What is ADHD?  The Common Misunderstanding

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common mental disorder affecting persons across the life span. Symptoms include short attention span, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.  In this, Part One of a blog series, you’ll learn what ADHD is, what the symptoms are and how it affects productivity and performance for students and adults alike.  We’ll also examine its prevalence, how it specifically affects brain function and

ADHD Across the Life Span

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is observed from youngster through senior citizens. It is the most commonly diagnosed mental disorder of children. People have long seen a cluster of symptoms that occur in a person of average or above average intelligence who seems unable to function in a competent, masterful way.

  • “Zack keeps jumping off the couch. His mother says he has ADHD.”
  • “Hearing about my son’s ADHD, I realize that I’ve been undiagnosed all my life. Now I can make sense of the difficulties I’ve had at work and home.”
  • “Joyce is a space cadet; disorganized, forgetful, and inattentive. I don’t know how she keeps her job.”

These are typical examples you’d see in an elementary school child who is hyperactive and impulsive, a father who realizes late in life that he has ADHD, and a young woman who has an inattentive type of ADHD.

To be a bit more technical, ADHD is a neurobiological disorder with three major characteristics:

  • Inattention (not being able to focus or sustain focus)
  • Impulsivity (hasty acts that occur in the moment without forethought
  • Hyperactivity (excess movement that is not appropriate to the situation).

When someone is diagnosed with ADHD where impulsivity is not a major symptom, the term used is ADHD-Inattentive Type.  The previous name for this disorder was (Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD).

A person may have all or some combination of these traits and typical challenges faced by persons with ADHD include having major difficulties managing their time, navigating in space and managing work habits.  These symptoms have the unfortunate affect of contributing to low self-esteem, troubled relationships, difficulty in school and poor productivity at work.

Is ADHD a Mental Disorder?

ADHD is classified as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association and symptoms for this and other related disabilities is listed in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM5).  Since ADHD or ADD can be a difficult condition to diagnose, only a professional, such as a psychiatrist, neuropsychologist, psychologist, school psychologist, or physician can properly diagnose a person.

ADHD often runs in families. According the research, if one person in a family has ADHD, there is a 25% to 35% chance that another family member also has the disorder.

6.4 million American children, ages 4 to 7 have been diagnosed with ADHD.  The average age of AHDH diagnosis is seven. The symptoms typically first appear between the ages of 3 and 6. Depending on severity it may be diagnosed at 5, 6, 7 or 8 years of age.  The more severe the symptoms the earlier the diagnoses.

Nine million adults in the U.S. have ADHD, although the majority have not been formally diagnosed or treated. Today, about 4% of American adults over the age of 18 deal with ADHD and males are almost three times more likely to be diagnosed with it than females.

Cases and diagnoses of ADHD seem to be on the rise.  In the past 8 years the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 11 percent of American children, ages 4 to 17, have the attention disorder.  That’s an increase of 42 percent in just eight years

How ADHD Affects Brain Function (a.k.a. Executive Functioning)

ADHD typically shows up as a lack of ability to self-regulate and impairment of executive functioning.  How that translates to productivity and performance?

The typical scenario you would see with someone who has ADHD is that he or she can’t see a task through from beginning to end.  Doing so requires coordinating multiple processes, starting and stopping mental operations, and maintaining motivation and persistence and herein lies the challenge.

ADHD: Not Lazy, Crazy, or Dumb

Children with untreated ADHD are sometimes mislabeled as “troublemakers” or “problem children.”  ADHD adults and adolescents may be labeled (or label themselves) as lazy, crazy or dumb. For example, they may feel— or be told—they are lazy because they forget to do chores or tasks. They may feel crazy because they don’t always perform well and observe others (who they feel are less able) doing seemingly easy tasks, like being on time or taking timed tests. They think, “How is it that that person, who not as smart as me, can finish their work? They feel dumb because they may understand concepts but are unable to calculate or organize their thoughts quick enough. Although they are of average or above average in intelligence, they confront barriers with initiating and sticking with tasks. They may experience low frustration level and unexplained irritability.

Is it ADHD or Bad Habits?

What is the difference between a person with bad attention habits and a person with ADHD or ADD? The symptoms of ADD or ADHD are long-standing, pervasive, and chronic. Symptoms experienced by children, teens, or adults are of such a degree that they prevent a fully productive life. The major symptoms include chronic disorganization, racing mind, impulsivity, and time and self-management problems. All of these symptoms can lead to serious negative consequences. For example, children fail because they don’t turn in homework or can’t remember basic facts. Teens have difficulty taking timed tests or being on time. Adults can have poor performance evaluations, job loss, or divorce

When we come back in Part Two we’ll look deeper and we’ll discuss some of the current available treatments and solutions.  It is vital for people to understand this disorder in far greater depth to dispel the myths people believe about those afflicted.  Left undiagnosed and untreated, ADHD has a serious affect on self-esteem, relationships, employment, personal accomplishment and so much more.

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