ADHD. It’s a label most people have heard of, and most people have an opinion on. There are lots of questions people have and many myths surrounding ADHD, which can lead to so many questions: Does ADHD really exist? Should kids be put on medication? Won’t medication lead to teenagers who take drugs? Can other supplements help? Is ADHD caused by a bad diet? What non-medication based treatments are available? Is it something people can grow out of? Does ‘screen time’ make ADHD worse? Isn’t it just due to bad parenting? Aren’t people with ADHD just lazy or dumb? Hasn’t ADHD been “made up” by medical professionals? How can someone have ADHD if they’re not hyperactive? And many more! While this blog post will not attempt to address all of these questions, it has been written to provide a basic introduction to ADHD and make it more clear just what ADHD is.
So what does ADHD stand for?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
The main components in ADHD – as suggested by its title – are difficulties with attention and hyperactivity. One might assume that both of these elements need to be present for a diagnosis of ADHD to be given; however this is not the case. There are in fact three types of ADHD: the hyperactive/impulsive type, the inattentive type, and the combined type.
The hyperactive/impulsive type of ADHD might be seen in a child who is very fidgety, is frequently out of their seat during class, talks excessively, fails to wait their turn, and has difficulty inhibiting certain behaviour (stopping themselves from doing or not doing something) e.g. calling out or touching objects. There is a common description of these children as though they are “driven by a motor” – meaning that they just don’t stop!
A child with inattentive ADHD – often referred to as ADD – may have trouble following instructions, fail to pay attention to details, be easily distracted, appear not to be listening, is forgetful, loses things, and has trouble organising their materials. They may be described as a “daydreamer” or “in their own world” a lot of the time.
These two descriptions paint two very different pictures, so it’s no wonder there can be confusion over what ADHD is!
Finally, the combined type of ADHD is – as its name also suggests – a combination of both the hyperactive/impulsive and inattentive symptoms described.
It is important to recognise that everyone may have times that they demonstrate some – or even many – of these symptoms, However, in ADHD there must be many of these symptoms occurring for at least 6 months and these symptoms must be interfering with day-to-day tasks such as social and academic/work activities. The symptoms need to be present in two or more settings, for example at home and at school. If symptoms were only interfering in one setting – home but not school, or vice versa – there is likely to be some other cause for such behaviour.
ADHD is not something that can be diagnosed in a quick 5-minute visit. While some of the symptoms can be observed in that time, further information needs to be gathered to determine whether the child does have ADHD. For example, I might see children who are unable to sit still in my office and touch lots of the things I have in there – but this alone does not determine whether they have ADHD or not. Further information would need to be gathered through interviews with the child, their parent, teachers, taking a thorough history of the child’s development and current functioning, and gathering information using questionnaires and standardised testing so that the child’s behaviour can be compared to other children of the same age.
For some parents, the diagnosis of ADHD may be something they view as a negative for their child, however this need not be the case. Treatment can be very effective – both medication and behavioural – and having a great team on board to support both the parents and the child means that the child has the best hope for a positive outcome. I have met many adults and children with ADHD and just like people without ADHD, they have a broad range of interests and strengths, and their individual personalities mean that their ADHD is not what shines, but rather who they really are as a person.
By Erin Patten
MPsych (Educational & Developmental)
Registered Psychologist @ Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre