Could my grade 1 child have ADHD? Here’s what you should look out for

Undiagnosed ADHD in your Grade 1 child can have a huge impact on his self-esteem. Here’s how to spot the signs at school.


On average, there are one to three children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in every classroom of 30 students, according to Dr Russell Barkley, an internationally recognised authority on ADHD.

ALSO SEE: Everything you need to know about ADHD

Child psychiatrist and author Dr Brendan Belsham says Grade 1 is a time when children display symptoms of ADHD more obviously than in previous years.

“There’s a quantum leap in what’s required from your child from preschool or Grade 0 to Grade 1, as he’s suddenly required to sit at a desk for longer periods of time, use his fine motor skills and remain focused on one task,” explains Dr Belsham. “The three clusters of ADHD symptoms – inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsivity – become more apparent when greater demands are placed on the child’s capacity to self-regulate.”

Identifying ADHD symptoms in the classroom

ADHD symptoms teachers will recognise in the classroom include:

  • A child is easily distracted and forgetful.
  • A child is prone to blurting out answers and not following instructions fully.

“Children with ADHD often unintentionally antagonise their peers, because they battle to take turns and adhere to rules, which are both basic functions of child’s play,” describes Dr Belsham. “They’re alienated by their peers as a result, and act out in a desperate attempt for attention, which further pushes their peers to exclude them even more. This makes it difficult for them to form friendships in their new class.”

ALSO SEE: 5 tips to help your child in Grade R or Grade 1 make new friends at school

Long-term impact

The social fallout of undiagnosed ADHD isn’t always recognisable at first, because teachers aren’t privy to everything that happens on the playground. But the downstream impact on the child’s self-esteem and his attitude towards school is something of which parents should be aware.

“If your child is constantly making excuses not to go to school – like complaining of a sore tummy – or gets tearful at the prospect of going to school, a parent should take heed. The early years of school should be exciting and fun. If a child is actively fighting attending school, there’s a chance it’s because he has undiagnosed ADHD and, as a result, knows that he’s not coping academically,” says Dr Belsham.

“Children start to notice when they take longer to finish their work and have to stay in at break time, or produce scruffier drawings than their peers. These knocks to their confidence, along with exclusion from classmates, could lead to negative feelings towards school.”

ALSO SEE: How to build your child’s confidence

Parents and teachers should both be on the lookout for symptoms of ADHD in the early grades of school to avoid damage to the child’s academic foundation and self-esteem. If teachers pick up symptoms of undiagnosed ADHD, they should immediately consult with the child’s parents and give information at an observational level – but avoid trying to diagnose the child themselves, says Dr Belsham.

“It’s more common for teachers to detect symptoms of ADHD, as they’re exposed to behaviours that exacerbate these symptoms. Parents, on the other hand, don’t always witness their child’s struggles with concentration, as the child isn’t under pressure to focus for extended periods of time at home,” says Dr Belsham.

Firm feedback

Teachers should be sensitive, respectful and firm in their approach to relaying their concerns to parents. Parents often have the misconception that having ADHD is a “life sentence” for the child, which, according to Dr Belsham, is wholly untrue.

“Parents of newly diagnosed ADHD children need to know it’s not a reflection of bad parenting or a condition that has to fundamentally interfere with the functioning of the child. ADHD is highly treatable and, with the right treatment from the early school years, children with ADHD can thrive throughout their school careers,” he says.

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