October is here, and so is ADHD Awareness Month. It is a time to shed light on the complexities of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and the incredible individuals who live with it daily. This article will delve into the world of ADHD, uncovering its nuances, its impact, and how understanding it can make a world of difference for those experiencing it. As a mental health professional, I have professional and personal experience with ADHD; I'm here to guide you through the journey of discovering ADHD and finding the support you need for your family.
Quick Facts about ADHD
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADD isn’t a thing).
It's classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder by the American Psychological Association.
ADHD can be diagnosed in both children (6+) and adults.
There are three types of ADHD, each with its own set of symptoms.
Symptoms of ADHD affect multiple areas of life, not just one.
ADHD often underlies anxiety, depression, oppositional behavior, and relationship challenges.
ADHD primarily impacts executive functioning in the brain(memory, task completion, organization, motivation, and impulsivity).
Managing ADHD typically involves a combination of approaches, including diet/exercise, medication, and therapy.
ADHD brains mature later than neurotypical brains, especially regarding social-emotional development.
ADHD is lifelong; while symptoms can be managed, there's no "permanent cure."
ADHD often runs in families; most parents get diagnosed AFTER their child’s diagnosis
Girls with ADHD are frequently misdiagnosed due to different presentations, particularly anxiety.
ADHD is considered a form of neurodivergence.
ADHD is not just about what you see in terms of behaviors; it's about the intricate processes and functioning of the brain that make it challenging to focus, control impulses, stay organized, and be attentive—collectively known as executive functioning. Often, the hyper-engagement of these executive skills, e.g., hyper-focus, creates many of the challenges for ADHDers. For many parents, ADHD symptoms appear like a choice the child is making.
No child chooses to have poor behaviors. They are doing the best they can with the brain they have.
To grasp ADHD fully, let's explore its three types:
Predominantly Inattentive ADHD (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, having difficulty following directions, being emotionally sensitive, lying, and avoiding tasks.
Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD: 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 needing high supervision.
Combined Type ADHD: Involves traits from both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive types. This occurs when traits are present in both domains with significance.
ADHD is lifelong, and symptoms persist into adulthood, although individuals may develop strategies to manage them effectively. You can not “outgrow” ADHD. You don’t become less hyperactive; it has morphed into something else like gaming, extreme sports, or hobbies.
ADHD and Executive Functioning
ADHD primarily affects the executive functioning area of the brain, located in the prefrontal cortex. This region is the last to mature (typically between ages 25-30 in neurotypical brains) and includes skills like attention, focus, organization, planning, mental flexibility, emotion regulation, and impulse control.
It's important to note that no two ADHD brains are the same—strengths and struggles vary from person to person.
Knowing The ADHD Brain
Understanding how your (or your child's) ADHD brain functions can be empowering. Our brains are remarkably flexible and can adapt and develop effective coping mechanisms with care and external support. Making everyday life a little bit easier. With understanding comes the ability to make choices on the treatment options available. Yes, treatment is usually required to decrease the impacts of other mental health challenges stemming from untreated ADHD later in life.
Consider the Impact on Daily Life
ADHD symptoms will impact various aspects of daily life, including home, school, and work. If struggles are limited to one area, other factors like anxiety, depression, or life adjustments may be at play and should be explored. The ripple effects of ADHD are considerable. Academic struggles, peer rejection, emotion regulation, and workplace difficulties are just the tip of the iceberg. Research indicates that girls with ADHD face a higher risk of challenges, including mood disorders and self-harming behaviors. Girls with ADHD tend to have more anxiety, perfectionistic tendencies, and moodiness leading to appropriate treatment delays.
Novelty is crucial for individuals with ADHD as it provides a stimulating environment to enhance focus and engagement. ADHD brains thrive on new and exciting experiences as they activate the brain's reward centers, making it easier to sustain attention. When surrounded by novelty, individuals with ADHD often find it easier to channel their energy and interest into a particular task or activity.
Novelty also encourages creativity and exploration, allowing individuals with ADHD to harness their unique cognitive strengths. By introducing new and varied experiences, whether in learning, work, or leisure, we create opportunities for those with ADHD to manage their symptoms better and maximize their potential.
A Family Affair
ADHD often has a genetic component, and it's not uncommon for a child's diagnosis to be followed by a parent's or vice versa. Symptoms must persist for at least six months and be noticeable from a young age. ADHD can also exacerbate other mental health challenges, intensifying their impact. Often, the secondary symptoms of anxiety or behavioral outbursts initially bring a child into treatment. With proper diagnosis, the treatment stratgies can be more successful in offering adaptive strategies based on the child's strengths that can be lifelong supports for their success.
The Stigma Surrounding ADHD
ADHD is not rare; it affects 16% or 3 in 20 children, according to CDC reports. Yet, many individuals face stigma and continue to struggle when help is available. It's essential to recognize that life doesn't have to be a constant challenge. Many adults report they didn’t realize that life didn’t have to be so hard upon receiving treatment. Life for ADHDers often feels like swimming upstream constantly.
Social-Emotional Development Struggle
Children with ADHD often lag 3-5 years behind their peers in social-emotional maturity. This discrepancy can lead to disciplinary issues, as their behavior may not match their chronological age, which is confusing for many. This is important to know as shame and low self-esteem can be significant for ADHDer especially if not receiving treatment. Before reprimanding a 10-year-old for a meltdown, ask yourself how you would have approached the situation when they were just seven.
Meeting your child where they are developmentally is key to helping them grow.
A Life-Long Journey
ADHD has various challenges, including school difficulties, peer rejection, job instability, and relationship disruptions. Research also shows that girls with ADHD are at an increased risk of developing anxiety, mood disorders, self-injury, and eating disorders.
ADHD is a lifelong condition; while it can be challenging, it's manageable. Early support can make a significant difference, helping individuals develop adaptive skills and prevent more severe mental health issues in the future. Life with ADHD might feel like a game set on "hard mode," but it's far from unmanageable.
A multidisciplinary approach involving medication, therapeutic interventions, and physical activity can go a long way in mitigating symptoms. Research supports a combination of treatments as best practice, including parent training, medication, and mental health treatment.
If you suspect ADHD in yourself or your child, don't hesitate to reach out. Parenting a child with ADHD can be challenging, but finding a Play Therapist or child therapist can provide valuable guidance. For adults, seeking therapy tailored to ADHD can be transformative.
ADHD Awareness Month is a time to embrace understanding, break the stigma, and support neurodivergent individuals and their families. Remember, ADHD is about more than behaviors; it's about unique brain processes that deserve empathy and compassion. Together, we can create a world that acknowledges the strengths and challenges of ADHD, making life more manageable and fulfilling for all. Don't hesitate to seek help and support—there's no need to navigate the ADHD journey alone.
Helpful ADHD resources and links:
References: CDC.org, ADDitudemag.com, Nimh.nih.gov