Huntington Connects

ADHD Blog

Connecting you to the latest news, tips and academic resources

Striking a Balance: Overscheduled vs. Too Much Free Time for Kids with ADHD

Childhood today is very different from childhood 30 years ago, when time outside of school was spent playing in the neighborhood, often unsupervised and undirected by adults. Today kids and teens typically attend a host of extracurricular activities after school, with little free time in-between. Do a quick search online for “overscheduled kids” and you’ll find hundreds of articles warning parents about the perils of enrolling kids in too many extracurricular activities. These articles typically highlight the negative effects that too little free time can have on creativity, imaginative play, and social development. What these articles rarely discuss, however, is the reality faced by many parents who frequently work during the after school hours and need these activities to keep their children and teens safe and occupied. Parents of children and teens with ADHD face another reality as well: unstructured and unsupervised downtime often quickly leads to impulsive and sometimes unsafe behavior as well as sibling arguments. As a result, unstructured time often ends with a punishment for bad behavior, or is simply replaced by screen time in an effort to keep the peace at home.

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Spotting Signs of Stress in Teens with ADHD

Teenagers might not be faced with many of the situations that adults consider to be stressful, like financial concerns, parenting challenges, long commutes, a demanding career, job instability, etc., but the middle and high school years come with a set of challenges that can be highly stressful in their own right. In fact, in a 2013 American Psychological Association survey teenagers reported experiencing unhealthy levels of stress at higher rates than adults. Teens cited school as the number one source of stress, followed by worries about getting into a good college and figuring out what to do after high school. Other sources of stress included social pressures, worrying about family members, and worrying about family finances. When a teen has ADHD, their risk for unhealthy levels of stress goes up even higher. ADHD symptoms make school more challenging, both during the school day and in the evening during homework time. Friendships and dating can be harder with ADHD too, especially for teens that have difficulty picking up on subtle social cues or who tend to impulsively say things that they regret later. If your teenager is like most, then his or her afterschool and weekend schedule is packed with extracurricular activities that leave little room for down time. The time management challenges and impulsivity that comes with ADHD make it much more likely that a teen will get in over his or her head with too much to do and too little time. But like most teens, those with ADHD may not recognize that they have bitten off more than they can chew. They don’t necessarily know that their stress level is higher than it should be, or that they can ask for help.

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Does Fidgeting Help Kids with ADHD Focus?

Have you noticed that many kids with ADHD seem to move and fidget constantly when they are doing their homework or are sitting at a desk in their classroom, no matter how many times they’ve been told to sit still or stay in their seat?  Have you also noticed that these same kids seem to have no problem sitting still when they’re watching a movie or playing a videogame? This stark contrast in behavior perplexes and frustrates many teachers and parents. It gives the impression that kids with ADHD are able to sit still “when they want to” and only move constantly at other times because they’re trying to avoid doing their schoolwork or escape a boring situation, or because they are simply being defiant. 

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Inside the ADHD Brain: Differences found in kids with ADHD

A large multinational imaging study published last month in The Lancet provides additional evidence confirming what smaller studies have already shown: the brains of children with ADHD look different from those without ADHD. In this recent study, MRI brain scans were analyzed from 1,713 people with ADHD and 1,529 people without ADHD from 9 countries in North America, Europe, South America, and Asia. Participants ranged in age from 4-63 years old. For children with ADHD, five brain regions showed smaller volume: the amygdala (emotion regulation), the hippocampus (memory), the putamen and caudate nucleus (both involved in motor skills and learning), and the nucleus accumbens (sensitivity to rewards). For adults with ADHD however, there were no differences in brain volume in these regions.  

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A Natural Treatment for ADHD

Have you noticed that your child’s ADHD symptoms seem better on days when he or she is more active? Is your child able to sit and focus on his or her homework more easily once he or she has run around and “burned off some energy” after school? Researchers have only recently begun studying the effects of exercise on ADHD, but results from early studies are promising. Engaging in moderate-to intense-exercise multiple days a week appears to improve ADHD symptoms, executive functioning (read more about executive functioning in my previous post), social skills, and motor control. A recent study by Dr. Betsy Hoza, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, compared two interventions in elementary schools. The first was a 30-minutes exercise intervention that included moderate- to-intense physical activity through games like tag and “sharks and minnows”. The second intervention was sedentary, and included 30-minutes of classroom art projects. Both occurred before school every day for 12 weeks. At the end of the 12-week period parent and teachers rated the children on ADHD symptoms, moodiness, social skills and motor skills. Kids in the physical activity program showed improvement in each of these areas.

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Tips for Teens: Can a Tomato Help You Get Your Homework Done?

You know that you need to stay focused when you are doing your homework or studying for a test, but sometimes it just seems impossible. If you’re like most teens with ADHD, you always have intentions but no matter how hard you try you always seem to get distracted. Usually, the longer you work the more easily distracted you become! Why? Because our brains are not designed to focus on a single task for hours at a time, even when ADHD isn’t part of the picture. Add ADHD into the mix and trying to focus for long stretches become truly overwhelming. Research shows that the average amount of homework assigned to high school students is 3 hours a night. So, how can you possibly complete that much work if your brain can’t seem to focus for a 3-hour stretch? Well, a tomato may be able to help!

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