The following is an article I have submitted for consideration to our county weekly newspaper for possible publication in October, ADHD Awareness Month:

October is international ADHD Awareness month. This year’s theme is “The Many Faces of ADHD.” Many people think of ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) as primarily affecting kids. What often comes to mind is a boy who is unable to sit still or be quiet. This is a limited view that ADHD Awareness Month aims to challenge.

While it is true that hyperactive schoolboys may suffer from ADHD, daydreaming can also be a symptom. Many girls are not diagnosed because their ADHD manifests as dreaminess, inattention, or messiness—behaviors that usually do not draw a teacher’s attention. While it appears that ADHD is more prevalent in boys, this may be because in girls ADHD can be a quiet problem. Parents and educators need to learn what to watch for in both boys and girls in order to assist all ADHD children in reaching their full potential.

ADHD also affects adults. Some researchers report that as many as seventy percent of children with ADHD become adults with ongoing symptoms. Though six percent of the adult population has ADHD, most are undiagnosed and only one in four seeks treatment. Since the heritability of ADHD is as high as 76 percent, it is identified for many adults after they find their children have it. There is a great need for more general understanding of ADHD. There is too much to cover in a brief article, but here are a few basic points:

ADHD is a real medical disorder, the result of an imbalance of chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) within the brain. It is not the result of bad parenting or an excuse for laziness or lack of intelligence.

There is no simple diagnostic test for ADHD. To get the full picture, a doctor needs to interview the patient about his/her current functioning as well as his/her functioning before age 16, perform a medical exam, gather information about family medical history, review the patient’s school records, and perhaps even interview family members or others who have known the patient over the years.

The primary symptoms of ADHD are inattention, impulsiveness, and sometimes hyperactivity, but each individual with ADHD is unique. Some ADHD behaviors look like “normal” behavior carried to an extreme. While anyone can be inattentive or impulsive or even hyperactive on occasion, folks with ADHD often show extreme and persistent evidence of those traits. In fact, a diagnosis requires that the symptoms cause significant problems in several areas of life over at least six months.

Complicating the diagnosis is the fact that ADHD symptoms can change as one matures. For example, large motor hyperactivity (constantly climbing, squirming, fidgeting, etc.), in a child can become small motor hyperactivity (tapping fingers, swinging legs, twirling hair, etc.) or cognitive hyperactivity (rapid thoughts that are hard to slow) in an adult. In addition, other conditions can look like ADHD, and ADHD is quite often accompanied by other conditions such as mood disorder, impulse control, or substance abuse.

One significant area of challenge for folks with ADHD is what is called “executive function.” Executive function includes, among other things, the ability to manage time and attention, switch focus, plan and organize, remember details, and curb inappropriate speech or behavior. It can be hard for someone with ADHD to keep a job or succeed in school.

The good news is that strategies can be learned to compensate for the challenges of ADHD. Educators and employers are also learning that those challenges are often accompanied by unique gifts and talents that make some ADHD individuals particularly valued students and employees. Their creativity, spontaneity, intelligence, and energy make unique contributions to our world. ADHD Awareness Month is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to grow in our understanding and support of the 4 to 7 percent of the population worldwide with ADHD.

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