disorders follow diagnostic procedures best suited for children. Additionally, the parents play a major role in making an accurate diagnosis--something that many adults do not have. With these things in mind, you would be best served finding a psychologist who treats adults with autism and thus knows what to look for. Testing will likely involve a lot of talking on your part and much observation from the psychologist.
Be Forthcoming with the Psychologist about Your History
Once you find a psychologist who suits your needs, go to your appointment ready to both ask questions and to share a lot of personal history. In other words, the psychologist will likely want a detailed account of your childhood and medical history leading up to the present. Understand that he is not trying to prod for the sake of curiosity; he is trying to get a picture of who you are. You are not the first person this psychologist has seen with these problems, and be grateful for that. All that experience means that he knows exactly how to help you, whether you fall on the spectrum or not.
For more information on how to cope with specific psychological conditions, visit Dr. Syras Derksen.
Have you ever noticed small behavioral differences between your child and other children? If so, you likely feel very concerned. And some parents may even struggle with feelings of guilt or embarrassment. But the truth is that learning disorders are quite common. And in many cases, there are simply speed bumps to learning -- not roadblocks. According to Science Daily, 10% of students will have some sort of learning disability. This equates to 2-3 children per typical classroom.
Because few schools are doing extensive testing for these disabilities, parents need to take matters into their own hands. If you feel your child may need a little extra help to reach their full potential, we want to encourage you to seek help from a licensed professional. If you are unsure which symptoms to look for, here are some signs that your child may need some help.
Inability to Focus
One of the primary characteristics associated with learning disorders is the inability to pay attention. For elementary age kids, school is long enough. When a child has a learning disability, getting through the day is even more tricky. Because these student’s brains have a harder time processing information, focusing for lengthy periods of time can seem impossible. The lack of focus that is associated with learning disabilities is often due to ADHD. Sources say that between 30 and 50 percent of children with a learning disorder will also have ADHD. Regardless of the disability, inattentiveness and inability to focus will almost always be symptoms.
Lack of Organizational Skills
Children who are unable to organize their thoughts may also be suspected of having a learning disorder. An inability to sequence events can be signs of Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, or Dyscalculia. The diagnosis of the disability will depend on whether the child has difficulties organizing words, thoughts, or numbers respectively. Remember, even if you think your child may be experiencing these symptoms, only a professional will be able to present an accurate diagnosis.
A learning disorder can also manifest itself in a more physical way. For example, a child who has just a much difficulty organizing their belonging as they do their thoughts may be showing symptoms of a deeper issue. If you have an elementary aged child who has difficulties keeping track of their belongings, it may be time to seek help.
Difficulties Performing School Work
One of the most noticeable symptoms of learning disabilities is the inability to complete school work with accuracy. Although this symptom may seem like an obvious indicator for providing a diagnosis, it is often overlooked, or worse. Sometimes students who try their best are labeled as bad children who can’t perform up to society's standards. If you are concerned that your child may be experiencing a disability of this nature, we encourage you to see a doctor who can perform a series of tests to determine your child’s potential.
Difficulties Accepting Change
Another possible indication of a learning disorder is any inability to accept changes. For example, moving to a higher or lower grade has the possibility of messing up a child’s positive relationship with school. To alleviate this possibility, some schools have taken to placing learning disabled children in one classroom. This way they will be able to establish a continued routine, receive special help, and get the most out of their education.
Throughout their time in school, children are constantly experiencing many changes. A child who has a disability may be inclined to be anti social, or even act out to deal with some of these changes. If a child has Dyspraxia, they will be very sensitive to both light and touch. Any sort of big change could potentially set the child off and create an unsafe environment.
While each child matures at a different rate, prolonged immaturity can be a sign of an underlying disorder.If your child has difficulties relating to other kids, and behaving in class, you may want to have them tested for something deeper. What others may perceive as an attitude problem may in fact be an actual disorder. Because children with learning challenges process information differently, they may sometimes act in ways that seem abnormal to their teachers and peers. As your child grows, keep a close eye on their development. If they appear to be falling behind, it is time to reach out to a medical professional.
