We have all been in the classroom with that one child who doesn’t seem to be able to sit still. He or she fidgets constantly and talks out of turn. Their behavior has left us pondering what is wrong.
Or, as a child, you can remember trying to sit still and pay attention in class, but your mind wouldn’t let you. You fidgeted so much in your seat that you became well-acquainted with both the corner of your classrooms when younger and detention hall when older.
Now as an adult, you find it very difficult to get involved enough and to the things that you must but have little interest in doing. These responsibilities may involve paying your bills or reading a chapter in a handbook for work.
What we have been observing, and you have been experiencing are the tell-tale signs of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This disorder often accompanies dissociative identity disorder as a co-occurring diagnosis so today we are going to examine it closer.
Millions of People are Affected
If you have been diagnosed with ADHD, you are not alone.
According to MindMed, company creators of neurocognitive therapeutic apps to help people with mental diversity, between 3% to 5% of the world’s population has ADHD.
That adds up to between 231 and 385 million people who have problems with focusing on tasks, and problems holding together their relationships.
Attention-deficit attention disorder is NOT a problem caused by bad parenting, too much sugar or spending too much time looking at a screen. ADHD is a brain disorder that a child is born with, a biological problem often inherited genetically from a parent.
In fact, ADHD runs in families. From one third to one-half of parents who have ADHD will pass the disorder on to their children. If one of your parents had ADHD than you have a 50% chance of developing the disorder as well.
Studies have also shown that twins are more likely to be born with this neurodiversity than children born in single births.
What IS Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
The answer to what is ADHD can more complicated than it sounds. Scientists and researchers haven’t nailed down the exact mechanism, but a description found on ADDitude Magazine says it most clearly,
“ADHD is a complex neurological disorder described as a ‘developmental impairment of self-management functions linked to complex brain operations.’ In other words, ADHD impacts the executive functions needed to assess, plan, and execute life.”
The Brain and ADHD
The wonderful invention of functional magnetic resonance imaging has allowed scientists to look into the brain like never before. When this instrument was used to visualize the brains of people living with ADHD, the results were astonishing. Below is only a partial list of structural abnormalities they found.
- The low density of gray matter
- Defects in the structure of the white matter
- Lower than normal total brain volume
- Reduced size of some parts of the brain
- Slower-than-normal cortical maturation up to adult life
- Reduced cortical thickness in adults especially of the cortical network responsible for focused attention
Now you may be wondering, how do all these brain abnormalities affect my or my child’s behavior?
Let’s look at two of the findings found using fMRI visualizations of the brains of people who live with ADHD, lower than the average density in gray matter and abnormalities in the structure of white matter.
A study conducted in 2010 found that lowered brain density of gray matter caused reduced inhibitions in children. This means that children who have ADHD are not fully capable of stopping themselves from doing things they understand not to be desirable (Batty et al. 2010).
The abnormality in the structure of the white matter in the brain is a significant find. Where gray matter includes all the essential structures of the brain such as the amygdala and hippocampus to mention only a few, the white matter acts as the brain’s circuitry or wiring.
Another study done in 2015 imaged the brains of “normal” brains and those of children and teens with ADHD. What they found was that their brains indeed did have decreased white matter, and this helps to explain why people living with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder have such a hard time controlling their emotions and behavior. (Chen, 2015)
With just those two abnormalities of the brain, anyone would experience trouble regulating their day to day lives.
There are Different Types of ADHD
As if to compound the confusing and heart-wrenching difficulties of people living with ADHD, the disorder can be described as having three sub-types. The different kinds of ADHD are known as inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, or a combination of the other two.
The way your doctor can diagnose which kind of ADHD you have is spelled out in the most recent rendition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-5).
Symptoms of the Inattentive ADHD are as follows (the signs are listed for both children and adults).
- Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or during other activities
- Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace
- Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
- Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in jobs that require sustained mental effort
- Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities
- Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
- Is often forgetful in daily
The symptoms noted in the DSM-5 for hyperactive, impulsivity ADHD include:
- Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet or squirms in seat.
- Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected
- Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is inappropriate.
- Often unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly.
- Is often “on the go,” acting as if “driven by a motor”
- Often talks excessively.
- Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed
- Often has difficulty waiting for his or her turn
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others
One can only imagine the hell that people who have a mixture of both types of ADHD have experienced throughout their lives.
As adults, those living with ADHD describe their daily struggles as including dealing with the consequences of behavioral issues, time management problems, and completing tasks. All of these problems can be directly correlated to their brain structures being different.
