I attended a Child Psychiatry conference recently, where I noticed that there were a lot of presentations about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I remember thinking to myself, What is the big deal? We all know what ADHD is by now, why all the updates? So I attended a few sessions, and what I learned blew me away.
Pretty much anyone can tell you that they’ve heard of ADHD, and most people probably know a close friend or family member- if not themselves- who has been diagnosed with it at some point. Most of us recognize that people struggling with ADHD can often be very hyperactive, impulsive, distractible, talk a lot, and have a hard time sitting still or listening attentively.
But beyond that, there is still a large misunderstanding about what ADHD actually is. And it turns out the disorder is a lot more complex than we realize, too.
We are still learning about what is actually happening in the brain of people with ADHD. What we have gleaned so far is that certain regions and circuits of the brain affected in individuals with ADHD aren’t functioning as reliably and efficiently as they should, and since connections in the brain are very complex, this impairment affects many different aspects of people’s functioning. This means that there are many long-term, life-altering ways that ADHD can impact someone. For instance:
- Kids with ADHD may have a harder time in school, and often receive grades that do not accurately reflect their true knowledge or ability.
- They are more likely to be diagnosed with additional learning disorders.
- They are more likely to report being bullied or feeling isolated from peers, and are more likely to get in trouble for “acting out” and being viewed as “difficult” by teachers and administrators.
- They are more likely to be impulsive in their behavior and even in their emotions, at times going from “zero to sixty” quickly.
- A large percentage of people diagnosed with ADHD as children are less likely to graduate from college.
- They will statistically have a harder time getting a job, maintaining that job, or earning a steady salary.
- They may struggle in relationships, and female teenagers and women with ADHD are at a higher risk of having unwanted or unplanned pregnancies.
- People with ADHD are also at a higher risk of being diagnosed with other mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Conduct Disorder.
What?!? Yes. These things are rarely talked about or even recognized by many of us- parents, providers, patients- when diagnosing a child with ADHD. My point here is not to be discouraging. My point is to say, Hey everyone, we need to give ADHD more respect and understanding of it’s global impact on a child’s life and potential long-term outcomes. It’s not just a diagnosis we give to annoying, hyperactive boys that can’t sit still. It’s not just something that we can fix with a pill and that goes away once you’re an adult. Children and teens with ADHD have long-term health and social outcomes that could put them at a disadvantage compared to their non-ADHD peers.
So what does this mean? How can we put a positive spin on this?
One place to start is identifying kids with ADHD early. Get them into treatment- both medical and behavioral- because receiving help early on improves both academic and social outcomes. Educate the parents, too, about how to better understand what ADHD is, how it impacts their child, how it effects the family, and better ways to communicate with that child. These kids are at an increased risk for developing low self-esteem and a decreased sense of self-worth, so educating families on how to focus on the positive and help their children realize their potential goes a long way.
So if you or one of your loved ones has ADHD, please don’t walk away from this post thinking that people with ADHD are doomed. That is definitely not the point. Many people with ADHD go on to lead happy, healthy, successful lives. But some of them will also go on to struggle in some aspects of their lives. So let’s all try to give ADHD more respect and encourage people to get diagnosed and treated earlier, so that we can improve their long-term outcomes.
Not sure if you or your child has ADHD? Visit your local Pediatrician or Psychiatrist (we don’t bite, I promise!) to learn more.
Here are some recommended ADHD resources:
National Institute of Mental Health
American Academy of Child And Adolescent Psychiatry
I’m an adult ADHD patient and everything mentioned is spot on. I struggled in school; however, college was different because I took advantage of math and science labs. I thrived with the one on one tutoring. As a child, I accepted I was “stupid” but my college professors never said anything like that about me. I studied daily and worked on papers for weeks. I graduated with a GPA of 3.8. I do feel isolated from others because I’m different and people don’t understand me. I don’t understand them either. It’s very lonely sometimes. The hyperactivity is in my brain and causes great anxiety and discomfort, especially when I’m not medicated. The stigma is real and painful. I hope one day society will have more empathy for those with psychiatric disorders and stop labeling us as “crazy”. Education and awareness are key. Thanks for giving a voice to the mentally ill.