In some instances, learning disabled children have a much more difficult time reading situations. Because of this inability to distinguish tone, these children are much more apt to behave inappropriately for the current situation. For example, you child may be much more likely to shout out answers in class without raising their hand. Some children may even be inclined to make rude comments at teachers and other students. If a teacher expresses their concern for your child’s behavior, professional testing should be completed as soon as possible.
If you are interested in hearing more about different learning disabilities, Dr. Syras Derksen has professionals who are ready to talk.
As a parent, you play a key role in your child’s ability to succeed in school. By promoting and celebrating academic achievement, you are helping your child form positive attitudes that will go a long way to help their future. We recognize that while most parents want to help their children do well in school, some feel unsure as to how they can help. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure your child is getting the most out of their education.
Get To Know Your Child’s Teachers
Just before school starts, your child's school will host an open house. Attending this event will help both you and your child get to know their future teachers. Knowing your child’s educators is crucial to their success. Building a parent teacher relationship will facilitate your ability to ask questions in the future. At this first meeting, you will be able to discuss your child’s strengths and weaknesses. By making the teacher aware, they will be able to pay specific attention to your child's needs. The teacher will be able to monitor progress as it relates to your concerns, and share the information at parent teacher conferences. Having a good relationship with your child’s teachers will also make scheduling meetings easier. If you feel the need to discuss your child's performance, you will already have a direct line of contact.
By attending open houses and and parent teacher conferences, you will also be better equipped to stay informed on upcoming events. Often, at these events, flyers will be handed out to discuss PTA meetings, and general scholastic resources. Opening the line of discourse between parent and teacher will ensure that you stay in the know.
On a similar note, make sure to be involved throughout the year as well. Students who have parents involved in their school are less likely to exhibit behavioral and academic problems in the classroom. Perhaps your child’s teacher would like some help in the classroom. This is an amazing opportunity for you. Not only do you get to learn teaching tactics directly from the source, you also get a front row seat to watching your child interact with the classroom and the information presented. If your child is experiencing any challenges, you will get a front row seat. You can then use that information to ask the teacher how to help your child perform.
Foster a Positive Learning Environment
Another way to get your child excited for success in school, is to create a positive school centric home life. By letting your child know that homework comes before play, you are preparing them for success in both school and beyond. Make sure that your home has a nice, comfortable, well lit environment so that your child can easily do their homework. Also, take the time to do homework with your child. Allow them to ask you questions, and give them serious answers. By taking your child’s homework expectations seriously, they will learn to do the same.
Take Attendance Seriously
In addition to taking homework seriously, you, as a parent should take attendance seriously as well. If your child isn’t at school, They will have a much more difficult time learning the material and keeping up with the rest of the class. Helping your child get up on time and providing them with a balanced breakfast will give them the energy to focus throughout the day. When your child is able to focus on the material presented, they are much more likely to understand the day’s content, and by extension, earn higher letter grades.
Teach Study Skills
If you teach your child good study skills, they will thank you later. A student can study for hours on end, but if they aren't studying correctly, there is no hope of succeeding. As a parent who has been through the school system teach your child some tricks that helped your conquer your classes. This will enhance your child's ability to excel, and act as a bonding experience between the two of you. If you are unsure where to start, ask your child’s teacher for some study tips that might be beneficial.
By asking your child questions about their day at school, you are demonstrating that school is important. In essence, you are saying that school is a topic worth discussing. This will help in one of two ways: 1. You will be able to further encourage behaviors that lead to success, or 2. You will be able to see where your child is struggling, and figure out the best way to help them get back on track. Regardless, asking questions shows your child that you are interested in their day and want to watch them do well.
As a parent, the more involved you are with your child's schooling, the more control you will have over their continued academic success. If you have more questions on positive involvement in your child’s education contact Dr.Syras Derksen, today.
Child abuse is a harrowing topic of discussion. While childhood is meant to be an oasis of happiness in the lifespan, the actions of others can sometimes shatter this precious time.
Dealing with the aftermath of child abuse is difficult for both the individual and their families and requires early and ongoing intervention.
In this article we will discuss the effects of child abuse and the various treatments that are recommended in order to piece things back together.
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY "CHILD ABUSE?"
