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When your grandchild has ADHD

Encore Parenting: When Your Grandchild Has ADHD

By Elaine K. Williams, LMSW / CHt  |  What you need to know and do if you are a grandparent raising a grandchild who has, or might have, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder | 


Grandparents who understand that attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurologically based problem and who know how to “handle” a child with ADHD can help the child manage his or her challenges.

Many of the grandparents I have interviewed have told me how hyper-active their grandchildren are. This may be due, in part, to anxiety related to the trauma of losing their parents. The symptoms of hyper-activity can also be related to developmental delays.

There are three main subtypes of ADHD:

  1. Inattentive
  2. Hyperactive / Impulsive
  3. Combined (inattentive, hyperactive, impulsive)

Some children have either inattentive or hyperactive / impulsive type. Others have combined type, experiencing all three types of ADHD symptoms.

ADHD symptoms typically cause impairment—interfering with the child’s ability to learn, make and keep friends, participate in after-school activities (including sports), or even function at home. For instance, the ADHD symptoms might lead to the child having trouble with siblings or getting in trouble at home or school.

For some children, the trauma related to their parents’ abandonment, rejection, abuse, neglect, or loss may be so severe that they have posttraumatic stress disorder. PTSD may result when a child experiences a threat to his own or another’s safety or life, causing the child to feel intense fear, anxiety, helplessness, and/or horror. The threat might be domestic violence; emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; crimes; natural disasters; and related losses.

A child with PTSD may be misdiagnosed with ADHD, because the symptoms can be similar. These conditions can also coexist. Consider taking your grandchild to a physician or psychiatrist for an appropriate diagnosis, so you’ll know how to help your grandchild.

Some children respond well to medications, others to behavioral interventions; many respond well to a combination of the two. Counseling, education, and support services are often helpful, too. Typically, a multi-dimensional approach to treatment works best.

Whether your grandchild has ADHD or PTSD, or both, he has special needs. A chaotic, unstructured, unorganized setting can exacerbate symptoms. Safety, predictability, consistency, and understanding are what these children need on a daily basis. With your support and with the proper medical, psychological, and educational interventions, your grandchild’s behavior, relationships with others, and self-esteem will improve.

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Elaine K Williams, author The Sacred Work of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Sacred WorkElaine K. Williams, LMSW / CHt, is a counselor focused on kinship care and the author of The Sacred Work of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. She invites grandparents to share their stories in the Kinship-Caregiver Forum on her website.

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Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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