Understanding ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Children and adults who have ADHD find it difficult to concentrate and focus.

October is ADHD Awareness Month

“He has issues” my sister used to say when I asked about my young nephew.  She never went into detail what the issues were but his hyperactivity was excused as “his father was hyper when he was a boy.”

However my nephew’s issues became more apparent at the age of six when he started school.  The reports of impulsive outbursts were interspersed with bouts of inability to focus or comprehend what he was being told or what he had read. But again that was pushed to the side by my sister because “he could focus when he was interested.” And yes, he could spend hours with his collection of Star Wars figures, Pokemon cards and video games.

It wasn’t until this year when he turn 18 and that my sister decided to have him tested. Throughout his 12 years of schooling he had always had extra tutoring, but when he failed to score high enough on an exam to get into university, she needed another excuse.

When we spoke, she didn’t say he had ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) but said:  “He has trouble with his executive functions.” That meant nothing to me until I saw the documentary ADHD: Not Just for Kids.

It was then I learnt more about ADHD which is defined as a complex neuro-biological disorder that interferes with a person’s executive functions. This includes focus, memory, organisation, and regulating emotions. This is something that you don’t outgrow but symptoms can become less obvious as people age. An adult may not be hyperactive, but still have an inability to concentrate.

The more I read about ADHD, I thought: “I have that”…as I’d experienced similar symptoms while growing up as I was shy, withdrawn and liked to daydream and now  going through menopause, and bouts of  anxiety and depression I found it hard to focus, remember things and my emotions were totally erratic.  However, everyone has trouble occasionally with some of the traditional ADHD symptoms, but for people with the disorder, it can interfere in their everyday life. 

Thankfully now my nephew is getting help with coping strategies, such as regular exercise, practising mindfulness and regulating his sleep patterns.

ADHD affects 4.4 per cent of adults and is usually diagnosed earlier in boys than in girls.  Boys are typically more hyperactive and easier to spot, leaving many young girls and woman undiagnosed. Many girls aren’t hyperactive but are easily distracted and have a hard time concentrating.  They are usually the daydreamers that sit at the back of the classroom. Girls with ADHD are more likely to be diagnosed later in life and are vulnerable to depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

This information got me to thinking about someone I know. In her mid-30s, she portrays a shy, withdrawn “little girl” image and I reasoned it was because she is an introvert. It was then suggested by a mother whose daughter had been diagnosed with ADHD that perhaps she is “on the spectrum”.  Suddenly the penny dropped. No longer did I think she’s just wanting attention, and I could view her situation which compassion.  I only wish I understood about the levels of ADHD earlier on, as it would have helped me relate better with her and others.

So as October is ADHD Awareness month, let’s dispel a few myths about the disorder.

ADHD is not an illness: ADHD is a neuro-biologically-based disorder that’s the result of an imbalance of chemical neurotransmitters in the brain. Simply put, those with ADHD have brains that are wired differently.

ADHD is not caused by bad parenting. It can be genetic with children having more than a 50 per cent chance of inheriting ADHD from their parents. It can also be caused by neurological factors such as pregnancy complications, brain damage, and prenatal exposure to toxins, such as alcohol and tobacco.

Too much “screen time, ”  junk food and sugar isn’t to blame either. This has been linked to many other problems in childhood such as inactivity, obesity, and poor nutrition,  but there is no strong evidence that these cause ADHD which is also not an excuse for laziness.

Not everyone displays the same ADHD symptoms which can include a spectrum of issues from inattentiveness to hyperactivity or impulsiveness.  Only when the symptoms are numerous and severe enough do doctors make a diagnosis of ADHD. 

If you are caring for a child or adult with ADHD, the Carers’ Centre is here to help.  And for more support groups specifically on ADHD in the BANES area click here . For more information on ADHD in the UK check out The ADHD Foundation.

We’d like for you to share your story as together we grow! If you care for someone with ADHD or have been diagnosed with ADHD, please comment on this blog or email me at carmen.cooper@banescarerscentre.org.uk.