Interview with ADHDDude Ryan Does My Child Have ADHD? Diagnosing and Best ADHD Treatment for Kids

Natalie interviews ADHDDude Ryan Wexelblatt on the best ways to diagnose, treat, and support child with ADHD in elementary school. This is a great guide for parents wondering if your child has ADHD or if you're always looking for the top treatments and ways to support your child. 

Interview with ADHDDude Ryan Does My Child Have ADHD? Diagnosing and Best ADHD Treatment for Kids
Photo by Annie Spratt / Unsplash

Natalie interviews ADHD Dude Ryan Wexelblatt on the best ways to diagnose, treat, and support child with ADHD in elementary school. This is a great guide for parents wondering if your child has ADHD or if you're always looking for the top treatments and ways to support your child. 

ADHD Dude Youtube: @ADHDDude  

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Well, hi, Ryan. Thank you for coming on today. How are you doing? I'm good. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. Do you want to start just by introducing yourself? Give us a little bit of your background, your mission, you know, why you're so passionate about ADHD? Yeah. So my name's Ryan Wexelblatt.

Um, I have a, uh, YouTube channel called ADHD Dude. I am a former school social worker. I'm a licensed clinical social worker, father to a son with ADHD. And now I work with families of kids with ADHD and that's pretty much all I do. Okay. Um, and I also have a, uh, summer camp for kids with ADHD. Oh, wow. Summer camp sounds like so much fun.

I wanted to have you on today because as a former teacher, I get reached out to a lot about ADHD and parents that maybe their child was just diagnosed. They want to know the teacher's approach or they're wondering if their child needs a diagnosis of ADHD. And for me, I've always felt like I'm in this funny little dance where I can't.

answer the question. I know what it is. I've worked with students that have ADHD. I've received accommodations and come up with my own techniques to help them. But at the same time, I was never allowed to answer the question or die. Of course, not diagnosed, but even suggest it too heavily. And so it always felt a little odd because I'm working in this space.

I need to be ready to help these students, but I can't talk about it. I've definitely had cases where a parent maybe needed the nudge to start thinking in that direction and have had to kind of softly nudge them and say, Hey, have you talked to a doctor about some of these things? And I've been met with like defensiveness and a very upset reactions by that.

And I've met reactions from parents that went and got an answer from their doctor and started exploring what's going on. But even now that I'm out of the classroom, I still get asked all the time. So I wanted to bring you on here just to be a great resource. Can you briefly share what ADHD is and what is your approach?

ADHD is technically, technically what we would call a neurodevelopmental disorder. I don't like the word disorder really. So I call it a neurodevelopmental difference. Um, so it's just, you know, a difference in the way the brain works. I explain ADHD as an executive function developmental delay. Okay.

Meaning the frontal lobe, the part of the brain that controls executive functioning. Um, and there's some other aspects of the brain that, you know, cover executive functioning. Um, is approximately, you know, two to three years behind, um, kids similar age peers. So people often think of ADHD as difficulty sustaining attention or hyperactivity.

Um, and it actually is, is much more than that, you know, really at its core, what ADHD is, is difficulty sustaining the tension, the things that are not interesting to you, but it's also this global delay in these executive function skills, um, that we can speak about. So my thing is that I want to educate parents about ADHD because I have a saying that for most families, they are unintentionally misled as soon as their child is diagnosed with ADHD, um, both because You know, people, educators, you know, people in the medical field, mental health field, number one, they're just not familiar with what the evidence based treatment recommendations are, but a lot of families are just not really given helpful information.

You know, from the very beginning, most are just told your child has ADHD. Do you want to consider medication? Go find a therapist, you know, and, you know, ironically, therapy is not even a recommended treatment for kids with ADHD. So, um, so that's really my goal. And, you know, my mission is to educate families, um, and to use, you know, evidence, informed information and factual information.

So we're looking at this from, you know, a perspective of, you know, science and what the research data tells us, not just kind of opinions. Um, you know, and obviously I have a lot of experience. You know, a former school social worker and as a father. But at the end of the day, I want this to come from a place of, you know, evidence and data for families.

Boy, there are a lot of opinions on A DHD out there, so I love to hear that you are trying to take a scientific approach there and keeping up with the latest research. And I just wanna touch on this too. I've heard the term ADD is. outdated. ADHD is the new term. Can you touch on that? I don't remember the year, but um, the term ADD stopped being used.

