Guilt – every day Sara feels guilty. Her friends and relatives believe that she isn’t a good mother. They say that as a working mom she doesn’t give her son enough time and so has been unable to raise him “properly”. Thus, her son, Ali, has become a difficult child who doesn’t listen to anyone and lacks good manners.

Ali interrupts people and blurts out his opinions. He doesn’t sit still and constantly fidgets. He doesn’t follow instructions when playing or studying. Is messy and can’t seem to take care of his belongings. Ali runs around as if he is full of rocket fuel and bumps into everything in his path – knocking over lamps, spilling milk on the floor, stepping on the cat’s tail are routine acts of destruction.

Sometimes when you talk to Ali he doesn’t respond. It seems like he can’t hear you and is in a faraway world where your voice can’t reach him. It seems like Ali is ignoring you on purpose – so you call him rude.

Sara wonders what she is doing wrong because Ali always seems to be doing something that isn’t right.

Well, Sara did nothing wrong. She made no mistakes in raising Ali – she is not a bad mother. And neither is Ali, a bad child.

Ali suffers from a biological ailment known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This is not a disease caused by a virus, a head injury or poor parenting. If your child has ADHD you can’t blame anyone for it – not the child and certainly not yourself.

There are areas in your child’s brain that control his or her ability to concentrate, control impulses, regulate behaviour, be motivated, and learn from mistakes. These areas develop more slowly or are less active in a child with ADHD and so create chemical imbalances that make your child neuro-biologically different from the average child.

Scientists have not been able to determine one single cause of ADHD but research has shown that it is not a result of what children eat, watch on TV, play with, or the way their parents raise them. So Sara need not feel guilty at all, because Ali is simply a child whose brain functions a little differently from other peoples’ brains.

According to the Centre for Disease Control, about 5 – 11% children in the US have been diagnosed with ADHD making it one of the most common childhood conditions with more boys being affected than girls. What this means is that 1 in every 5 boys is likely to be diagnosed with ADHD or ADD (without Hyperactivity) between the ages of 5 and 17.

As a parent, you need to know that your child with ADHD will almost always have a co-exiting condition. Your child may develop learning disabilities, disorders related to speech, mood, sleep, anger and conduct, and even depression. These conditions make everyday activities highly stressful for your child and worsen the symptoms of ADHD. If left untreated they lead to poor self-esteem, poor social adjustment and long term psychological damage. That is why it is important to diagnose ADHD and its co-existing conditions as early as possible. And that is why it’s essential that you are aware of what ADHD is and what it is not.

But beware – not every hyperactive, inattentive child has ADHD. Diagnosis is a technical process which must be undertaken by a professional. If you suspect that your 5-7 year-old child is displaying symptoms for at least 6 months, then consult a psychologist who will begin the process of diagnosis.

ADHD cannot be cured – there is no medicine to fix it but there are medications that can help your child manage it. These can only be prescribed by a doctor and need to be administered under medical supervision. But medication is not the only way to cope with ADHD.

After Ali was diagnosed Sara opted, not for medication but, for behavioural therapy. With the help of Ali’s therapist, she learnt to use simple strategies to make everyday tasks easier for Ali. She labelled his cupboards and drawers and helped him learn to puts things in their right place. She broke-up his tasks into small bits to match his concentration levels. Sara learnt that kids with ADHD thrive on routines, so she set schedules and helped Ali stick to them. She helped him devise a system of reminders. Together they invented a secret code to use whenever Ali needed a reminder about his goals.

Most importantly, to help Ali learn healthy behaviour patterns Sara used a token system to motivate him. Every week she chalked out 5 behavioural goals that she wanted Ali to accomplish such as colouring for 5 minutes without getting up. When Ali accomplished a goal Sara awarded him with a star. At the end of the week the stars were counted and Ali was rewarded accordingly. Ali and Sara together decided on the nature of the rewards, for example, 5 stars would earn Ali a chocolate bar, 8 stars a new box of colouring pencils.

It is important for us to remember that a child with ADHD does not have any intellectual problems. Research shows that typically these children are very creative and have above average IQ levels. But because of the nature of the symptoms of ADHD the world sees these kids as disrespectful, rude, irresponsible and slow. It is no wonder then, that these kids find it difficult to make friends and to maintain social relationships. However, they can easily succeed in school and society but only if they are not ridiculed, marginalised, and treated as defective. This is only possible when parents and teachers work together to understand that children with ADHD are not lazy or defiant. They are simply different – different in their ability to inhibit, control, and direct their behaviour in response to their environment.

To put it simply, children with ADHD don’t mean to do the things they do, and don’t do the things they mean to.

Thus if you are a parent or a teacher it is essential that you learn to use appropriate behavioural and academic interventions so that children like Ali do not feel inadequate and are unconditionally accepted by the society, just the way Albert Einstein, John F Kennedy, Michael Phelps, and Walt Disney were accepted as unique individuals with ADHD and were allowed to flourish.

So the next time someone tries to blame you and your parenting for your child’s different behaviour just walk away. Focus your energy on seeking professional help and educating yourself about your child’s condition. With your help and understanding, your child will learn to manage his or her ADHD and make the most of his or her strengths and talents.