Steps to take if you suspect your child has AD/HD

AD/HD Flowchart
The truth is, that whilst there are similarities, AD/HD can present in different ways with different children

 Jacqueline McDiarmid has worked with many parents who have suspected their child has AD/HD, or who have had a school suggest that their child could be assessed for AD/HD.  It can be an overwhelming time and she notices many parents ask family, friends or Facebook communities for advice about getting the right professional help. Here’s some steps to take.

Sometimes people who may – or may not – have experience of parenting a child with AD/HD weigh in which can make it confusing. Whilst there are similarities, AD/HD can present in different ways with different children – and there are different levels of AD/HD. It’s a neurological disorder that requires a medical assessment and specific plan tailored to the child’s individual needs.

Here are some behaviours that may suggest AD/HD in your child: –

  • Tantrums that are severe and ongoing (longer than five minutes) – parents may start to avoid public places or social interactions.
  • Social interactions with other children which are difficult – controlling, domineering behaviours from your child.
  • Poor school engagement or academic progress.
  • Trouble following instructions (compared to their peer group) or opposition to instructions.
  • Excessive talking without awareness of others.
  • Argumentative and constant blaming of others and objects when hurt or disappointed.
  • Lack of focus and staying on task – e.g. taking three times as long to eat their dinner as other family members.
  • Rage or explosion when the child does not get their own way or is told “no”.
  • Parents having a sense of “walking on eggshells” for fear of explosions or tantrums.

Things you can do if you suspect there is something wrong:

  1. Visit your GP and raise your concerns. Ask for a referral to a Developmental Paediatrician if your child is under 12.  If your child is over 12 then ask for a referral to a Child Psychiatrist.

*Please note this must be a “Developmental” Paediatrician.  Developmental Paediatricians are trained to assess and work with neurological disorders.

*The reason for suggesting a Child Psychiatrist (if the child is over 12) is because children with AD/HD are also at risk of other mental illnesses which typically show up at the onset of puberty. It is therefore more efficient to work with a Child Psychiatrist who will help your child manage all aspects of their mental health.

  1. It can take between 3-6 months to see some Developmental Paediatricians. Ask to be put on the cancellation list. Often appointments come up sooner if you are prepared to be flexible.  This is the same for Child Psychiatrists.


  1. If both parents are not in agreement about the assessment, visit a Family Therapist who specialises in this work. They will be able to give you their professional opinion after carefully assessing other potential causes of the behaviour. There are some situations where behaviour looks like AD/HD but it’s actually about family dynamics, conflict in the home or unhelpful parenting styles.

AD/HD Flowchart

Steps to take if your child has received a diagnosis of AD/HD:

If the AD/HD is impacting relationships, see the following professional:

A Family Therapist (who works with AD/HD in families)

  • They can help you learn parenting skills that are specific for children with behaviour that shows up with AD/HD
  • They will give you tactics and skills to help you manage challenging behaviour in different situations
  • They will educate you on what is occurring in the child’s brain
  • They will support parents to take back control (if they feel they have lost control)
  • They will help both parents get onto the same parenting page
  • They will help repair relationships which are often strained and under duress by the time a child is diagnosed with AD/HD
  • They will support parents and other family members
  • They will work with the teachers/school to support your child socially and academically

If the AD/HD is not impacting relationships, see the following professional:

Clinical Psychologist (who specialises in working with AD/HD).

  • They will educate you on how to parent your child
  • They will give you skills to manage challenging situations
  • They will work with the teachers/school to support your child socially and academically

If your child is over the age of eight and they are struggling socially, with their self-esteem or anxiety see the following professional:

Child Psychologist or an Adolescent Counsellor

  • They can help your child with social skills
  • They can help your child to learn skills to manage impulsive behaviour
  • They can help your child manage explosive behaviours, aggression and so on
  • They can help your child if they are struggling with anxiety, depression and low self worth (which is common by puberty)

If you as a parent are exhausted and despairing, see the following professional:

Individual Counsellor (Ideally one who has knowledge of AD/HD)

  • Can help to support you if you are feeling overwhelmed, isolated or despairing
  • Can help you with parenting strategies
  • Can help you with strategies to stay well resourced

Support for parents, carers, extended family

  • Join a support group online – there are many
  • Do a parenting course – N.B. this should be a course specific for parenting children with AD/HD. There are plenty of online courses around as well as face to face courses
  • 123 is a very good parenting course to learn for parents with AD/HD children

My biggest advice to parents is if just one parent (or teacher) believes there is something wrong or amiss with their child, then it is worth investigating.  As with most medical things, early intervention gives the best outcomes.  And if it turns out your child is okay the worst thing that has happened is you have spent some time and money finding this out.

Jacqueline McDiarmid  is a Family Therapist and Lecturer, Sydney Couple and Family Specialists. If you would like professional help to manage AD/HD in your family, please contact the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists , who have two Family Therapists who specialise in working with AD/HD – Jacqueline McDiarmid and Cherie Marriott.




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