Mark Arnold outlines how we can best understand a condition affecting an increasingly high proportion of children


Does your child have ADHD (otherwise known as VAST or DAVE)? Or do you suspect that they might have? Or do you support a child or young person who does? Then this is for you!

But wow, ADHD, VAST, DAVE, there’s a whole lot of acronyms right there isn’t there? Let’s start by a quick unpacking of what they stand for and then a little look at what that all means…

Understanding the terms

ADHD = Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

VAST = Variable Attention Stimulus Trait

DAVE = Dopamine Attention Variable Executive-dysfunction

Still none the wiser? I don’t blame you, it’s a confusing area, but have a look at this video clip that might help you understand the different terms, common threads of ADHD, and why there might be a changing of the way we talk about ADHD: Connor DeWolfe ‘Is It A Better Name?’


So common threads for children and young people with DAVE can include:

  • · Difficulties regulating their attention, with a shorter attention span, and reduced ability to concentrate and pay attention to other people
  • · Hyper-focus, an intense fixation on a favourite activity or interest
  • · Sleep too much, or not enough, both of which can adversely affect them
  • · Everything can be all or nothing, fully focused on favoured things but forgetting everything else. Having difficulties being organised or following instructions
  • · Over stimulated or under stimulated, finding it hard to regulate their senses
  • · Lack dopamine, a chemical in the brain that gives feelings of motivation, pleasure, and satisfaction.

(There are more common threads than these, for more in-depth info visit some of the web links at the end of this article).

If you still prefer to use ADHD or VAST then that’s absolutely fine, each person can individually use whatever they prefer, but for the rest of this article we’ll talk about DAVE. No, not the TV channel where you watch Red Dwarf or old series of Top Gear, but Dopamine Attention Variable Executive-dysfunction… we’ve kind of dropped the ‘dysfunction’ bit, and it’s not a great word to use anyway, a bit like ‘disorder’… these are terms that remind us of the difference between the ‘medical model’ and ‘social model’ when talking about disabilities, differences, and diversities. “Remind us?” you say… “We’ve not heard of the ‘medical model’ and ‘social model’ before, so what’s that all about?”

OK, so here’s the difference and why it really matters.

Medical Model vs. Social Model

The medical model, when applied to DAVE, suggests that it is something to be ‘cured’ and that by treating it as a medical condition, rather than a neurodiversity, it encourages people with DAVE to be viewed as needing to be ‘healed’, or made ‘non-DAVE’, so that they are like ‘everyone else’.

The social model, when applied to DAVE, suggests that people with DAVE face many barriers in a world that is only set up for non-DAVE people, rather than recognising that there are multiple and diverse ‘types’ of people and that all should be treated equally.

So, essentially, it’s society that makes it harder for people with DAVE to function fully and to thrive in the world. But wait a minute, a new word sneaked in there just now that we haven’t looked at yet… neurodiversity. What’s all that about and how does it relate to DAVE?


People with DAVE sometimes identify, or are described, as being neurodivergent (or neurodiverse), which means that their brain is ‘wired’ differently; they understand, experience, and interact with the world around them in different ways to non-DAVE people, and that difference isn’t better or worse, it’s just different.

There are many forms of neurodiversity, including Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia (sometimes called Developmental Coordination Disorder or DCD), Tourette’s Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and DAVE.

 Here’s a short video from ‘How to ADHD’ (I know, they’ve not caught up with ‘DAVE’ yet, but they are still good), to explain more about neurodiversity: ‘What Exactly Is Neurodiversity?

 Some of these areas of neurodiversity can and do overlap, so it’s possible for someone with DAVE to also be Autistic for example.

 What can I do to help my child?

 So, now you understand a bit more about DAVE (or ADHD or VAST, whatever term you’re using), what as parents can you do to support your child? What can you pray about? Where might you look for further support?


