Understanding ADHD

September 14, 2016

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the more commonly misunderstood illnesses of the 21st Century. Numerous myths abound; and yet a little empathy and knowledge about the disorder will do much to change the negative stigma that surrounds ADHD. In support of the National ADHD Awareness Day on 14 September, Selfmed aims to promote better understanding and regard for those affected by this brain-based biological disorder.

ADHD and the brain

The brain is a complex and intricate organ. It dictates how we process information, interact with others and display different behaviours.

For ADHD sufferers, a chemical imbalance in the brain means that certain neurotransmitters may not be operating correctly, particularly in areas that will affect their attention and impulses.

In many ways, the ADHD brain is wired differently and sufferers may in turn interpret and interact with the world in an unconventional way. Recent studies have also found that the average brain of an ADHD child differs considerably from a non-ADHD child and that it is also typically smaller in size.

Identifying ADHD

Those diagnosed with ADHD are commonly children aged between 4 and 11. These children will exhibit on-going patterns of behaviour that include impulsivity, inattention and hyperactivity.

Children may show signs of fidgetiness, temper tantrums (especially in younger children), unfinished tasks, daydreaming, lack of focus and difficulty in following instructions. Teachers, friends or even family members may have good intentions in recognising the signs of ADHD in your child, but only a medical professional can diagnose ADHD or prescribe possible treatment.

Unfortunately, such unconventional behaviour is easily misinterpreted as signs of misdemeanour, acting out and a lack of discipline. The root problem however, stems from a real medical condition that will need to be evaluated and treated accordingly.

In essence, ADHD originates in the brain; it is not a man-made, fictional or groundless diagnosis for a child’s misbehaviour or emotional turmoil. 

Diagnosing a brain disorder

An ADHD diagnosis is not a simple one. There is no single test or scan to determine ADHD.  Sufferers are typically diagnosed if they present the above mentioned behavioural patterns over time (for at least six months); are typically younger than 12; and have had some form of functional impairment.

Researchers suggest that at least 10% of the population present signs of ADHD. Typically, this minority do not always fit into society’s mould of ‘accepted behaviour’. Many will struggle in conventional schooling systems and some may be mistakenly labelled as ‘spoilt’, ‘undisciplined, ‘lazy’ or ‘disruptive’. These behavioural patterns are not so much the problem as the underlying disorder that needs to be addressed.

A hereditary condition

The exact cause of ADHD remains unknown but medical experts agree that the disorder is usually passed on through the generations and thus family history of the illness should be noted.

Adults with ADHD would probably have had the disorder as children, although they may never have been formally diagnosed. In fact, many only receive diagnosis once their own children are called in for evaluation. In these cases, many parents and children are treated simultaneously.

Treating ADHD

In the past, ADHD treatment has typically focused on medications that restore order to the brain’s chemical imbalance. Stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall are often prescribed to relieve some of the sufferer’s symptoms.

These stimulants are believed to be non-addictive and fast-working. However, the dosage and effects differ from person to person. A medical specialist such as your child’s paediatrician or psychiatrist will need to monitor the prescribed doses and work out a treatment plan that is best for your child.

Alternative therapies

Behaviour and parental therapies are also available and offer practical assistance to families dealing with ADHD. The emphasis is on behaviour modification and family education for all affected by the disorder. A combined treatment approach, with medication and alternative therapy, is often recommended for the best results.

Exercise, diet and quality sleep are also essential for the overall wellbeing of anyone suffering from ADHD. A balanced diet with proteins and complex carbohydrates will help your child feel more alert and less hyperactive. Adding Omega-3 fatty acids to your diet (found in fish or taken as fish oil supplements) will also help to increase your productivity and concentration levels. 

Hope for ADHD sufferers

It is possible to live a healthy, normal life with ADHD. In fact, many of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs have thrived with the condition, from Walt Disney and actor Jim Carrey, to business mogul Richard Branson.

Early diagnosis and evaluation are important. If left untreated, ADHD sufferers may be at risk of developing a low self-confidence, obstacles in learning and even anti-social behaviour.

The good news, however, is that treatment is readily available and effective. If you suspect possible symptoms in yourself or your child, contact your doctor for an evaluation today.