Child abuse is often divided into four main categories:
Neglect is when the child suffers harm due to being denied something by a caregiver. This may be food, clothing, warmth, supervision etc. Neglect normally occurs over a period of time and will be apparent in a variety of ways. Sometimes neglect will be materially obvious from poor clothing or hygiene. Other times it may manifest itself in other ways; for example, if a child injures themselves due to lack of supervision.
Emotional abuse is normally seen in the relationship between child and parent/caregiver as opposed to a set pattern of events. Emotional abuse does not refer to anything physical but refers to a range of behaviours exhibited by the caregiver that prevent the child from obtaining his or her emotional need for affection, safety and security amongst others.
Examples include excessive criticism, under or over protection, emotional unavailability and unrealistic expectations. Emotional abuse may manifest itself many ways including low self-esteem and unhappiness as well as unhealthy attachment styles.
Physical abuse involves any behaviour by the parent or caregiver that either directly or inadvertently results in physical harm. This form of abuse may refer to a once off incident or a repeated series of events. Physical abuse may involve severe physical punishment, pushing/shaking, induced illness and forced observation of violence.
Sexual abuse is when an adult uses a minor for their own sexual gratification. Examples of sexual abuse include, amongst others; sexual intercourse with a child, exposing sexual organs to a child, involving a child in masturbation and sexual exploitation. As children cannot give sexual consent any act between an individual over 18 and an individual under 17 is considered sexual abuse.
For a full description of sexual abuse types and ways to identify whether sexual abuse may be taking place, please follow this link. If you have concerns for a child then make sure to check out the information provided here.
What is the Impact of Abuse on Children?
Child abuse can have a major impact on any young person. Research indicates that the most serious mental health problems often arise from repeated trauma. This is because repeated trauma such as child abuse can often last years or even decades of a young person’s life, leaving them little time to experience the stability required for secure development.
In addition to this, some psychologists have made the case that the most severe psychological effects arise from relationships in which the child is dependent. The most obvious example if this is parent- child relationships. When this relationship is abused by a caregiver it deeply disrupts the ability of the child to form attachments, develop self-esteem and resilience.
It is hard to pinpoint the results of child abuse as it depends on the individual’s subjective experience, length of abuse and severity of abuse. Research has linked child abuse to a variety of emotional and behavioural issues however. These include:
Child abuse may also have long- term effects for the individual. Neglect as well as emotional, physical and sexual abuse in childhood have all been linked to range of poor long-term mental health outcomes. Depression, anxiety and addiction have all been linked to adverse experiences in childhood. In addition to this child abuse has also been linked to poorer physical outcomes. It is important to note however, that not all children who experience abuse will go on to develop such issues.
Interventions for Children who have Experienced Abuse
Treatment methods that have the most scientific backing are based on CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and focus on the abuse itself. CBT addresses the child’s thinking patterns, emotional responses and behavioural reactions to the abuse.
In particular the treatment will attempt to correct any misattribution of blame the child may demonstrate i.e. blaming themselves as opposed to the adults for the abuse. It is important not to force the child to directly discuss the abuse too quickly, but rather ease into a discussion of it. In this way, the child’s embarrassment and anxiety is reduced as much as possible.
The therapist may also teach the child skills to cope with the negative emotions arising from the abuse. These may include stress or anger management techniques. The child is taught to identify any triggers they may have for negative behaviours and ways to minimise the effect they have on them. The aim of such training is to improve social and interpersonal functioning as well as reducing daily distress.
The aftermath of abuse may be highly stressful and the child may be dealing with court proceedings or the social care system. In such cases the therapist may work with the child to teach relaxation techniques. This aims to reduce anxiety levels and to reduce any fear surrounding reminders of the abuse. For example some children may be afraid of being in smaller rooms or startle easily around adults.
The most important thing for any child is that they receive the support they need as quickly as possible. Suitable intervention in the aftermath of abuse has been shown to reduce the impact in the long- term. Childhood abuse is something no child should have to suffer and they deserve as much help and compassion as we can provide.
Afifi, T. O., MacMillan, H. L., Boyle, M., Cheung, K., Taillieu, T., Turner, S., & Sareen, J. (2016). Child abuse and physical health in adulthood. Health reports, 27(3), 10.