Society Mistreats Those Living with ADHD
This author recently watched a TEDx Talk given by a young man named Stephen Tonti speaking on his own experiences with ADHD. In his speech, he echoes what has been said by many who live with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder such as Richard Branson, Glenn Beck, Jim Carrey, and the late Robin Williams.
In short, Stephen Tonti describes himself and others with ADHD as not being attention deficit but rather as attention different. He said that he is saddened when people tell him that he needs to get rid of his ADHD because, “There is no getting rid of it, only sedating it.”
He encouraged his audience to start thinking of working with the abilities of school children who live with the disorder by becoming mentors not disciplinarians. In his words, society needs to “embrace cognitive diversity” instead of trying to make every child and adult fit into a preconceived mold.
Overwhelmingly, all the adults with ADHD and the caregivers of children with the same diagnosis stated they fear not fitting in as their greatest and most devastating fear.
Unfortunately, all too this fear becomes a reality, as children who have ADHD are tagged in school as being difficult and hard to teach. These labels given to our most vulnerable world citizens are passed from one teacher to the next, a circumstance that plagues their entire school experience.
Teachers are ill-equipped and undertrained to understand and handle the complexities of working with a child diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in their classrooms. They tend to see these kids as problem students who need to be hammered into shape.
Unfortunately, a child’s mind is reliant on the adults in their lives to form a healthy self-esteem. If a kid is told again and again that he is a problem in either words or actions, he/she will believe this about themselves. They grow up thinking they are deficient, broken and not worthy of the space they inhabit.
Putting a Human Face on ADHD
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder isn’t a disorder that happens to aliens from outer space, it is a human problem. Adults living with this traumatic and hard to live with brain disease have things they wish you to understand about their disorder.
There are three vital pieces of information people living with
Number one on the list is they want you to know that they aren’t incorrigible, their brains are just wired differently.
We tackled this subject in the paragraphs above when we spoke about how the brains of people with ADHD are physically different from the rest of us.
Number two is they want you to know they cannot help the way they behave. They take medications to minimize their emotions and behaviors that can cause others distress, but sometimes things just get away from them.
They ask that you don’t gossip or demean them but try your best to understand that they think differently than you do. They want you to know they are still real humans with feelings that can be hurt.
Number three on the list echoes something that was said by Stephen Tonti in his Tedx speech. He stated, “My ADHD is an advantage, not a disadvantage.”
The Advantages of Being Someone with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
On a post made by the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, they list many of the reasons people with ADHD make wonderful employees. The list is long and intriguing.
People with ADHD can/are/do:
- Find unique solutions to difficult problems
- Are adventurous, courageous, think “outside the box”
- Derive patterns where others see chaos
- Able to talk about many different topics at one time
- Constantly evolving, continually learning
- Good in a crisis – (Some of the most stressful jobs are staffed by those with ADHD)
- Seemingly endless desire to try new ideas, tasks, and projects
- Empathetic and intuitive
- Continually a source of new ideas, methods, and strategies
- Can see many if not all sides of a situation
So, if you live with ADHD as part of your life, don’t despair. You and your children have tons of positive qualities the rest of us are short on. These abilities make you remarkable, outstanding, and priceless.
Putting ADHD Into Perspective
Putting ADHD into perspective, it is not a disorder that is caused by anything the person’s parents or they did. It also isn’t a death sentence for your child to receive this life-altering diagnosis.
What the diagnosis does mean is that human beings are diverse in our ways of acting, thinking and being. People with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are simply easier to spot because their brains move faster than others.
To prove how truly just like you they are, we’ll look at the final question we asked people about ADHD on our questionnaire, their dreams, and their hopes.
Parents dream that their kids will grow up in and be able to function in the world as adults without needing medications.
A common dream for all parents.
Adults living with ADHD dream that they will someday be able to self-manage their affairs so that they can succeed in their careers and lives.
A very typical dream for all of us.
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder isn’t a disaster happening in someone’s life. Rather, it is a challenge. But so are many other things we all share in common on our human journey.
Perhaps people with ADHD have an advantage over those of us who conform to what society says is required of us. They maintain a whimsicalness about them that is contagious.
One man who had lived his entire life coping with ADHD once said,
“We are all only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” ~ Robin Williams
Batty, M. J., Liddle, E. B., Pitiot, A., Toro, R., Groom, M. J., Scerif, G., … & Hollis, C. (2010). Cortical gray matter in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a structural magnetic resonance imaging study. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 49(3), 229-238.
Chen, L., Huang, X., Du Lei, N. H., Hu, X., Chen, Y., Li, Y., … & Gong, Q. (2015). Microstructural abnormalities of the brain white matter in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience: JPN, 40(4), 280.