October is ADHD Awareness Month.
Let’s start with some quick facts about ADHD:
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, as defined by the American Psychological Association
ADHD can be diagnosed in children 6+ and adults
There are 3 types of ADHD
ADHD symptoms need to be present in more than one area of life
ADHD is often an underlying factor for anxiety, depression, oppositional behavior, and relationship challenges
ADHD impacts the executive functioning area of the brain
ADHD management often needs to include multiple things, such as diet/exercise, medication, and therapy
ADHD brains reach maturation later than neurotypical brains. This is particularly evident in social-emotional development
ADHD is life-long. Symptoms can be managed; however, there is no “permanent treatment or cure" for ADHD
ADHD is genetic, families often have multiple people with the diagnosis
ADHD is often misdiagnosed in girls because it presents different externally
ADHD is considered Neurodivergent, or a different type of brain
ADHD is about much more than the behaviors that you see. It is actually about the brain processes and functioning that make it difficult to focus, control impulses, stay organized, and be attentive called executive functioning.
There are 3 types of ADHD:
1. ADHD predominantly inattentive (previously known as ADD)
This type is most common in girls as it does not always look like “classic” ADHD. Symptoms can be things like being forgetful, losing things often, not paying attention to details, making careless mistakes, and having difficulty following directions, being emotionally sensitive, lying, and avoiding tasks.
2. ADHD predominantly hyperactive/impulsivity
These traits are often thought of as “classic” ADHD. Including symptoms of fidgeting, getting up out of a chair, running, climbing or moving at inappropriate times, talking too much, blurting out, interrupting, looking like they are on “hyperdrive” all the time, and often need high supervision.
3. ADHD combined type
Has traits from each type of ADHD that are seen in the child and adult’s behavior.
Important FACT: ADHD doesn’t go away and cannot be “cured.” Adults often have learned ways to manage some symptoms better than others; however, the symptoms are still present.
ADHD impacts the executive functioning area of the brain, which is located in the prefrontal cortex and is the last area of the brain to develop (for neurotypical brains, adult maturation of the prefrontal cortex occurs between the ages of 25-30). Executive functioning skills include attention, focus, organization, planning, mental flexibility, emotion regulation, and impulse control.
No two ADHD brains are the same. One person may excel in organization and planning and struggle with impulse control, while another excels and struggles in different areas. Knowing how your (or your child’s) ADHD brain works can be empowering. The amazing thing about our brains is that they are flexible-- neuroplasticity is a big word that means our brains can flex and change in the areas we prioritize. Meaning receiving care and having external supports improves the ADHD brain's ability to adapt and learn effective and appropriate coping skills.
An important factor when considering ADHD as a possibility for yourself and/or your child is that ADHD symptoms need to impact the daily lives of a person in more than one aspect of life: home, school, and work. If your child is only struggling at school, there may be other things at play--such as anxiety, depression, or trouble adjusting to a recent life change.
ADHD is also hereditary, often a child is diagnosed, and a parent’s diagnosis soon follows! ADHD symptoms need to be persistent for at least 6 months and present from a young age, and it is important that all other possibilities are ruled out before an ADHD diagnosis is given. That being said, ADHD is often an underlying factor for anxiety, depression, oppositional behavior, and relationship challenges because it often causes the other symptoms to intensify.
ADHD doesn’t go away and 9% of the population (CDC reports) have been diagnosed with ADHD. Many more continue to struggle and face the stigma of ADHD when help is available. Life doesn't have to be hard.
ADHD brains are often delayed in social-emotional maturation. In children, this can be anywhere between 3-5 years behind their peers. This is important as many ADHD children often have behaviors that result in discipline problems because their brains don’t match their peer's abilities. For example, when your 10-year-old ADHD child is struggling to complete their homework, and they are starting to meltdown, ask yourself how you might approach this differently when they were 7 years old? You can help your child develop appropriate skills for their chronological age, and you need to first meet them where they are at. It is unfair to ask them to climb a mountain, without first providing them with the equipment needed to do so.
All ADHD brains share strong risks of school failure, peer rejection, job loss, relationship disruptions, accident-prone behaviors, and substance abuse. Research shows that girls with ADHD are at an increased risk for these problems, as well as an increased risk of developing anxiety, mood disorders, self-injuring behavior, and eating disorders. You can read more about the specific concerns of Girls with ADHD and how they differ from Boys with ADHD.
ADHD is life-long. Once an ADHD brain, always an ADHD brain.
ADHD can be frustrating to live with; it can impact careers, disrupt relationships, makes parenting harder (both as an ADHD parent and/or parenting an ADHD child), and many of the challenges around planning, organization, and time management can cause the individual to feel distressed and shame. I have heard it referenced that “ADHD is life on hard-mode.” ADHD symptoms can be managed through a combination of modalities, such as medication to manage symptoms (yes, this is often needed just like insulin for diabetics), therapy to learn new skills, as well as body movement/exercise, which is highly recognized to improve blood flow to the brain, which often helps to manage ADHD symptoms.
ADHD is manageable! The earlier a person receives support, the more adaptive and protective factors can be put in place to prevent more difficult mental health challenges in the future.
If you have concerns or questions regarding a possible ADHD diagnosis in yourself or your child, reach out!
Parenting an ADHD child is challenging-- and many parenting strategies do not work for these children! It is okay to ask for help sometimes, we all do. Finding a Play Therapist or child therapist for your family can help you better communicate with your ADHD child and set reasonable expectations for your child’s developmental age and neurodiverse brain!
Adults often can have delayed diagnosis because of the stigma around ADHD, making adulting very challenging. ADHD can significantly impact relationships, employment, physical health, and lead to substance abuse- all of which cause significant challenges to living successfully in our world today. If you are an adult and think ADHD might be impacting your home and/or work life, find a therapist for yourself that works with ADHD adults.
Helpful ADHD resources and links:
References: CDC.org, ADDitudemag.com, Nimh.nih.gov