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Wamser-Nanney, R., Scheeringa, M. S., & Weems, C. F. (2016). Early treatment response in children and adolescents receiving CBT for trauma.Journal of pediatric psychology, 41(1), 128-137.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a developmental disorder affecting approximately 3.4% of adults. Symptoms vary, but amongst the most common are distractedness and impulsivity as well as hyperactivity.
The number of children being diagnosed with ADHD in the US has been increasing in recent years. ADHD however, may also be diagnosed in adulthood, with many adults realising that the lifelong difficulties they have faced may be due to something more underlying.
Given the lower prevalence of ADHD worldwide, it is remarkable that approximately 25% of those treated for alcohol and substance abuse problems also have co-occurring ADHD. The link between ADHD and substance abuse is well-documented but the reasons behind it are less understood.
WHY IS THERE A LINK?
This is a complex question as it is unclear whether the qualities of ADHD lead to addiction, or whether the way ADHD is treated (medication etc.) may lead to substance abuse.
There is little evidence for the latter. Treating ADHD with medications like Adderall does not increase the abuse of other substances, but reduces risk. Engaging with medication and treatment programmes has been found to reduce the likelihood of becoming involved in criminal behaviour. Another study which followed children with ADHD into adulthood found that stimulant medications did not increase the risk of drug and/or alcohol abuse into adulthood.
The evidence therefore, seems to indicate that the actual traits associated with ADHD – like hyperactivity, impulsivity etc. may make individuals vulnerable to substance use.
An interesting study conducted by Harvard Medical school, found that out of those with ADHD who were abusing substances, only 30% were doing it for enjoyment only. The other 70% used it to improve sleep, mood etc. This tells us that individuals with ADHD may be self-medicating to treat the problems they may be experiencing.
The restlessness and hyperactivity associated with ADHD makes concentrating on repetitive tasks difficult. Therefore, those with ADHD are prone to boredom, which substance use can help them to deal with. Without a diagnosis, those enrolled in programmes of study may turn to substances to help them cope with study stress or an inability to concentrate during lectures.
ADHD, particularly when left undiagnosed and untreated, can be a stressful disorder to live with. Tasks that may take a person without difficulties two hours may take an individual with ADHD four. This can make schoolwork or the working environment extremely stressful, with self-esteem often suffering as a result.
Those with ADHD tend to be less successful academically, and this in time can lead to difficulties holding down jobs and earning money. Again, this leads individuals vulnerable to substance abuse.
Treating Co-occurring Disorders
ADHD, when undiagnosed, also makes substance abuse harder to treat. The difficulties associated with it make engaging in regimented treatment programs more difficult. Individual talk-therapy, often requiring long, concentrated sessions, can be difficult to focus on and the impulsivity associated with the disorder may make relapse more likely.
What Can Be Done to Help?
It is extremely important for those with ADHD to be diagnosed. An experienced professional will have a range of clinical interviews and measures at their disposal in order to accurately assess whether ADHD is present.
This often requires the professional to take case history and they may also call on a parent or sibling to ascertain how long symptoms have been present and the effects they have had at various stages of the individual’s life.
Often, when those with ADHD and addiction issues present for treatment, it is primarily due to the addiction problems. The realisation that ADHD is also present can be a remarkable moment for the addict, as the complicated tapestry of difficulties and addiction problems they have faced can begin to make sense.
Once diagnosis has been made, treatment can be tailored to take the comorbid ADHD into account. This is far more effective than treating the addiction only.
Simple changes and learning how to better organise time and money can all make a massive difference to adults with ADHD. With time coping strategies can be developed to help minimize distractions and improve attention spans.
In terms of prevention for those already diagnosed with ADHD, exercise has been found to be an effective habit for those with ADHD to adapt. Regular exercise provides structure and stimulates the brain, making it less likely that those with ADHD will turn to substance abuse.
The strong relationship now evident in the scientific literature means that it can be stated with some certainty that ADHD places individuals at risk of abusing substances. It may be helpful for parents of children with ADHD to speak to them about the risks they may encounter in the future, and the added complications they may face when experimenting with substances.
By: Dr. Syras Derksen
Registered Psycholog and Winnipeg Therapist
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