I think it was, it was in the 90s or 80s. I don't remember, but it was, it was, you know, over 30 years. What used to be called ADD is now called ADHD inattentive type. So there's really kind of three different presentations of ADHD. There's the inattentive type. There's what's called the hyperactive impulsive type and there's the combined type which combines the inattentiveness and the hyperactivity and impulsivity.

I have never once in my career seen a child who just presents with the hyperactivity part yet can sustain attention to things that are not interesting to them. So I really say there's two presentations of ADHD. Either you have the, uh, hyperactivity and impulsivity piece or you don't. Thank you for kind of clarifying that there.

If you suspect your child has ADHD, what should you do and what shouldn't you do? The way an accurate ADHD diagnosis is made is through collecting data from people who see the child in natural environments. So parents, Teachers, you know, other caregivers, if they go to daycare, um, people tend to go way overboard in seeking an ADHD diagnosis.

So if we have concerns about, you know, learning issues or, you know, possibly a comorbid condition like depression or anxiety, then, you know, a psychological evaluation would be appropriate. But if we're not concerned about that, then really a diagnosis can be made through a pediatrician. And the way you do that is you get, um, you know, ratings forms to fill out.

And I always suggest to parents, you know, rather than just you and the teachers filling them out, give them to, you know, other people who spends time with your child. Because again, the more we can collect information from people who see the child in their different natural environments, the more of an accurate diagnosis that we're going to make.

The one thing I really suggest to parents is stay out of Facebook ADHD parent groups and out of any, you know, neurodiverse groups. You know, parent Facebook groups, because they are just full of misinformation and disinformation and a helpful comment here or there, but for the most part, they're completely full of misinformation and oftentimes a lot of dangerous information as well.

Yeah, that's scary. I think you can really get down a wormhole when you start looking up things online for yourself. I want people to make decisions on treatment based on evidence, not their emotions, not opinions. When I hear about ADHD and. Talk to families about it. Sometimes I've said ADHD is like a superpower and that kids need to understand their diagnosis so they can understand how to use their power.

What do you think about that? One of the things that I teach, have always taught kids in my school year programs and my summer camp is that, you know, a lot of people with ADHD become very successful because when they learn to, you know, harness their ability to hyper focus on things that are interesting, you know, that's something that can really serve them well in life.

And there's, you know, other ways that ADHD can serve you well in life. What I do encourage is I encourage parents not to talk about ADHD as a gift or a superpower. And the reason why is because, you know, let's face it that, you know, you don't have to take medicine for something that's, you know, a gift.

You know, and the other part is I don't think that ADHD is taken seriously in our culture. I don't think the mental health field takes it seriously. I certainly don't think the education field takes it seriously, you know, which we can talk about if you want. And what I explained to parents is if we want ADHD to be taken seriously, we can't advocate for it to be taken seriously.

At the same time, call it a superpower because that contradicts each other. I think you've got a really great point there. And we want it to be taken seriously. The effort families have to go through to even get a diagnosis. We want Treat it with the respect that it deserves and ensure that children continue to get treatment and the support that they need.

You touched on medicine there. If a child has ADHD, is medicine the only option? Do you think children need to have medicine? So personally, I follow the American Academy of Pediatrics ADHD. Treatment recommendations, because number one, they're evidence based and number two, because I do find that they produce the best results for families in the most time and cost effective way possible.

So the AAP treatment recommendations for children under six are parent training first. That's what I provide through my membership site. Followed by the use of methylphenidate if necessary for Children's six and up. It's parent training in conjunction with medication management. So here's, here's my thing.

I don't tell parents what they should or shouldn't do with medication, but what I do ask them is please make an educated decision about medication. Because the long term research data shows that for people with ADHD who go unmedicated, there's a lot more negative outcomes for them in life because we do have long term research data on this.

The most concerning one is that having ADHD and going unmedicated, Doubles your chances of developing a substance abuse problem in adolescence. So, you know, that's always something I want people to know. So again, I say to parents, you know, make medication decisions, you know, through a discussion with your physician.

Hopefully they're educated about ADHD. Not all of them are. You know, and again, we want to go by data and evidence and not fears, not opinions and not emotions. It's a very difficult process. I hear for families figuring out the medication. Do you find a lot of children end up switching different types of medication or different doses before they find what's working for them?

