Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a serious medical problem involving a chemical imbalance in the brain that affects the way a person thinks and behaves. ADHD interferes with a person’s ability to pay attention, learn, sit still and control behavior. The illness increasingly is being diagnosed in children who demonstrate severe behavioral problems at home, in school and in social settings. And while early diagnosis is key to managing ADHD, medical experts, mental health professionals, teachers and parents often do not see eye-to-eye about treatment recommendations once the diagnosis has been made.
Because ADHD involves a chemical imbalance in the brain, many professionals prescribe medication to “correct” the imbalance. The use of medications such as Ritalin and Adderall (psycho stimulants) have been controversial because of fears about medication side effects, stunting a child’s growth or concerns about giving medications to young children. A host of unproven ADHD remedies has cropped up over the years, including special food diets, anti-motion sickness medication, excessive use of vitamins, Biofeedback and eye movement training programs. Unfortunately, the parade of new treatment fads has only added to public skepticism about our ability to successfully treat ADHD.
ADHD, a virtually unknown medical problem three decades ago, is now one of the fastest growing diagnosed conditions in children. Some say, in fact, that the ADHD diagnosis is being misused as a “catch-all” diagnosis to explain any childhood behavioral problems. An accurate diagnosis of ADHD should involve an examination by a medical doctor and a mental health professional with input from teachers and parents.
Symptoms of ADHD include problems with attention and impulsivity:
- Fails to pay close attention to details and makes careless errors
- Has trouble paying attention
- Doesn’t appear to be listening
- Fails to follow-through on instructions with chores, homework or tasks
- Has trouble organizing activities
- Dislikes tasks that require a sustained mental effort
- Loses materials needed for activities (books, pencils, toys)
- Is too easily distracted
- Is forgetful
- Squirms in seat or fidgets
- Leaves seat at inappropriate times
- Runs or climbs at inappropriate times, or is overly restless
- Has trouble playing quietly
- Seems constantly on the go as though driven by a motor
- Talks excessively
- Answers questions before they have been completely asked
- Has trouble waiting his turn
- Interrupts others or intrudes on others
Many experts see a genetic link to ADHD. Children with ADHD often have a parent with the illness - a parent who had similar problems in childhood, but was not diagnosed because at that time medical experts did not know about the illness.
Like children, many adults also have ADHD. The illness often goes unrecognized, however, because the symptoms present somewhat differently in adults. Further, many adults outgrow the “hyperactive” component to ADHD, but continue to suffer from problems with attention. These adults are diagnosed with Adult ADD, which is ADHD minus the hyperactivity. Sadly, while recognizing that their children suffer from ADHD or ADD, these adults often fail to recognize the symptoms of the illness in themselves. Or, the adult ADD may suffer from low self-esteem, believing that a lifetime of problems with attention are a character flaw instead of a treatable illness. Common symptoms of Adult ADD include:
- Short attention span
- Poor concentration, especially regarding details
- Trouble understanding complex documents
- Difficulty maintaining a train of thought
- Misses deadlines
- Unable to stick to a schedule
- Does not finish projects or meet goals
- Unable to follow the conversation, particularly in groups
- Speaks out of turn
- Acts before thinking
- Spends too much on spur of the moment, “impulse” buys
- Drives impulsively, and, therefore, dangerously
- Overreacts to having to wait in line
- Appears to be rushing or “racing”
- Fidgets constantly
More and more adults are seeking professional help for Adult ADHD or ADD. Many adults, who formerly suffered in silence, are glad to know that not only is there a name for what ails them, but that professional help is readily available. These adults recognize that having their problem properly diagnosed is the first step towards regaining control over their lives.
And, while there is no cure for ADHD, the good news is that we are learning effective intervention strategies. Medication works for many children and adults, but may not be right for everyone. Behavior modification programs show promise in helping ADHD children gain control over their behavior. Many communities now offers special parenting programs and support groups, to help parents cope with the unique stresses and responsibilities associated with taking care of an ADHD child.
If you would like more information about ADHD, contact the BAC Member Assistance Program (MAP) toll-free at 1-888-880-8222. All calls and office visits are strictly confidential.