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Friday, October 29, 2021

The truth and mistruths about ADHD


Though very common, ADHD is still a highly misunderstood condition.

Thanks to advances in scientific research and brain imaging technologies, modern day scientists know a lot more about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) today than they did before.

However, there are still many myths surrounding the condition that cause great confusion and make it all the more difficult for those with ADHD to get the support they need. It also leaves individuals with ADHD and their loved ones feeling frustrated and misunderstood.

Here are five of the most common myths surrounding ADHD:

Myth #1: ADHD is actually a medical condition

Fact: ADHD is most definitely a real medical condition and recognised as such by institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Psychiatric Association. Imaging studies have shown clear differences in brain development between those with ADHD and those without.

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Research has also shown that ADHD is hereditary, where one in four people with ADHD have a parent with ADHD. 

Myth #2: ADHD is a learning disability

Fact: While the symptoms of ADHD can disrupt or get in the way of learning, ADHD is not in fact a learning disability. ADHD does not cause difficulty in specific skills such as writing, reading or arithmetic. However, oftentimes learning disabilities co-occur with ADHD which contributes to these myths and fallacies. 

Myth #3: Kids who have ADHD eventually outgrow it

Fact: In most cases, children with ADHD don’t outgrow it, and in most individuals with ADHD, symptoms persist into adulthood. Symptoms in children can also change as they learn to manage them better, however, this is not the same as outgrowing them. 

Myth #4: Individuals with ADHD just need to work harder

Fact: Having ADHD does not mean you lack motivation or are a lazy person. Children and adults with ADHD often try as hard as they can to pay attention. Their struggle with focus is nothing to do with attitude, and everything to do with how their brain functions, and how it is structured.

Myth #5: Only boys have ADHD

Fact: While it is true that boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls, ADHD still affects girls. Girls and women with the condition tend to go undiagnosed and overlooked. This may be due to the fact that ADHD can present differently in boys than in girls. While girls tend to have less trouble with hyperactivity and impulse control than boys, they’re more likely to seem more inattentive or “daydreamy”. 

So, what is ADHD?

ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders worldwide. Individuals with ADHD typically find it difficult to pay attention, remain focused, control impulsive behaviours, and can be overly active. 

The symptoms of ADHD are often classified into two different categories of behavioural issues: inattentiveness and hyperactivity/impulsiveness. While most individuals with ADHD have problems with both, this is not always the case. In some cases, people with ADHD may have issues with focus and inattentiveness but are not particularly impulsive or hyperactive. This form of ADHD is known as attention deficit disorder (ADD), which can at times pass unnoticed seeing as the signs are less obvious.

What are the signs/symptoms? 

The symptoms of ADHD are usually more pronounced and noticeable in children than they are in adults. 

In children and teenagers, the signs include:

  • Constant fidgeting
  • Having a short attention span
  • Inability to sit still, particularly in calm or quiet surroundings
  • Easily distracted
  • Excessive talking and interrupting conversations
  • Making careless mistakes or acting without thinking
  • Appearing forgetful 
  • Appearing unable to wait their turn
  • Difficulty sticking to tasks that are time-consuming or tedious 
  • Appearing unable to listen or follow instructions
  • Constantly shifting from one activity to another

Symptoms in adults are more difficult to define and are more subtle than in children and teenagers. ADHD in adults is generally understudied and under-recognised and further research is needed in this area. Some symptoms found in children and teenagers are also found in adults with a possible ADHD diagnosis. 

Experts have suggested that the symptoms associated with ADHD in adulthood include:

  • Carelessness
  • Restlessness and edginess
  • Lack of attention to detail
  • Tendency to start new tasks before finishing previous ones
  • Difficulty remaining quiet, speaking out of turn and interrupting conversations
  • Poor organisational skills
  • Tendency to misplace or lose things
  • Forgetfulness
  • Mood swings, irritability and quick temper
  • Impatience
  • Engaging in risky activities, often with little regard for personal safety, or the safety of others

ADHD is diagnosed through a variety of tools ranging from questionnaires about behaviour as well as clinical interviews. Diagnoses can be made by general healthcare providers (including paediatricians), psychiatrists, developmental paediatricians, neuropsychologists, psychiatric nurse practitioners and/or clinical psychologists.  

Is there a treatment for ADHD?

While there is no known cure for ADHD, there are a few treatments to manage its symptoms. These treatments tend to range from behavioural interventions to prescription medications. 

  • Medication: this is agreed to be the most effective course of treatment for ADHD in children and adults. Taking the decision to give medication to your child is often challenging for parents. In order to make the best possible choice for you and your child, it’s crucial that parents work together with the healthcare provider to decide if medication is the best option for your child.

The two main types of medications can be categorised into stimulant and non-stimulant. The most commonly used are central nervous system stimulants. These drugs increase the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which in turn improves your child’s concentration.

  • Behaviour therapy: the idea behind this type of therapy is creating a rewards system for children who display favourable behaviour changes. 
  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy can help children open up about their feelings, and how they cope with the struggles of ADHD. By exploring and learning more about their behaviour patterns, they can then learn to make better choices moving forward.

A diagnosis of ADHD can be extremely worrying, for either the individual themselves or the parents. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. ADHD is a medical condition that also comes with its own set of unique skills and traits such as high energy levels, desire to try new things and experiences, creativity and more.

A diagnosis of ADHD does not stop one from succeeding academically, socially or professionally. With more awareness and social and professional support, and less stigma, individuals with ADHD have the potential to not only lead a good life, but also to thrive. 

Maha El Akoum, MPH, is a public health professional currently working as Head of Content at World Innovation Summit for Health [WISH]. 

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