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What Is ADHD?
A Brief Neurological Description:
Attention deficit disorder is a no-fault neurological difference that can present challenges in every aspect of life. If a doubter of ADHD says it’s just an excuse for certain kinds of behaviors, they need to know that imaging studies have identified structural, chemical, and functional differences in the areas of the brain that regulate attention, emotions, and executive functioning in people with ADHD. Executive functioning is what helps us get things done as we manage time, organize, notice details, plan ahead, and remember cause and effect.
When some of us think of ADD/ADHD, we imagine a rowdy boy who can’t sit still. But that’s just a small part of the picture. The rate of ADHD is about the same in both genders (although boys get noticed more than girls) and the symptoms of attention deficit disorder can last into adulthood.
Types and Symptoms of ADHD
If you see the term “ADHD” instead of “ADD” these days, it’s because professionals now use ADHD as an umbrella term to cover all of the symptoms a person may experience. The American Psychological Association has identified three types of ADHD:
- Predominantly Inattentive
- Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive
- Combined Presentation, which includes symptoms of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive
Predominately inattentive ADHD is what used to be called ADD. Although everyone is different, here are some common challenges adults with this type of ADHD experience:
- Usually running late or losing track of time
- Often misplacing keys, cell phones, glasses, or other items necessary for daily life
- Trying to listen, but having a hard time focusing on a conversation
- Forgetting tasks, responsibilities, and even important dates
- Feeling overwhelmed by things to do and not knowing how to prioritize
- Avoiding crowds, large stores, loud music, or other situations that feel over-stimulating
- Inattention to details, whether at work, school, or home
Predominately hyperactive-impulsive ADHD is what most people think of when they imagine those rowdy boys with ADHD. What happens when a child who can’t sit still becomes a hyperactive adult? Again, although everyone is different, here are some common ways this type of ADHD expresses itself:
- Jiggling a leg or fidgeting with keys, a pencil, or whatever is close by
- Jumping from thing to thing and having a hard time finishing projects or tasks
- Often feeling restless and uncomfortable, especially when having to focus on something uninteresting
- Very talkative and tendency to interrupt
- Frequent feelings of impatience or irritability
- Lack of control over emotions that can lead to quick emotional outbursts
- Impulsivity that can express itself in a number of ways from impulsive spending to starting a million projects to blurting out comments that others (usually people who don’t have ADHD) may perceive as random or inappropriate
- Difficulty calming down thoughts even when the body is tired
When adults are diagnosed with combined presentation, they possess traits of both types of ADHD.
The Gifts and Strengths of ADHD
Although ADHD certainly has it’s challenges, there is an upside to it as well. Many celebrities, intellectuals, and business executives attribute much of their success to ADHD. Just a few examples are singer Adam Levine, comedian Howie Mandel, Virgin Airlines founder Sir Richard Branson, Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, JetBlue founder David Neeleman, and radio host, political commentator, and author Thom Hartmann. While not all of us can be that famous, the gifts and strengths that so many with ADHD share can help balance out the challenges:
- Out of the box problem solving
- Creativity and an active imagination
- Humor and wit
- Friendly and a great conversationalist
- Able to focus for hours on something interesting
- Lots of energy
- Not afraid of taking risks
- Ability to make quick decisions and stay calm under pressure
- Intuitive and highly intelligent
- Spontaneous and caring
Managing and Even Thriving with ADHD
A diagnosis of ADHD can impact your life in varying degrees depending on your responsibilities, your environment, your relationships, and your phase of life. While a high school student may struggle with the constraints of a traditional school, she may later thrive in a job where she is able to express her creativity and other ADHD strengths.
Author, psychiatrist, and ADHD expert Ned Hallowell says: It’s how you manage the ADHD that determines whether it’s a gift or a curse.” If you would like support and help managing your ADHD so you can live with more direction, success, and peace of mind, please contact me for a free consultation. I look forward to hearing from you!