Does My Son Have ADHD? If So, What’s Next?

As the mother of eight-year-old twin boys, I’m more than a little familiar with the wild, wonderful world of dudes. Both my sons are boy boys — rowdy, athletic, and prone to fits of gut-busting laughter anytime they hear the word “poo.” One of my sons is also extremely energetic (the nice word for it), which inevitably brings up the “ADHD question."

For parents of boys, deciphering which behaviors are “normal” and which are potentially problematic can be tricky. My son is finishing second grade. Academically he’s a stellar performer, highly creative and intelligent. Behaviorally though, he’s restless and sometimes disruptive. As a result, his teacher recently asked me a question I’ve heard before: Have you had him tested for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)?

Yes — although my mother’s intuition always told me he doesn’t have it. My son was tested twice between the ages of four and six. Both times, a psychiatrist met with him for an hour and concluded that he doesn’t have ADHD. We were told his behaviors were due to temperament — he’s a kid with a lot of energy who likes to be seen and heard.

That was several years ago. He’s older now and the behaviors stand out more, so once again I’ve encountered the question: Does my child have ADHD? And if so, what next?

My gut keeps telling me no and if you consult a standard list of ADHD characteristics, it’s not very helpful. One article I found recently lists the three primary symptoms of ADHD as trouble paying attention (inattention), trouble sitting still for even a short time (hyperactivity), and acting before thinking (impulsivity).

Here’s where it gets murky. As for #1:  my son has no trouble paying attention when he’s interested in a topic. He has an almost photographic memory and retains the smallest details when everyone else in our family has forgotten. If something bores him, he has no attention span at all.

Onto #2:  My son is not a good sitter. He tilts, fidgets, and perches halfway off his chair like he’s ready to bolt at any moment. Sitting quietly and calmly in one spot for a period of time is difficult. That said, if he’s buried in a good book or drawing project, he will not budge.

Which brings us to #3: acting before thinking. This one makes me giggle. If I could list the number of adults I know who do this (including myself), it would be a long list. Humans often act before they think — who doesn’t?!

At the end of the day, I’m less a believer in lists and data and more a believer in instinct.  My child pays attention to every detail at almost every second, but he’s a multi-tasker. My child will sit still if something is interesting enough to make him do it. My child acts before thinking maybe 15 percent of the time, which is a better ratio than some adults I know. So… I say it’s temperament.

I’m the first to admit my son is complex and doesn’t always make things easy. But just because he’s not “easy” does not mean he needs a diagnosis. For now, the answer to whether he has ADHD is still no. Just the same, my husband and I are taking actions to help our son process his boredom, redirect his energy, and focus on things that move him forward. Here's what has worked for us:

Getting opinions from others. That means qualified child experts, like his pediatrician (for starters), as well as present and past teachers, and coaches. A child who isn’t focused at school may be extremely focused on the tennis court or in art class.

Trying alternative therapies. Certain ones can help promote relaxation and focus. We’ve done acupuncture and massage, both with good results. Yoga and meditation can also be extremely successful with older kids; we've started doing four minutes of still/quiet time a day which is a great way to start with younger kids.

Doing family counseling. The right therapist can help you and your child develop a set of coping mechanisms, social tools, and other valuable life skills. This has been a huge help for us — we tried out several therapists before we found one that was the right fit for us.

I cherish my son's energy and enthusiasm, even on days when it runs me ragged. As long as I can, I'd rather channel that beautiful boy energy than label it.