October is ADHD Awareness Month

Stigma, misinformation, and fears about ADHD continually flood us with negative messages. Pre-conceived ideas, ignoring scientific evidence, and misinformation combined with a bias against medication make getting diagnosed and properly treated problematic throughout most of the world. The truth is out there, but spreading the news is a never-ending battle. Having a month devoted to sharing information, encouraging treatment, and even celebrating a common experience can provide relief for many.

Understanding the ADHD brain

Scientific research and new models of ADHD are proving that ADHD is much more involved than anyone has previously conceived.” As Joel Nigg, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University, says, “ADHD is a genetic disorder, but DNA is not working alone Stress, diet, and environmental toxins change the brain as well.” “ADHD is not a breakdown of the brain in one spot. It’s a breakdown in the connectivity, the communication networks, and an immaturity in these networks,” says “These brain networks are interrelated around

  • emotion
  • attention
  • behavior
  • and arousal

People with ADHD have trouble with global self-regulation, not just regulation of attention, which is why there are attentional and emotional issues.”

Diagnosing and Treating ADHD is challenging

ADHD is a complex and highly comorbid disorder. “Diagnosis of ADHD requires much more than meeting the criteria set forth in a certain set of symptoms. You need to see a mental health professional who will take a complete history using personal questionnaires and interviews with the person, their family, or teachers. This process will help them assess your symptoms and see if your story “fits” what they might expect from ADHD.”  

“Comorbidity or co-occurring means having two or more diagnosable and related conditions at the same time. Indeed, researchers are discovering that ADHD “seldom rides alone.” Studies suggest comorbidity rates between 50% and 90%. This complex interplay between ADHD and its commonly occurring comorbid psychiatric disorders complicates diagnosing and treating ADHD.

Medication is a personal choice that deserves much more attention than I can give it here.

Managing ADHD is Possible

Our guest author, Mary Fowler explains. First, we must understand that most ADHD management is not a problem of knowing what to doIt’s a matter of doing what we know.” 

In her mini-workshop for teachers, Increase On-Task Performance for Students with ADHDMary describes in detail many specific tools to help children “do what they know” through simple support techniques  Although Mary’s advice is quite useful the classroom, the same understanding of ADHD and principles for getting things done remain true for all ages. It is well worth reading for yourself as well as sharing with your child’s school

But, DO NOT expect that using these ideas just a couple of times will change their behavior in the near future. That’s like expecting a child in a wheelchair to get up and walk up the stairs because they’ve used a ramp for a while. It’s not a lack of knowledge, but an inability to perform mundane or confusing tasks at an assigned time that is affected by ADHD.

External scaffolding is needed – like developing habits and routines, getting comfortable with transitioning between activitiesstrategies for starting and finishing projects as well as controlling one’s emotional responses.

“What you need to know about Attention Deficit Disorder:

  • Accept that supports may be needed across the lifespan of a person with ADHD.
  • Interventions have to happen in the here and now on an as-needed basis.
  • The strategies ONLY work when they are used.”

Acceptance and Community

In Learning to Accept Myself after my ADHD Diagnosis, Kristi Lazzar writes, “Getting diagnosed started me on the path of new growth, change, and yes, acceptance. I could finally be myself and stop wondering why I couldn’t be like everyone else. I could stop the self-loathing. I now had a name for my behaviors, which gave me something to work with. I could finally be myself. I could stop the self-loathing.”

“ADHD communities are extremely supportive and a wonderful place to learn about your diagnosis and what to expect. “When you feel lost and alone, it’s comforting to know that others get it. … My best teachers have been people like me.” An online community will do, but meeting in person or through a video Zoom connection is even more powerful.

The Art of Thriving with ADHD

Thriving with ADHD is a gradual process. You may be surprised to know that they aren’t about productivity; they’re about how you are feeling about yourself.” They are as much about accepting your unique personality quirks and gifts as they are about learning strategies to overcome your difficulties.  Author Kari Hogan says, “Take advantage of your strengths. Identify what you’re strong in and find ways to do more of it.  When you realize “you’re a natural” at something, this is almost always an indication that you are playing to your strengths. And “Surround yourself with people who can embrace your differences and who accept you for who you are and for what you are not.” Only then does she offer a number of strategies in 16 Steps to Better Self-Esteem.

  1. Your first step is STRUCTURE.
    By creating structure, each day, you’re giving yourself a reason to wake up and get out of bed!
  2. The second step echoes the first step. Set up a daily to-do list. This will give you a sense of accomplishment (it gives you a reason to be proud of yourself).
  3. Step 3. FOCUS on your good qualities….”

All too often, we dwell on the negatives of ADHD. Andrea Nordstrom reframes the way we look Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder as merely a deficit in The ADHD Manifesto. (2 ½ minutes) It’s a great pick-me-up if you’re ever feeling down about “being different.”

We don’t do life the normal way. we do it the ADD way! We are not broken. We are whole. When we fuel ourselves properly, our drive accelerates us.”