It’s all over the news, ADHD is everywhere. Kids have it in record numbers, adults have it too. Is ADHD the latest craze? Is ADHD real or is it just an excuse? What is ADHD anyway?
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is commonly referred to as ADHD, ADD, AD/HD or Attention Deficit Disorder. It is estimated that 17-20 million Americans are affected by ADHD.
When most people hear the term “ADHD” or “ADD” they picture a child, usually a boy, bouncing off the walls. They picture a little boy who is unable to pay attention to what he is supposed to and is disruptive in class. They picture someone who is totally disorganized, always running late and always forgetting the one thing they were supposed to bring with them.
In reality these children (and as they grow up, these adults) have brains that work differently. The brain of someone with ADHD is simply not wired to handle boring or routine tasks. The brain of someone with ADHD needs excitement to keep it alert. The brain of someone with ADHD can’t spend the time to prioritize what they need to focus on. The ADHD brain focuses on the most interesting thing it can find. And, unfortunately, just because something is interesting does not mean it is the most important thing.
ADHD is characterized as having chronic difficulties in at least one three areas; attention, (hyper)activity, and impulsivity.
People that have trouble focusing on the task at hand. People who day dream, people whose mind jumps from one topic to the next. Conversely, issues with attention also include people who hyperfocus on something that really excites or interests them – think of a child who can’t pull themselves away from a good game they are playing or an adult who gets so wrapped up in a project at work that they “forget” to eat or don’t hear the phone.
Can’t physically sit still, always plays with something in their hands, constantly fidgeting. Again here the converse exists, someone who is so lethargic that they can’t seem to get out of their own way. Hyperactivity also exists in thoughts. A person whose thoughts skip from one topic to the next.
The inability to plan. This is the person who just jumps right in without thinking the action through. The child who blurts out the answer in class or interrupts their friends while they are in the middle of something. These are people who start one project and jump to the next.
Children with ADHD often have a great deal of trouble in school. The school environment generally requires active kids to keep still and keep their hands to themselves. They are asked to focus on tasks and subjects that they may not be interested in and are asked to wait their turn before speaking. Many ADHD children spend their time in school hearing things like “if only you tried harder you’d do so well”, “you’re being lazy”, “just do it, it’s not so hard” or “you are not working up to your potential”.
When not recognized, ADHD frequently leads to frustration, underachievement and forgotten dreams. ADHD can lead to low self esteem and under use of potential. It can lead to underemployment, substance abuse and failed relationships. But this doesn’t have to be the case. What we often don’t think of, or don’t realize, when we think about people with ADHD is that they are often the brightest amongst us.
They tend to come up with the most and best ideas when brainstorming, they are likely to volunteer for the new project that nobody else will dare to. People with ADHD often thrive in situation where they have many things going on at one time…they rule the multitask world. Some of our countries greatest thinkers have many ADHD traits. Think of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein. Edison was kicked out of school because his teachers thought he was a slow learner, would not pay attention and could not sit still.
Many people with this disease are very smart. They are extremely creative, out of the box thinkers. They understand subjects on a different level than their peers. Their brain jumps from one idea to the next so they are often awesome brainstormers, negotiators and problem solvers. But they do learn differently and that is not always acceptable in the mainstream.
A child suffering from this disease often grows up into an ADHD adult. By adulthood the ADHD adult has usually learned many strategies to help them compensate for some of the things they have trouble with. The attention, impulsivity and activity issues are still there but frequently show up in other ways.
Major characteristics of ADHD in an adult:
- Has difficulty sustaining attention, is easily distracted and fails to give close attention to detail.
- Does not appear to listen.
- Struggles to follow through on instructions or follow rules.
- Has difficulty with organization.
- Avoids or dislikes tasks requiring sustained mental effort.
- Talks excessively and may interrupts or intrudes upon others.
- Procrastination; inability to complete things.
- Has difficulty making decisions.
- Difficulty expressing thoughts in speech or in writing.
- A sense of failure; not living up to one’s potential.
- A sense of being different, unconventional.
- A sense of internal restlessness; constantly active – like being driven by a motor.
- Has trouble falling asleep or waking up alert.
- A sense that their mind is always active; thoughts jump from one topic to the next.
- Easily bored; intense need for excitement.
- Very impatient; low frustration tolerance.
- Difficulty with personal or work relationships.
- Frequently late or rushed.
- Impulsive spending and money management problems.
- Frequently changing jobs, interests or activities.
- Frequently losing or misplacing things.
- Perfectionist tendencies.
It is important to be aware that everyone at some time displays some if not all of the typical characteristics associated with ADHD. The difference is that with ADHD these characteristics are long lasting and control your life. Its symptoms usually arise in early childhood. If you think you may have ADD, then talk to a doctor or therapist specifically trained to recognize this problem.