NEW YORK By high school, Chris Davis knew his mind worked a little differently from those of other kids. He couldn't maintain focus on longer projects, keep quiet or still, and kept losing things. Then came the diagnosis: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.
In one sense, the news was a godsend: It allowed his family to chart a successful path forward, to the point where Davis, 42, is now director of retirement services for a Connecticut wealth management firm.
But the diagnosis also introduced some financial challenges.
"My parents took me out of the public school system and enrolled me in private school with smaller class sizes," says Davis.
"There was also psychological counseling, both alone and as a family - and in those days, insurance didn't cover anything. If I were to add it up in today's dollars, they probably spent in excess of $50,000."
It's a familiar refrain for parents of ADHD kids. As awareness of the condition grows, so does the volume of diagnoses, the range of treatments and the related costs.
"There's testing, there's tutoring, there's counseling, there's medication," says Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, a Boca Raton, Florida-based psychotherapist and author of "ADD and Your Money." "It can mean thousands of dollars a year, which can really add up over time."
Indeed, ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed childhood behavioral disorder, with the number of parent-reported cases amounting to 9.5 percent of all kids age 4-17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry tabulates the direct costs per year for ADHD treatment as $1,574 per person, plus $2,728 for each other family member (including indirect costs like lost income).
Many parents are caught in a financial vise. They want to spend whatever it takes to ensure a successful future for their child, but don't want to bankrupt the family.
In challenging economic times such as ours, the stakes are even higher. The Federal Reserve reports that the median net worth of American households tanked by 39 percent from 2007 to 2010, which means there's limited disposable income for extraordinary needs.
Here, are some tips for striking the right balance:
WORK THE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM
If your child has ADHD and the learning challenges that may come with it, federal law requires that public schools make the necessary resources available.
Chris Davis, whose 9-year-old son shows early signs of ADHD, takes an active role in leveraging what his local school has to offer.
"We find out in advance of bigger (school) projects that are coming up, so we can divide a large assignment into digestible chunks," Davis says, alluding to the fact that his child, like many kids with ADHD, has trouble managing big tasks.
"We're fortunate that our town has plenty of resources, so we've been able to control costs so far."
As a result, they haven't needed to move their son to a private school with smaller classroom sizes, saving them an annual tuition fee of $20,000 or more in his home state of Connecticut.
Still, not all public schools are equal.
"Many public schools just aren't set up for these kids, with big classrooms and huge bureaucracies," says Beth Arky, a writer for the Manhattan-based Child Mind Institute.
Some local schools may be so cash-strapped they haven't got the extra resources, forcing some families of kids with needs to seriously consider going private.
But some school systems face legal requirements that require them to pay for private school if they can't fully meet every child's needs.
"That's why some parents just go and pay for private school, and then sue every year for reimbursement," Arky says.
BE AN INSURANCE NINJA
As not all health plans are created alike, sign up for the most gold-plated one your employer offers, to offset the significant costs you're going to face.
If they make you "jump through hoops," says Davis - like securing the proper referrals from your primary-care physician first, and using only in-network specialists - then jump through those hoops to avoid punishing out-of-pocket expenses.
And don't automatically write off publicly funded programs, even though many in-demand providers may not accept it.
"People in all income brackets can go to Medicaid," says Arky, who lives in Brooklyn. "If your child has a disability, regardless of your income, you can apply for Medicaid and have a service coordinator."
PLAN YOUR BUDGET EARLY
Remember there are direct ADHD costs - for co-pays for medication or doctor's visits - and indirect costs, too - like lost parental income.
If you're essentially a full-time advocate for your child because of his or her condition, you may have to cut back on work hours. Factor that into family budgeting as soon as possible, so you can offset any income shortfalls by trimming expenditure in other areas.
Also take advantage of a flexible-spending account if employer offers one, which will let you cover medical expenses with pretax money.
TAP RESOURCES AND SUPPORT
Being a parent of an ADHD kid means you'll basically become a lay expert on the condition. Multiply that by millions of diagnoses around the country, and that's a powerful support network for answering questions, locating free or low-cost services, and sharing success stories.
The organization CHADD (CHADD.org) is a good place to start, as is its National Resource Center (help4adhd.org). And if you work for a large employer, you may well have access to an Employee Assistance Program that can plug you into an array of useful resources.
"So many people have been led to believe that ADHD will be a totally debilitating crisis," says Davis. "My own experience shows that it doesn't have to be - either emotionally, or financially."