Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (A.D.H.D.) is one of the most common and talked about mental health disorders.  It is not unusual for people of all ages to make comments about others having it or even to wonder whether they have it, especially if they have trouble completing tasks, paying attention, or staying organized.  We all certainly know people who have the disorder, or who we think have it.  The research indicates that approximately 5% of children have A.D.H.D., which always seems low to me.  Whenever I visit a classroom of thirty students, I almost always see two or three that seem to have the symptoms.   Of course, not all of them do have it, and some are never diagnosed.  Whatever the number, people who have A.D.H.D., and people who live with them can be greatly impacted.

In order to meet the criteria for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, a person has to have a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity that is more severe and seen more often than in others who are of the same age.  The symptoms must be present by the age of seven and in at least two different settings, such as school and home.  There must also be interference with the person’s functioning socially, academically or occupationally.  Examples of inattention include:  difficulties staying focused on or completing tasks, often making careless mistakes, not listening even when being spoken directly to, being easily distracted, often losing things and being disorganized.  Examples of hyperactivity are fidgeting, inability to stay seated, often seeming to be “on the go” and talking excessively, while examples of impulsivity are blurting out answers before the questions have been completed, difficulties awaiting turn and often interrupting or intruding on others.

I wanted to write about A.D.H.D., because I think that it is a disability that is often misunderstood and misjudged.  Unlike depression and anxiety, which are disorders that can often be overcome, A.D.H.D. is a biological disorder that remains with the person for the rest of his or her life.  Though some people outgrow some of the symptoms of hyperactivity, the symptoms of impulsivity and inattention typically remain, making many tasks, which seem easy to others, very difficult for them to complete. 

From the time they are in school, children with A.D.H.D. begin to struggle with things that other children learn, such as taking turns, sharing, listening, sitting still, and completing the work assigned to them.  Even though many of them are intelligent and creative, they are seen as lazy, unmotivated and oppositional.  Because their behavior is often annoying to others, they have trouble making friends, and their self-esteem begins to suffer.  As school progresses, the expectations to stay organized and manage their time increase as well as social expectations.  In adolescence, their problems with impulsivity sometimes lead to making poor decisions, especially if they lack self-confidence.  People with A.D.H.D. are more at risk for depression in childhood, adolescence and adulthood because of their struggles at home, school, work, and in social relationships.

The good news is that with knowledge comes understanding and opportunity.  When parents see possible signs of A.D.H.D. and choose to have their child tested, they have the chance to help him or her in numerous ways.  When they become educated about it, they can learn how to have realistic expectations of their child and to give them opportunities to increase their self-esteem and feel successful.  There are behavioral techniques, medication interventions, and educational accommodations and strategies that can all benefit children with A.D.H.D.  Adults can also benefit from cognitive-behavioral strategies, medication management and coaching in order to best learn how to manage their symptoms and help them compensate, so that they feel like productive, successful people.  Education about the disorder and support groups can also help family members, so that all can understand that symptoms are only symptoms and not character flaws.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
Sheila Hedden, L.C.S.W.
Posted: 8/26/12