Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in children does not mean that a child is ill or disabled. A child with ADHD for some physiological reason is just not getting an adequate supply of dopamine which kicks in when the adrenaline level is too high. Dopamine helps people calm down after an adrenalin rush in a natural biological way. There is evidence that the adrenaline levels of kids with ADHD do not elevate enough to trigger a surge of dopamine. ADHD medication is most often stimulant medication which raises the child’s adrenaline level enough to trigger a naturally occurring amount of dopamine and the child is able to control conduct or behavior.
Without any ability to focus, a child cannot learn how to behave. There has to be some ability to pick up signals in order to stay out of harm’s way, or to master even basic personal hygiene tasks. Many children in foster care have ADHD. In fact, the odds of children in foster care exhibiting ADHD behavioral symptoms is twice as high as mainstream children. Sadly, many children in foster care with ADHD have been physically punished as a result of ADHD related behavior. By the time this child is placed in a foster home, this child and the family that is caring for this child really need professional guidance in order to provide a supportive environment for a child who not only struggles with ADHD but has lost her parents and has experienced as least some degree of abuse or neglect.
The need for ADHD medication typically emerges in kindergarten and escalates in the primary grades. This is true of any child and not only children in foster care. Children who are merely active or struggle to pay attention but eventually do settle down may do fine without medication. Unfortunately, many children in or out of foster care have not mastered the simple skills needed to keep themselves or those around them out of danger, or allow their caregivers a chance to sleep at night. If a cup of caffeinated coffee with lots of sugar and milk soothes a child as opposed to stimulating a child, it is a good clue that ADHD is a possibility for this child. Prescribed medication is much better that a cup of coffee because the dose will not be too much or too little and will last for a day of school but coffee is a good way to conduct an informal evaluation.
Many people have ADHD or had it as children and have become successful and creative adults. Stimulant medication for ADHD does not take away the ADHD or replace dopamine.
The vitality and exuberance common with this population is still there even with medication. The foster child, or the child with his own biological family who cannot keep friends and is perpetually making others angry and frustrated deserves a chance to do well and be happy and secure. This child is entitled to an opportunity for competence and life success.