More Parents Think Their Kids Have ADHD Now That They Are Learning From Home

A local psychologist has seen an increase in requests to assess classic signs like hyperactivity and lack of focus.


Parents have learned a lot during the coronavirus pandemic about how their children learn.  

“Pandemic schooling” has been a very different experience for most families with students forced to rely on virtual learning.  

“The biggest piece I think that has changed since the pandemic is the educational support piece, and just a lot of that being on the parents.” — Dr. Jessica Garrett, director of clinical assessment at the Birmingham Maple Clinic

Jessica Garrett is the director of clinical assessment at the Birmingham Maple Clinic. She says parents are telling her that while learning at home their kids are hyperactive, restless, disorganized and inattentive. Those are classic signs of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder — known as ADHD. 

Garrett says she’s seen a sharp increase in parents asking to have their children tested for the problem.  

“Parents are seeing their children school from home, and they’re seeing them in an academic setting where they didn’t have that before,” she says. “And in a lot of these cases, the teachers have maybe said something to the parent historically, or they maybe had heard it, but they were maybe a little bit dismissive.”

Now that kids are learning from home, Garrett says parents are saying, ” ‘[my kids] need me sitting right next to them in order to finish their schoolwork. And they are just kind of all over the place. And I’m looking at their peers on Zoom, and they’re able to focus a little more than my child who’s really up and kind of all over and really difficult with following directions.’ “

Listen: Dr. Jessica Garrett talks about what parents can do at home to support their kids who are doing virtual learning.

WDET’s Sascha Raiyn spoke with Jessica Garrett to talk about what she’s hearing from parents. Read excerpts, edited for clarity, below:

WDET: I can imagine those kinds of behaviors being more common because of pandemic stress, and maybe the stress of learning under whatever circumstance during the pandemic.

Garrett: Absolutely, yes. So, that’s why when we do an assessment. We want to make sure to take all of those things into consideration. Because we all as a society, and especially children, who all of a sudden have had their friends ripped from them, their academic environment torn away from them, and they’re finding themselves with all of these aspects of their former life missing.

So, we want to make sure that we’re accounting for that. It’s hard for all of us to adjust to this new normal. And, you know, it was a huge shock, almost a year ago when this happened. So, we definitely, as we do any evaluation, we’re accounting for all children to one extent, or another experienced some sort of period of adjustment to that. Some were relieved to not have to be in school. Our socially anxious children were, you know, happy to not have to deal with school and their peers.

For most kids it was a big adjustment. So, that’s certainly something that we take into consideration when we do a full evaluation.

WDET: So what does treatment look like? Is it just medication?

Garrett: Treatment for ADHD consists of usually like what we call like multi-modal support. So, we’re looking at what we call parent management training and kind of helping the parents set realistic boundaries and set up their kid for success the best that they can.

Oftentimes medication, not always, but oftentimes, medication is aligning defense with ADHD treatment, skills training and therapy for the child, as well as. And I would say, the big thing that has changed during the pandemic is so much of this is on the parents and the educational supports in the form of some sort of formalized plan through school that could help them — that looks a lot different when you’re doing virtual schooling. Right? 

Courtesy Jessica Garrett
Courtesy Jessica Garrett

So, when they’re sitting in the actual classroom they’re able to have extended time and they’re away from distractions in the classroom. And although school districts continue to try to provide these services to the best of their ability virtually, it’s certainly much different than it is in a brick-and-mortar school setting.

But then there’s also behavioral supports that we look at at home that the parents can implement. Like, you always want to assess the environment, right? So, is your child getting enough sleep? Are they getting exercise at all? It’s hard when it’s 10 degrees out and snowing. But are they getting up and moving? And are they having the opportunity like they used to at school to get up and move? Are they getting the opportunity within the home to exercise? Do they have their own space at home to do work? Is it free of clutter? Free of noise and distractions? This is easier said than done in a lot of cases, but … giving them their own space to work? Are there routines established?

So, there’s also a lot of behavioral strategies that can be put into place, both at home and at school once we determine that ADHD is in fact present. But the biggest piece I think that has changed since the pandemic is the educational support piece, and just a lot of that being on the parents.

WDET: So you say you’re seeing more parents saying they think their children may have ADHD. What kind of increase is that? What does that increase look like for you?

Garrett: I don’t have hard numbers. But anecdotally, we’re seeing where maybe you know, I would get one to two requests a week or so for an ADHD evaluation. Now I would say it’s at least doubled.

And I’ve also seen a sharp increase for adult ADHD referrals as adults are working from home where then I would maybe do just, I would say two to four a month. And now that’s easily doubled, where adults are referring themselves thinking, “Wow, I don’t have like the structure that my workplace provides. And I’m just kind of left to my own devices. I am really floundering.” So that’s why when we do an assessment, we’re able to see some floundering. OK, that’s kind of to be expected.

But is there enough evidence that supports an evaluation and ADHD diagnosis? Sometimes we do the incomplete evaluation, and there’s not enough evidence to support an ADHD assessment but it at least helps us understand their strengths and pinpoint any challenges.

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  • Sascha Raiyn
    Sascha Raiyn is Education Reporter at 101.9 WDET. She is a native Detroiter who grew up listening to news and music programming on Detroit Public Radio.