Yeah. I mean, I always tell people, you know, this is really a matter, matter of trial and error and you just have to be patient with it. I mean, I've seen it take, you know, eight months to find the right one. You know, the, the beautiful thing though, about, you know, stimulants is That if your child doesn't have a good reaction to one, it's, it's out of your system the same day, you know?

So the other thing I always want people to know is that stimulants are the most research medications in the history of the psychiatry field, and they are also considered amongst the safest. I think that's really important to know. Half the battle of medication is if you're going to put your child on something every day for an extended period of time, you want to know that it's not going to be building up in their system.

So what are some resources you'd recommend for families? Yeah, so obviously my YouTube channel is a great resource. I suggest, you know, Attitude Magazine, who I create content for as well. Um, and Chad, that's children and adults with ADHD. So those are, um, you know, really kind of the two primary resources.

And, you know, if they want to find information about medication, I always suggest, you know, going to, you know, credible websites like, you know, a WebMD or, you know, Mayo Clinic, you know, those types of websites. Absolutely. So I have a couple questions from subscribers here. The first is my seven year old daughter who's in second grade was recently diagnosed with ADHD.

I feel very overwhelmed with how to talk to her about this. I don't want her to think something is wrong with her. Do you think you can speak to that? Well, I, I think, you know, you have to think for a seven year old because we describe to them, you know, that this is a description of how your brain works.

That doesn't mean they're going to think anything is wrong with them. So if you don't imply that anything's wrong with them, they're not going to think anything is wrong with them. And that's how I explain ADHD to kids. I say, it's just description of how your brain works. And it means, you know, your brain is going to make some things a little easier for you.

And it might make some things a little more challenging for you. And then I explain, you know. For me, you know, my brain makes, you know, being coordinated sports challenging for me, but it might make, you know, making friends easy for me. Well, for somebody else, you know, their brain might make sports really easy for them to, to learn.

And it might make, you know, something like, you know, making friends a little more difficult to learn. And we all have things that, you know, we need practice with and things that come naturally to us. And that's just part of ADHD. When I was in the classroom, very often when I had parents come to me with different Concerns that was similar advice that I gave to parents to if the adults in the room are acting fine with it and have a plan and are, you know, take the time to listen and understand the kids are going to follow the mood in the room and they're going to follow what the adults around them are believing and saying.

So if you're panicking and you're saying negative things and you seem very anxious and upset about a diagnosis, they're going to receive a message, whether you say directly to them or not, or they're just sort of. Absorbing what you're giving out, um, they're going to get a negative message from it. So if we can kind of keep a positive tone, you can very intentionally keep the mood positive.

Absolutely. You know, I think the other thing is, and really right now in today's parenting climate, I think parents often think that their children are much more fragile than they are. You know, and what I always say is kids are not fragile. Kids are anti fragile. You know, and if we treat them as fragile, they're going to think they're fragile, you know, so, for instance, you know, when people withhold a diagnosis from a child, because for that reason, they worry, well, I don't want her to think anything is wrong with her.

Well, if you don't tell your child about it, you know, and if you don't explain it to them. You know, then they have no context for understanding how their brain works. But what happens if they find out about it eventually? Well, then the message that you've unintentionally sent them is this is something to be ashamed of and should be hidden.

I know so many parents are worried about their child being labeled in school. I just always heard this, like, my child's going to be labeled. My child's going to be labeled. But very often we were having serious conversations in the classroom because something was not right in the classroom. We, we've reached an impasse here.

And if the answer is, can you go to your pediatrician and get the form and let me and some other adults that spend time with your child fill it out? We can at least change the conversation we're having now. I, I think some of the trope of labels, things have changed in education a lot. Like it's not negative to be labeled anymore.

It's actually helpful a lot of the time because you come with directions. It lets kiddo needs. Or if you start to see behavior like this. This is the answer. Let's fix it right now. The other thing I say to that, you know, in terms of, you know, when people say, well, I don't want them to be labeled. I said, you know, well, number one, that's, you know, that's an irrational fear you have, you know, and they're not going to have ADHD tattooed across their forehead for the rest of their life.

You know, people, people tend to, you know, yeah, have irrational fears about this just because they don't understand, you know, understandably how the school system necessarily works, you know, and that this is not some kind of death sentence. Absolutely. And I think we have to remember too, if a child had physical needs, like.

Me needing sunscreen. A lot of the time. I would hope that the adults taking care of me could get me some darn sunscreen. Um, and I think it's the same for internal things as well. Like, it's, we just don't always see it and providing the language to be able to help each other is so, so, so important. Okay.

