Adult ADHD: Fact or Myth?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been pretty prevalent in the news lately. As such, NBC recently did a piece titled All in the ADHD family: Diagnosis in kids can spotlight parents’ own condition. If you have roughly 12 minutes to spare, watch the video at the top of the article. There is an abundance of information discussed including relevant brain research and interviews with two adults who were diagnosed with ADHD later in life. Despite the wealth of information presented, I thought All in the ADHD family could be potentially misleading for the average reader perusing the article or glancing at the video. Here are a few points I think are noteworthy to clarify:
ADHD does not develop in adulthood. It is a brain disorder and is part of one’s physiological makeup. In order for a person’s symptoms to meet ADHD criteria, at least some of the symptoms causing daily impairment must have been present before age 7. So the term “Adult ADHD” really refers to ADHD that was not diagnosed until adulthood but has been present since before age 7.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a term loosely thrown around in today’s society. You’ve also probably heard of the term “ADD,” or “Attention Deficit Disorder,” which, according to the American Psychological Association, does not exist. ADHD has three different subtypes to characterize inattentive symptoms, hyperactive/impulsive symptoms, and a combination of both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms.
ADHD should not be diagnosed hastily. A diagnosis is derived using a variety of testing (sometimes physical, psychological, and neurological) and observation of a person’s symptoms in different environments. For example, with children, observations are made at home and at school, and both teachers and parents are consulted.
Symptoms of ADHD are pervasive; that is, they impair a person throughout several areas of his/her daily life. For example, adults and children who suffer from ADHD may have difficulty sustaining attention, both in tasks they enjoy (such as watching TV or reading a book for fun), and in tasks that are less enjoyable (completing homework, reading instructions, or attending to a conversation). Lots of people who don’t have ADHD have problems paying attention when the task is boring or has little personal importance. However, those without ADHD can put their minds to the task if they really give it some effort. People who have ADHD often cannot do this, no matter how hard they try.
Medication is not the only treatment for ADHD. Deciding whether or not to take medication or allow your child to take medication is a tough decision. That being said, medication does greatly help a significant number of adults and children. Many of the individuals I have treated in therapy describe medication for ADHD as “a miracle.” While I am skeptical of miracles, proper treatment for ADHD can certainly improve one’s quality of life and make school, work, and relationships much more enjoyable. Behavioral therapy that focuses on specific interventions, such as minimizing distractions and increasing organizational skills, can also be quite beneficial.
Bottom line: Make sure you have the facts. Do your research and seek professional help if you think you or your child may be suffering from ADHD. Many people think ADHD is over-diagnosed. This may be valid, but ADHD is a very real brain disorder for those who do suffer from this mental illness. There is a lot of information out there, some accurate and some not so accurate. As a psychologist, it is my job to provide society with accurate information. I hope knowledge of accurate information leads those who suffer from mental illness to receive effective treatment. And I hope knowledge leads those who do not suffer from mental illness to develop understanding to help reduce the stigma of mental health in our world today.