What Is ADHD?
If you stop a few people on the street and ask them to tell you everything they know about ADHD, you’ll get answers like these:
“It’s a disease that makes little boys act like maniacs. My nephew has it, and they LITERALLY have to keep him on a leash sometimes. Thank God for Ritalin.”
“Oh, ADHD isn’t real. It’s what bad parents use as an excuse to medicate their kids.”
“ADHD? Is that kind of like blue-ray?”
For someone trying to get the facts about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the lack of public knowledge about the subject can be both frustrating and confusing. The truth is that none of the statements above are (entirely) correct. ADHD is NOT a disease, it does NOT only affect male children, it is NOT a made-up condition, and it has nothing to do with high-definition television (though, to be fair, the imaginations of people with ADHD get pretty vivid.)
Will the real ADHD please stand up.
ADHD is a highly-heritable, brain-based disorder that worsens under certain environmental conditions. A fluctuating understanding of the disorder is reflected in the somewhat horrendous names it has been given since it began being studied in the early 1900’s (Minimal Brain Dysfunction, anyone? Imagine slapping THAT label on some poor kid…)
Today, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a bit of a blanket term for children or adults, male or female, with at least 6 in a series of symptoms that may or may not include hyperactivity. These symptoms (trouble sustaining attention, poor organization, avoidance of tasks which require sustained mental energy, forgetfulness, fidgeting, and other symptoms you can read about here) usually manifest to SOME degree in the life of ANY human being. The difference between someone without ADHD and someone WITH it is that, while the non-ADHDer may occasionally lose her keys or miss an appointment, the ADHDer does these things so often (and so dramatically) that she frequently finds her job or relationships in jeopardy, or, at the very least, spends HUGE chunks of time trying to fix her constant, careless mistakes.
What exactly do I mean by “brain-based” disorder?
Great question. Like depression, alcoholism, and a slew of other conditions that originate in the brain, researchers have been able to show that ADHD is based strongly on neurobiological factors including a reduction in size certain areas of the brain (most notably the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, caudate nucleus, and cerubellum) which are involved with concentration, impulse control, and motor activity. There is also strong evidence to suggest that the brains of people with ADHD may have abnormalities in the fiber pathways CONNECTING these areas of the brain, as well as too much or too little of certain neuro-chemicals like dopamine.
Some of the science behind ADHD can be pretty overwhelming, especially for those of us who, like me, hadn’t cracked a biology book since sophomore year of high school. But the bottom line is pretty simple: ADHD is not imaginary, and, more importantly, it’s not an excuse for morally weak people who want to hide character flaws like laziness, selfishness, and insensitivity. It is LITERALLY the result of a different kind of brain – a brain that, left to its own devices, produces behavior our society frowns upon.
Allrighty, then…what’s the good news?
You may not be thrilled to read this stuff. Many people learn about ADHD and feel a huge weight lifting off their shoulders, but for some, the knowledge that they have been suffering at the hands of an atypical brain does NOT feel like freedom, it feels like a prison sentence. “You mean there’s no cure for this? I’m stuck being a miserable failure forever?”
Ah…not so fast my poor, depressed friend. First off, I’ve got quite a few more blog posts for you to read or listen to, whenever you are ready. Many of them are filled with hope and excitement, not doom and gloom.
Second, no, there’s no cure, but there is a rising tide of researchers, scientists, therapists, activists, and yes, coaches, working to provide you with the information and assistance you need to work with the brain you’ve been given to create a life you love. This is the beginning, folks. Let’s make it great.