What I've got. Another question from a subscriber here, working with an older child. My 10 year old son, 5th grader, has ADHD. We have a good routine now, but I'm worried about the transition to middle school next year. Right now, he has two teachers during the day. Next year, he will have a different teacher for every subject and have to walk in between classes.

Do you have any advice to prepare him for middle school? So there's a few different things we can do, you know, we can ideally before school starts help him understand what his schedule is Ideally go into school and help him understand, you know What is the path you take to get from this class to this class?

See if we can find out, you know when they the students have a chance to go to their locker between classes So the more we can kind of you know structure this for him in a way that feels routine And he understands, you know, this is when I go to my locker This is when I you know have to go directly to this class You All those things are, you know, we're going to help, you know, the other thing as well is that, um, you know, when, when kids get to middle school, you know, we, we really want to focus on helping them, you know, move from prompt dependence to what I call independence, you know, so if you're constantly saying to him, you know, put this in your backpack, so on and so on.

Well, that's not helpful because what happens is when kids are constantly prompted, that means the adults around them are acting as their executive functioning and they're not learning to use their own executive functioning. So there's strategies we can put in place. You know, this is the kind of stuff I teach, um, you know, to help kids move from prompt dependence towards independence.

You can also do things like help him do homework in an order for the way his brain works. What I teach is that we do homework from, you know, what is most boring to you, or, or as I say, the kids hardest for your brain to get through to what is easiest. Because that actually saves you time, you know, with doing homework.

You know, if he has a 504 plan or an IEP, obviously there can be accommodations in there that continue from elementary school. You know, so there's a lot of things we can do to support kids to transition to middle school and to high school. I love that you gave some advice that they can start with now as well, just adjusting that homework routine and even things as simple as who's packing their backpack and who's preparing their lunch.

Like if you can, Make adjustments that they're in charge of a little bit more in their day to day life. It sounds like that will go the extra mile as they prepare for middle school. Oh my gosh, when I changed from middle school, I was, I was a hot mess. So I think kids really do need extra support to prepare.

Yeah. And look, what I always say is, you know, in terms of what you said about like packing your bag and lunch, the more you allow your child to use their own executive functioning instead of you acting as their executive functioning, the more it's going to speed up the process of them catching up, you know, with their peers.

Can you speak to a little bit about letting kids fail through this process too? I think when we talk about letting kids fail, I think there's, you know, two ways to look at this. Number one is, do they have the supports in place they need to be successful? Okay. And if, if not, then we need to look at that.

Now, you know, I, I do want to explain that sometimes we can put in too much support, which also hinders executive function, skill development, and can also enable learned helplessness. A lot of kids with ADHD become really skilled at learned helplessness. So we want to have supports in place to help them be successful, but also to challenge them, you know, a little bit.

The other part of this is. You know, some kids with ADHD have a propensity to be very inflexible because flexibility is an aspect of executive functioning. So when kids are inflexible and they're not receptive to help, you know, the two things are, we don't want to accommodate their inflexibility, meaning we don't want to work around their inflexibility because when inflexibility is accommodated, it gets worse.

But the other things I, the other thing I also teach parents is if your child has a propensity to be inflexible and they're not willing to accept your help or somebody else's help, Then they need to experience the natural consequence of failure because that's the only thing that's going to help them learn to be more flexible.

Yeah, I think uh Oh my gosh failure is the hardest thing, but it's also one of the best gifts that we can give kids too I'd much rather them be Bumbling along at age 11 trying to figure things out then, you know be learning these lessons when they're starting their first job There's plenty for them to learn at that point, too Yeah, absolutely.

And, you know, I think this kind of speaks to, you know, there's so many kids who go through high school and no fault of their own. When I, when I talk about, you know, parents acting as executive function, I don't say that with any kind of blame, you know, what I always say is, I believe parents are doing the best they can at any given moment with the information and resources they have available to them.

You know, and as I mentioned, a lot of parents are never educated about ADHD. So, you know, when we have kids who go through high school, You know, and their parents are packing their bags and telling them what they have for homework and waking them up every morning. Well, you know, suddenly when you leave high school and you have to manage your life independently, whether you're in college, you know, or a job, community college, that doesn't work out too well.

And unfortunately, you know, every year I get phone calls from parents, you know, sometime between typically, you know, November and January saying, you know, my child went away to college and now they're home. They couldn't make it. And it's never because of academics. It's never been because of mental health.