 Let’s start with prayer… always a good idea. I’m Dad to a neurodiverse son myself; James is 21 now, but he was diagnosed as Autistic and with Learning Difficulties age two. We had no idea what that meant at the time, but our immediate feelings were ones of fear and grief. Fear of the unknown, what would all of this mean for James, for us? Grief for the loss of the (probably totally unrealistic) dreams that we had for James’ future. It was a hard time and it’s an experience many families go through. Mentally Healthy Schools quote Government statistic suggesting that 15-20% of children are neurodiverse (see:

When we were experiencing this hard time, I know my prayer was various versions of “Please just take this away. Let us wake up tomorrow and it’s all gone…” Maybe you’ve been praying that prayer too. It’s natural to feel that way, we can find ourselves going through what you may have heard of as ‘The Five Stages Of Grief’, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and perhaps eventually, acceptance. Do you recognise any of those emotions and feelings as ones you’ve experienced? Or maybe you are experiencing them now?

Here is another helpful video that explains more about ‘The Five Stages Of Grief’ from Legacy:

These days, my prayer about James has changed. I don’t pray that he would not be neurodiverse anymore, being neurodiverse is an important part of who James is. My prayer now is focussed more on asking God to guide me in ways that I can help James better, how I can knock down some of those societal barriers that get in his way; I pray that I can better understand his communication so that he can tell me more about himself, what he needs, what he wants to share with me.

Do you see the difference? At first my prayer was about changing James, now it is about changing me, society, the world. That’s a big difference!

Practical lessons

What practical lessons have I learned that you could try? What ways have I been able to help my own neurodiverse child? Well, there are enough to fill a book (hey, that’s an idea!) but for now here are 10 headlines:

  • · Let them teach you, learn from them about how they navigate the world.
  • · Go at their pace, let them set the tempo. Give them processing time if they need it.
  • · Don’t give too many instructions at one time. Take it step-by-step and use clear language. Check that they have heard and understood you.
  • · Be understanding when they are struggling. However frustrated you may feel in that moment, their struggles are likely to be worse.
  • · Understand that, like everyone, they are sensory creatures that have sensory needs. Explore these with them. It will help you understand why they e.g. struggle to sit still, or need to get up and move while they do something.
  • · Learn what the triggers might be that cause them to struggle. Are there any that you can help to reduce or remove? If you identify a trigger, or if later your child is able to tell you about what caused them to struggle, write it down in a journal so you can track triggers and eliminate them where possible.
  • · Recognise that they sometimes need a safe place to use to regulate their senses. A calm area, with soft furnishings and limited sensory input, can help here.
  • · Provide structure and organisation to the day, planning ahead with them what the day looks like. If helpful, provide them with a visual timetable to use so that they know what that day looks like.
  • · Help them to do what they enjoy doing most. What are they enthusiastic about that can be used as a way of encouraging and celebrating them.
  • · Praise always works better than penalties. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set boundaries, and in fact boundaries can be really helpful, but make sure you give praise when the boundaries are kept, and don’t just react negatively when they are breached.


More support

So, as we wrap up this journey through the world of DAVE, where else can you find support, ideas, information, and tools to use? Well there are plenty of websites and social media channels out there, some of which we’ve linked to already, but here are some more:

The Additional Needs Alliance Facebook group, a community of parents, children’s youth and families workers, practitioners, and more, all passionate about supporting children and young people with a wide range of additional needs, including neurodiversity:

The ADHD Foundation is the UK’s leading neurodiversity charity, offering a strength-based, lifespan service for the 1 in 5 people who live with ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, DCD, Dyscalculia, OCD, Tourette’s Syndrome and more:

Contact work with and provide support for families with disabled children:

Young Minds the UK’s leading charity fighting for children and young people’s mental health, has a section to help young people understand DAVE/ADHD:

The Additional Needs Blogfather is my blog page, packed with information, tips, training details and more:

I hope this has helped you to understand more about your child or young person with DAVE, whether you parent them or journey with them in a different way. Embrace their diversity, learn all you can about them so that you can help them, pray for wisdom, and love them as much as God does, because that’s a whole lot!