What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?


What comes to mind when you hear about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? The most common picture is probably that of an elementary school age boy who is bouncing off walls and is in the middle of everything at once, much to the dismay of his parents and teachers. But this is only a partial picture. Yes, this boy does appear to be exhibiting symptoms of ADHD, but did you know that the little girl who sits in the back row looking out the window and daydreaming her day away is also a picture of ADHD? How about the disorganized single mother who has been divorced three times and can’t seem to get her life in order? She may also be a picture of ADHD.

So what is ADHD? Surely these very different examples can’t have the same root cause, can they? ADHD is a neurobiological disorder caused by regulators in the brain that transmit information inconsistently. This inconsistency causes problems with attention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. ADHD is a very individual disorder. It manifests itself differently in different people. People with ADHD may be disorganized, “spacey”, forgetful, impulsive, inconsistent, hyperactive, moody, and frustrated. They may have trouble prioritizing tasks, have low self-esteem, have trouble completing tasks, have many tasks going on at once, procrastinate and have a plethora of other problems. They also tend to be very creative and intelligent. ADHD has been misunderstood and misdiagnosed because of the variety of symptoms that can be present. Each person deals with ADHD a little differently and has overcome their problems with attention, impuslivity and hyperactivity in a different way. There are different types of ADHD according to the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition: Inattentive and Hyperactive/Impulsive. Women and girls are more commonly diagnosed with the inattentive type while men and boys are more commonly diagnosed with the hyperactive/impulsive type. This is not a hard and fast rule though. Girls can be hyperactive and boys can be inattentive. Some people are diagnosed with yet a third type called Combined type because they show inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive symptoms.

Brain scans showing brain activity show less activity in a person who has ADHD than in a person who does not have ADHD. Some researchers think that since the ADHD brain has less internal stimulation, it seeks external stimulation. This results in either hyperactive or impulsive behavior or in shifts of attention from one thing to another. One might think the best treatment for hyperactivity would be a tranquilizer of some sort to slow the person down. However, treatment for ADHD usually involves the use of a stimulant medication that stimulates the brain’s inner activity. This causes the outer activity to slow down resulting in less hyperactive and impulsive behaviors while allowing the individual to focus their attention on a single task making their lives easier and more productive.

 ADHD is a very complex disorder that affects a large number of individuals. Statistics vary, but as many as 10% of the adult population may have ADHD. New drugs and treatments are being found to help both adults and children with this disorder lead more organized and stable lives.

In future articles I’d like to discuss these medications and treatments, the history of ADHD, practical coping skills and even the advantages of having ADHD.

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