When ADHD Co-Occurs with Cerebral Palsy

This blog post was written by our friend, Alex Dias-Granados, from www.cerebralpalsyguidance.com

A child with cerebral palsy is at a greater risk for numerous associated physical, mental, and behavioral health conditions when compared to peers, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Studies have found that as many as 19 percent of children with cerebral palsy will be diagnosed with ADHD, as compared to 11 percent of the general population. This behavioral health condition affects how a child learns and interacts with others, so diagnosing and addressing it is crucial.

Signs of ADHD

Exactly why ADHD and cerebral palsy commonly occur together is unknown, and part of the reason is that we don’t know exactly what causes ADHD. Since there is a known connection, though, it’s important for parents and other caregivers to recognize the signs of ADHD. The consequences of not addressing it can be serious for a child, and the earlier interventions are begun, the better.

There are three main symptoms of ADHD, and some children may express one, two, or all three: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Inattention may appear as being unable to focus on one thing or task for very long, being disorganized, or having trouble remembering things. Hyperactivity is associated with fidgeting, moving around a lot, repetitive movements, and restlessness. Being impulsive means acting or speaking without thinking, and in children commonly appears as defiant, aggressive, or inappropriate behaviors.

ADHD interventions

ADHD is a behavioral condition, and for many children it can be effectively treated with behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that helps a child learn to monitor his behaviors, actions, and thoughts, to be more aware of them, and to change them. A therapist works with a child with ADHD regularly to help him change his behaviors, slowly, step-by-step. It is not an instant cure.

Medications can be useful for many children with ADHD, often when used along with therapy. Stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin help a child focus, pay attention, behave more calmly, and think before acting out or speaking. There are several options for stimulants and a child may need to try more than one to find a medication that gives the best results with the fewest side effects.

The consequences of ignoring ADHD

For a child with cerebral palsy, it may seem that there are more pressing needs than treating ADHD. However, the consequences of this behavioral condition can be severe and can keep a child, with cerebral palsy or not, from being successful academically, socially, and otherwise. Children with undiagnosed ADHD are more likely to get lower grades in school, to get in trouble at school, and to struggle to make or keep friends.

ADHD can even persist into adulthood if it is not addressed and if a child doesn’t learn strategies for coping and changing behaviors. Even with treatment, ADHD may persist, but therapy and medications give a child a way to learn to live with the condition and still lead a quality life. The best thing a parent can do for a child struggling with both conditions is to get an evaluation for ADHD and then to tackle it head on with support and professional treatment.

To learn more about cerebral palsy, ADHD, and other associated conditions, visit Cerebral Palsy Guidance, a comprehensive website dedicated to spreading awareness and assisting parents in learning more about CP and its associated disorders.

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