Information for parents of children with ADHD

What should happen if I think my child has ADHD?

If you or someone else (such as a teacher) thinks that your child's behaviour could be a sign of ADHD, it is likely that you will visit your GP first. If your GP thinks that your child may have ADHD, they should ask you and your child about how your child's behaviour is affecting their everyday life.

Your GP may ask to see your child again to check if their behaviour improves, stays the same or gets worse.

A special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) at your child's school may talk to your child and help with their behaviour.

After your child sees your GP or a SENCO, you may be offered a place on a course to help parents with their child's behaviour (see what treatment should my child be offered?).

If your child's behaviour doesn't improve and you and your GP think it is seriously affecting your child's home and school life and relationships with friends, you and your child should also be offered an appointment with a specialist in ADHD.

The specialist may be a paediatrician, a child psychiatrist or someone with specialist experience in ADHD in children and young people (such as a learning disability specialist, social worker or occupational therapist).

Your child should only be formally diagnosed with ADHD by a specialist, who should first assess your child. In the assessment they will want to know about your child's physical health and if they have any other conditions besides ADHD. The specialist will also ask about your child's life at home and at school, and you may be asked about your own emotional or mental health.

This assessment may include you and your child's teachers filling out a questionnaire. Where possible, your child should be asked directly about how their symptoms and behaviour affect their life, and this should be recorded in their notes.

If your child has not been seen by a specialist, but is taking medication for ADHD (see about medication) prescribed by your GP, your child should be offered an appointment with a specialist as a priority.

What advice and support can we expect after diagnosis of ADHD?

Your specialist or another healthcare professional should give you advice on having clear rules about behaviour, encouraging and rewarding your child's good behaviour, and making sure that your child's day has structure and routine.

With your permission, your specialist should contact your child's nursery or school teacher about your child's ADHD and work out whether your child needs extra help in class.

During any major changes in your child's life (such as puberty, starting or changing school, or the birth of a brother or sister), your healthcare professional should make sure that there is adequate care and support for your child if needed.

Your specialist should offer you advice about a good diet and regular exercise for your child.

If you or a healthcare professional have noticed any food or drink that seems to affect your child's behaviour, you should be advised to keep a diary of what your child eats and drinks, and their behaviour afterwards. If there seems to be a link between certain food and drink and your child's behaviour, you should be offered an appointment with a dietitian.

There is little evidence that dietary supplements such as fatty acids (omega 3 or omega 6), or cutting out foods containing artificial colouring and other additives, can help children with ADHD.

There is limited evidence that following a diet containing a small number of foods (sometimes called a 'restricted' or 'few foods' diet) may improve symptoms of ADHD in children in the short term. But there is no evidence about long‑term benefits or possible harms, and keeping to this type of restricted diet is difficult.

Questions you might like to ask your care team

  • Can you tell me more about ADHD?

  • Are there any support organisations in my local area?

  • Can you provide any information for me and my child?

  • How can I help my child?

  • Are there any self‑help books or videos about managing behaviour that you can recommend?

What treatment should my child be offered?

The treatment your child should be offered will depend on how old they are and their symptoms of ADHD. A specialist should give your child most of their treatment and care when they are first diagnosed with ADHD, but after this your GP may provide some care.

Treatment for very young children with ADHD

If your child is under 5, they should not be offered medication for ADHD. You should be offered a place on a course to help with your child's behaviour if you have not attended one before, or if you and your specialist feel that attending one again would help.

If the treatment and care you and your child have received so far have helped your child's behaviour, your specialist may decide that they no longer need to see your child about their ADHD. Before this happens, your child should be checked for any other conditions, such as conduct disorder or learning difficulties, besides ADHD. Healthcare professionals should also see your child after they start school to check whether the ADHD symptoms are causing any difficulties with their relationships or school work.

If the treatment and care you and your child have received so far have not helped your child's behaviour, you and your child may be offered an appointment with another ADHD specialist.

Treatment for school‑age children with ADHD

If your child is old enough to go to school, they should not usually be offered medication first.

Your child's teachers should be informed about how to support children with ADHD. If they have also had training about ADHD, they should be able to use a number of methods to help your child in class.

You should be offered a place on a course to help parents with their child's behaviour. Sometimes it is helpful if your child also attends a course of group treatment, which may be a psychological therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or social skills training. This should cover:

  • solving problems

  • developing their ability to control themselves

  • listening when other people are talking to them

  • coping with and expressing their feelings

  • improving relationships with their friends and other children.

If your child is a teenager, one‑to‑one psychological therapy for them may be an option instead of a course for both of you.

If your child has a learning disability as well as ADHD, you should be given the choice of group or one‑to‑one sessions for you and your child.

If the treatment so far has helped, your child should be assessed for any other conditions, such as anxiety, aggression and learning difficulties, so that these can be addressed.

If the treatment so far has not helped, your child should be offered medication (see about medication). This should be alongside other support and treatment including courses for parents and children. Medication may also be offered if you and your child would prefer not to attend a course for parents or have psychological treatment.

Treatment for school‑age children with severe ADHD

If your child has severe ADHD, they should be offered medication as this is the best treatment for them. Medication should only be started by a specialist in ADHD after a full assessment of your child's symptoms, and after discussion with you and your child (see about medication).

After this, your GP can continue to prescribe your child's medication and check how your child is doing. As well as your child being offered medication, you should also be offered a place on a course to help parents with their child's behaviour.

If you do not want your child to take medication, or if your child does not want to take it, your specialist should talk to you about this. You should still be offered a place on the course to help parents with their child's behaviour. If the course helps, your child should be assessed to see whether they have any other conditions such as anxiety, aggression or learning difficulties, besides ADHD. The specialist should develop a long‑term plan for your child's care after discussion with you and your child.

If the course does not help, then your specialist should talk to you again about medication or extra psychological help for your child.

If you want to know more about the treatments for ADHD there are some examples of questions you could ask your child's doctor in information for adults with ADHD.

What happens when my child becomes an adult?

At school-leaving age, young people with ADHD should be assessed to see if they need treatment as adults. If they still need treatment, the responsibility for their care should be transferred to adult services, and this should be arranged by the time your child is 18. Your child should be given information about adult services and offered a full assessment of their symptoms when they transfer.

Questions about support for children, parents and carers

  • Where can I find local activities (such as sports, summer camps and holiday schemes) for children with ADHD?

  • Are there any other ways of helping my child, using books, websites and toys?

  • Is there any additional support that carers might benefit from or are entitled to?

  • Information Standard