ADHD and Bullying: Dr. Ashley Gorman Examines the Role of Bullying in Addressing ADHD and Offers Tips for Parents

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According to Dr. Ashley Gorman, most children are victimized by bullies at some point, but children with ADHD are targeted more often and are also more likely to exhibit bullying behavior themselves. There is a link between ADHD and bullying.

Dr. Ashley Gorman

Unfortunately, the behaviors of ADHD children mark them as different and make them frequent targets of bullies.

Bullying has serious consequences for both victim and bully. And while there is no single factor that is responsible for making a child either a bully or the target of bullies, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are found in both groups in larger numbers than children without the disorder. “Most children are victimized by bullies at some point,” says Dr. Ashley Gorman, neuropsychologist and ADHD specialist with Morris Psychological Group," but children with ADHD are targeted more often and are also more likely to exhibit bullying behavior themselves. There is a link between ADHD and bullying.” With estimates of the number of children with ADHD ranging from 4 percent to 12 percent, parents and school personnel must be alert to the signs that a child is being bullied and must help forestall bullying behaviors by seeing that the academic and social needs of these children are met.

The Link Between ADHD and Bullying
ADHD is characterized primarily by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Children with ADHD may be unable to sit still, stay quiet or pay attention. Some are hyperactive – bouncing off the walls and disrupting everything and everyone around them. Some may sit quietly but with their minds miles away. And some may be able to focus on a task but be overly impulsive, blurting out inappropriate remarks at inappropriate times. “When we ask children who among their peers are most likely to be bullied, they usually tell us that it's children who are ‘different,’” says Dr. Gorman. “That could be the child who dresses differently, the very quiet or very smart child, the ethnic minority, the child who is taller, shorter, thinner or fatter than his or her classmates. Unfortunately, the behaviors of ADHD children mark them as different and make them frequent targets of bullies.”

On the other side of the equation, children with ADHD struggle with impulse control, which makes it difficult to form social relationships and their tendency to be disruptive and inattentive in the classroom makes it difficult to keep up academically. The resulting feelings of isolation and frustration may lead to aggression and bullying, especially in children who have themselves been the target of bullies. “Bullying is situational,” says Dr. Gorman. “It's not uncommon for victims to become bullies and bullies to become victims in different circumstances.”

“Whether a child is a bully, a victim or both, parents play a vital role in recognizing signs of trouble, supporting their child and helping him or her develop coping strategies to avert or manage instances of bullying,” says Dr. Gorman. Teachers and school administrators must be involved as well, in partnership with parents, to develop a structure that sets clear limits on behavior and expectations about how infractions will be handled.

What Can Parents Do When a Child is Being Bullied?

  • Children aren't always forthcoming about being victimized. Be on the lookout for frequent scrapes, bruises and torn clothing; reluctance to go to school; sleep disturbances; and generalized depression and anxiety. Ask questions to draw the child out. Listen carefully. Make clear that he or she isn't at fault, that it's the right thing to do to tell you about it and that you can help.
  • Don't advise ignoring the bully or fighting back, which might make things worse. Discuss ways to avoid the circumstances in which the bullying takes place.
  • Help your child identify an adult to go to when having a problem. Explain that telling isn't tattling when someone is in danger.

What Can Parents Do When a Child is Bullying?

  • ADHD children who engage in bullying behavior often have weak social skills – difficulty reading others' cues and trouble making friends. These skills can be taught. Try to discern what specific deficit is causing trouble socially and help the child practice new skills. Enlist the help of a teacher and/or a psychologist, if necessary.
  • Make sure the child's impulsivity and anger management issues aren't compounded by exposure to aggressive behavior or an overly strict environment at home. If a child isn't seeing positive examples of respectful relationships at home, bullying outside the home is more likely.
  • Bullies need allies at school too, teachers or administrators to turn to when frustration or high-stress situations might trigger bad behavior. Work with school staff to build a support system for your child.

“All children need an environment in which they feel secure to thrive academically and socially,” Dr. Gorman concludes. “Both bullies and victims feel insecure, different and excluded. And children with ADHD suffer the effects more than most. Thankfully, many school districts now have programs to raise awareness and address the problem. With children, parents and school personnel actively engaged, bullying can be prevented.”

Ashley Gorman, PhD., A.B.P.P., specializes in in evaluations of cognitive problems from dementia, stroke, cerebrovascular disease, concussion and traumatic brain injury and psychiatric disorders such as ADHD and learning disorders. Morris Psychological Group, P.A. offers a wide range of therapy and evaluation services to adults, children and adolescents. http://www.morrispsych.com

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