In recent years, there has been an increase in publicity about ADHD and most people have now heard of it at least, although there are still a lot of misconceptions about what it is, and even more about the people who suffer with it.  Many children are wrongly labelled as ‘naughty’ or ‘badly-behaved’ when they are really struggling with undiagnosed ADHD.

In 2004, National ADHD Awareness Day was adopted in the States but soon expanded to include the month of October and is now recognised as ADHD Awareness Month around the globe.

Three major ADHD organisations support the project aiming to “educate the public about ADHD by disseminating reliable information based on the evidence of science and peer-reviewed research”.

This year’s focus is on “Setting the record straight”.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder usually diagnosed in children although adults can suffer with symptoms too.

Causes and symptoms

The exact causes of ADHD are not fully understood, although research suggests that genetics and the structure/functioning of the brain may be factors.

Symptoms are usually seen first between the ages of 3-6 and preschool is often one of the first environments where symptoms become evident to nursery staff and peers. The symptoms fall into 2 main categories: those of inattentiveness, and those of hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

Inattentiveness includes:

  • having a short attention span,
  • making careless mistakes,
  • appearing unable to listen to, or carry out instructions.

The main symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness include:

  • having trouble sitting still,
  • constant fidgeting or movement,
  • being unable to wait in turn,
  • having little sense of danger.


Obtaining a diagnosis of ADHD is complex. GPs are the first port of call but the child needs to have displayed 6 or more symptoms of either inattentiveness, hyperactivity or impulsiveness continuously for at least 6 months and in at least 2 different settings: e.g. at home and at preschool.

It’s also important to rule out behavioural issues that may be just a child’s reaction to a specific parenting style or specific teachers, as well as symptoms attributed to another developmental stage or another mental disorder.

Nursery staff can potentially play a crucial role in helping secure an accurate and early ADHD diagnosis, which can help alleviate misconceptions and assumptions about the child’s behaviour. An early diagnosis also allows parents and staff to work together to find effective strategies to help manage the condition.

Communication is key.  But when talking to parents or raising concerns about incidents or behaviour, it is important to remember that most parents will have been told many times about their child’s ‘naughty behaviour’, so try to maintain a positive attitude, show professional care and empathy, as well as an informed understanding of the situation.

Is there a cure?

There is no cure for ADHD, but medication such as methylphenidate can help patients manage their condition, improve their concentration, help them feel calmer and less impulsive as well as support them to learn new skills.

If a child has been diagnosed with ADHD, they may need to take medication during the day at regular intervals, so adhering to your policy on medication may be relevant.

Non-pharmacological treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and social skills training may also help older children.

What you can do

Looking after a child with ADHD is often challenging but following the tips below can help make it rewarding too.

  1. Plan the day with clear routines so the child knows what to expect. Children with ADHD appreciate a stepped approach to tasks.
  2. Be consistent with boundaries and ensure the child understands what behaviour is expected from them. Reinforce positive behaviour with praise or rewards. If the boundaries are crossed, then be consistent with consequences so the child understands the repercussions.
  3. Be specific and literal when giving instructions. For example, say “please put the books on the bookshelf” rather than “please tidy up”.
  4. Intervene early if you see a child becoming agitated or upset. You can use distraction techniques or take the child out of the situation to give them chance to calm down.
  5. Offer rewards or incentives for good behaviour or social interactions.
  6. Recognise the importance of a nutritious diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep, although these may be factors outside of the nursery’s control.

And remember…

A diagnosis of ADHD is not an excuse to limit expectations for that child. Recent studies have recognised that children with ADHD may have superior creativity in performing certain tasks over children without a diagnosis.  And many highly successful people have attributed their achievements to the resilience learned in dealing with their ADHD on a daily basis.

A child with ADHD has the right to a balanced education which is appropriately tailored according to their needs and nursery schools are perfectly placed to help facilitate this in their early years.

For more information on ADHD Awareness Month, visit: https://www.adhdawarenessmonth.org/

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