It's because they number one can't control their screen time because they've never learned how to manage on their own. Or it's because their parents have been acting as their executive function in their whole life and suddenly they're forced to use their own executive functioning and they don't have that level of skill yet.

That's a really tough transition after they've been through everything to move out to come back home. For what it's worth, a lot of people. Don't make it through their first semester in college or have to change gears after their first year. And that's a really important life lesson as well, too.

Absolutely. Yeah. Do you want to speak a little bit more about your membership? So I provide parent training. I have a membership site and basically what it is, uh, there's different courses in there. So. Um, you know, as I mentioned, you know, parent behavior training is the recommended treatment for kids with ADHD.

So, um, there actually were no parent behavior training programs in existence specifically for families of kids with ADHD. So I decided to create my own and that's called Scaffolding Better Behavior. Um, there's one called Executive Function Crash Course. To help parents learn how to build the foundational executive function skills that kids are going to need to be successful, you know, and help move them towards independence.

So I don't teach things that, you know, you've probably seen before, like, you know, hanging up lists and making checklists, you know, or using kitchen timers. Because at the end of the day, those things, you know, they don't really help you develop these foundational skills that are lagging. Um, I have one called socially smarter where, um, I teach parents how to help build what I call social executive function skills, what people often refer to as social skills.

Um, there's one about learning how to create daily expectations because You know, a common theme I see in families of kids with ADHD is what I call high giving low expectations where, you know, kids are given, you know, expensive smartphones and video game subscriptions and all these things. And very often nothing is asked of them in return, except for maybe academic performance.

And what I can tell you is, you know, in, in every family where I've heard about kids exhibiting, you know, really immature behavior at home, but nowhere else, The reason why is this? It's because of this high giving, low expectations because they don't feel useful at home and because they don't have any responsibility at home.

Um, and then there's one about, um, you know, making that bedtimes a little easier because bedtime can be challenging for a lot of, you know, kids with ADHD as well. Um, and then I also do office hours a few times a month where, you know, people can come and, you know, we do troubleshooting around the strategies and I answer their questions live.

So. Yeah, that's, uh, started off as supposed to be like a little side project and it became my full time job. So yeah, that's primarily what I do. The internet can be just such a wormhole and there's so much misinformation or conflicting information out there. I love that you've created a safe area where people can come in and get direct help from you and take your course as well.

That's really cool. Yeah. I mean, what, what I explained to people is if, you know, you're looking for actionable strategies, you know, this is, this is it. If you're, Looking just for, you know, a support group, probably, you know, you can find that elsewhere, but, you know, I really focus on, on actionable things that people can start implementing immediately.

I, that's, I feel like that speaks to the social worker in you as well. Like you want to lift people up, give, give people the skills. Um, and what age range does that serve? Yeah. What age range does your community serve? Everywhere from like five up to 17. I would say it definitely skews younger. So it's a lot of elementary, middle school, probably about up to about 15.

That's the majority of families who use it. That's awesome. Well, that's exactly who my audience is as well. Where can people find that if they're interested? ADHDDude.Com, my website. Awesome. Well, Ryan, is there anything else you wanna say? Do you feel like we covered, um, the important things and, you know, I think the last thing I just wanna mention to people is this can be really overwhelming, you know, and, and one of the things is, you know, sometimes parents will say, am I too late?

Or, I feel like, you know, I'm failing him or her. And I always say, it is never too late to help your child. Okay? And you are not failing anybody. You're not doing anything wrong. You know, and, and if you weren't an attentive parent, you wouldn't be seeking information. So, you know, you just proved that you're not failing them by, because you're, you're being proactive about this.

So I just want people to always understand that. I love that. You're, you're absolutely right. Finding out information is a huge first step. step and absolutely shows again and again that parents care. If people want to check out the YouTube channel, there's hours of free content there and it's organized in the playlist.

There's some for parents and there's, you know, a few for kids as well. I think it would be helpful to a lot of people if, you know, they're just new to this journey or just looking to learn, you know, a little more about ADHD. Absolutely. And I'll put all the links in the description as well so people can find you more easily.

Well, thank you so much for your time today. I feel like I learned so much. So much new information, and I hope people are leaving this interview feeling empowered and like they have next steps if they're just figuring this out. Awesome, well thank you for chatting with me today. Yeah, thank you so much for having me, really appreciate it.