Recent studies show that the number of children being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is increasing, although it’s unclear why. The disorder affects 9 percent of American children, and boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls, says the National Institutes of Health.
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If your youngster has ADHD, you might wonder whether playing sports is a good choice for your child. To find out more about kids with ADHD and sports, we talked with child and adolescent psychiatrist Elizabeth Menefee, MD. Here’s what she had to say:
Q: Should kids with ADHD play in organized sports?
A: It is absolutely OK for kids with ADHD to play sports. In fact, swimmer Michael Phelps and football quarterback Terry Bradshaw, among others, were diagnosed with ADHD as children and went on to have highly successful sports careers.
In fact, overall, participation in sports can play an important role in the lives of children diagnosed with ADHD. Physical activities can improve social skills, enhance coordination and increase a child’s self-esteem. And these benefits are in addition to the benefits to physical health that all children gain when participating in physical activities.
Q: What sport or sports do you recommend?
A: Martial arts have historically been known to be good for kids with ADHD because these disciplines provide structure and organization. But really any sport is fine.
The most important thing is that your child is interested in the sport they are playing. They are more likely to work harder to play a sport they like.
Q: Are team sports OK?
A: Team sports can be good because these help your child develop social skills and learn to work on a team. Physical activity helps kids develop their planning ability, decreases impulsivity and improves mood.
Q: What problems should a parent watch for in sports?
A: Kids with ADHD may have problems with coordination or playing at the same level as their peers. This can lead them to feel bad about themselves. And because they have trouble focusing, they may not be picked to be on team sports in school.
To counter this, it’s important that the coach or gym teacher is aware of the issue for your child in order to provide support when needed.
Q: Is there an issue with sports and kids taking medication?
A: Prescription medications for children with ADHD often are stimulants such as Adderall® and Ritalin®. These medications can increase heart rate and blood pressure so it’s important that kids are regularly monitored by a physician — especially if they are playing sports. It’s also important that the coach is aware that your child is taking medication.
How you can help your child
- Try to find a coach who has experience with kids with ADHD.
- Make sure your child’s coach knows the issues your child is having.
- Help your kids develop a personal strategy for dealing with their ADHD; this can include having a regular routine, using imagery, or taking medications.
- Don’t make ADHD the focus of any activity; the coach needs to know, but it doesn’t need to be a big focus with the team.
- Help your child balance activities to devote enough time to academics and sports as well as getting enough rest and eating healthy.