Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder? A Glimpse Inside the ADHD Mind and Life

The ADHD Brain

“What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anyway?” a friend asks. Her son has just received a diagnosis of ADHD from his doctor, and she’s struggling to understand what’s going on in his head. I pause for a moment before I answer her. Then I launch into an explanation of what’s going on in her kid’s head, channeling my elementary-school self.

I sit at my desk, jiggling my knees. I’m trying not to jiggle too much because the kids whose desks touch mine hate it when my desk starts shaking and their neatly lined up crayons start rolling off onto the floor. The teacher is reading aloud from the book, the same thing she made us read for homework last night. I already read that. Why does she want me to sit through a rerun? I start to rummage in my desk looking for a pencil or some paper or anything interesting, but she yells at me and tells me to keep my hand on the desk and stop moving so I try really, really hard to stay still but that one light in the corner is buzzing in a different tone than the others and out the window there’s a butterfly and I wonder if it’s the kind that migrates or not, and how do they know that butterflies migrate? Do they put tracking collars on them like polar bears? They’d have to be awfully small and you could use them to track bugs then, too. Maybe you could attach them to worms and put cameras on them and use them to find buried treasure or hidden ruins. Some kid in England found a golden Roman coin in his yard. I wish I lived in England. All I ever find are old nails and stuff. Well, I found that china cup once……When the teacher calls on me, I have no idea what’s happened in the last fifteen minutes of class, and when I ask about why china is called china, she gets mad and I miss recess again.

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder? A Constant Search for the Interesting.

When your child is living with ADHD, her mind doesn’t move in a straight line. It zigs and zags and jumps across a web, following connections and zeroing in on whatever interests her. In her rush to get to interesting things, she’ll speed through boring tasks, crumpling papers and stuffing them into her backpack instead of neatly placing them in her three ring binder.  She races through her science test, not wanting to check and recheck her answers. And when the school room door opens and releases her onto the playground, she may run like she’s made of pure energy. 

In the journal L’Encephale, French clinicians published their findings on the personality traits of children with ADHD. While the children were impulsive, they were also outgoing, eager to please, and easily motivated by concrete rewards. In my own family, I’ve noticed that the child with the most severe ADHD is also my most sociable child. As an infant, she couldn’t stand to be in a room by herself. Now, as a school-aged child, she’s filled with excitement every time we see one of her friends while running errands or taking a walk.

Researchers in the journal Experimental Brain Research explained that people with ADHD tend to have ‘agitated boredom.’ That is, they go from one activity to the next seeking something they find meaningful. They have trouble sustaining attention, and often make errors because they shift their attention so frequently.  In real life, this means that, left to my own devices, I clean by wandering from room to room, picking up one thing here and another there. If I get distracted enough, the toilet brush can end up in the refrigerator, because I stopped focusing on the task at hand and was busy thinking about something more interesting and exciting.

What Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder? A Physical Difference in How Our Brains Develop.

I’ve had ADHD for as long as I can remember. Over the last few years, research has suggested that I’ve probably had it since before I was born. For instance, scientists at McGill University  in Canada have traced ADHD to a specific set of mutations on the brain derived neurotrophic factor gene. The same mutations also seemed to predispose people to anxiety disorders and obesity, both of which are frequently found with ADHD. 

In another study, a paper published in the journal Biological Psychiatry scientists found that children with ADHD experience a delay in brain development. The part of their brains responsible for self-control develops around the age of 12, when the same part of the brain reaches its peak thickness at 7 for neurotypical children. Children with ADHD have actual, physical differences that cause their brains to function differently from other children, and these differences exist on the genetic level.

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder? A Disability that Deserves Attention and Treatment.

I’ve never chosen to take medication for my ADHD, but that doesn’t mean that I can just ignore it. I need to take it into account as I schedule my day, arrange my home office, and even plan grocery trips. Otherwise, I can’t function as an adult and a parent.

The journal Psychology in the Schools has published a study in support of ADHD coaching. An ADHD coach can help someone with ADHD learn to organize themselves, manage time, and develop life skills. While these abilities come naturally to most people, they are impaired in people with ADHD.

A recent article in the Journal Neurotherapeutics suggests that early intervention may reduce some of the negative outcomes associated with ADHD.  Researchers suggest that therapy during the preschool years may help children with ADHD function well in school and society and avoid negative family and psychological impacts that can result from the disorder.

If you or your child has ADHD, you can’t just ignore it and hope it will go away. However, you can work to adopt concrete solutions like scheduling, timers, written reminders, regular exercise, and organizational tactics which will mitigate the effects of the disorder.

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder? Fairly Common, So You’re Not Alone.

According to the Centers for Disease Control  ADHD is one of the most common brain differences in the United States. It affects the lives of children and adults, males and females.  It can be primarily hyperactive, primarily inattentive, or both types combined. If you or a member of your family has ADHD, you’re not alone. You’re probably surrounded by people with ADHD and haven’t noticed because they’ve learned to control their disorder.

I’ve found that ADHD doesn’t have to set me apart from the rest of my community, and it doesn’t have to stand in the way of my hopes and dreams. With love, support, and attention to my weaknesses, my answer to “What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?” is “A difference that doesn’t keep me or my children from succeeding.”

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