By Kelsey Petersen

October is ADHD Awareness Month. ADHD is an increasingly common diagnosis, with more adults and children diagnosed each year in the US. As of 2019, 1 in 10 children in the US are affected by ADHD (CHADD). ADHD is generally categorized into two types: Inattentive and Hyperactive (DSM-5). Inattentive ADHD is characterized primarily by difficulty concentrating, staying on task, remembering and/or following instructions, losing things often, and distractibility (DSM-5). These characteristics can make it difficult to function in work or school on a daily basis and impact self-efficacy. Some adults may think that a child with ADHD is “lazy” or doesn’t care about following instructions, when in fact, this is not the case – they are simply working with a child who thinks and operates in a different way compared to the neurotypical norm. Inattentive ADHD is the type most commonly seen in women and girls (Hinshaw et al, 2021) and, as such, is more likely to go undiagnosed, as children who are not overtly disruptive in the classroom setting are more likely to go unnoticed as having ADHD. 

Hyperactive ADHD is more likely to be diagnosed in boys – and as such, until the last decade or so, most research on ADHD has been focused on boys (Hinshaw et al.). Hyperactive ADHD is characterized mainly by behaviors considered “disruptive,” such as fidgeting, not sitting still, blurting out answers/or interrupting others – which interfere with or reduce the quality of functioning in everyday life (DSM-5). Many individuals, however, can have a combined presentation of inattentive and hyperactive symptoms. While one must meet DSM-5 criteria to meet the full requirements of the diagnosis, the way these symptoms present is unique to each individual. 

Many adults are diagnosed in adulthood, years after they realize that all throughout their childhood and adolescence, they were stigmatized for their ADHD-related behaviors or went unnoticed as having ADHD at all. Adults can greatly benefit from the increased self-understanding and self-compassion that can come with a formal diagnosis.

ADHD Awareness Month is dedicated to helping de-stigmatize ADHD and educate the public about what ADHD really is and how to support those with the diagnosis better. If you or someone you love is struggling with symptoms that are in line with ADHD diagnostic criteria, it could be life-changing to reach out for professional support. There are relatively new ADHD medications that have taken the place of first-generation ADHD medications such as Adderall and other stimulants – and which help many people with ADHD concentrate well enough to complete tasks of daily living and functioning to a degree they previously were unable to achieve. While medication is often the first line of treatment for ADHD, counseling helps individuals with ADHD unlearn unhelpful and self-critical thinking patterns that keep them stuck under the label of their diagnosis – and how others have negatively viewed their diagnosis and related behavior. Evidence-based therapeutic approaches that have found the most success with ADHD include Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), and Family Therapy (UC Davis).

The etiology of ADHD is still being studied. However the main factor in ADHD etiology has been found to be genetic heritability (CHADD). Environmental factors, such as many food additives, increased screen time, and chemical contaminants in water and soil, have also been linked to ADHD (CHADD). Whatever the causes, ADHD is a real brain difference that requires real solutions, adaptability, resiliency, and understanding.

Executive dysfunction is another key aspect of ADHD that makes daily life more difficult for those with the diagnosis. Executive dysfunction is defined as when the brain has difficulty with important functions related to memory, attention, and thinking (Resnick, 2023). The outward manifestation of executive dysfunction can contribute to others viewing those with ADHD as “lazy,” “indifferent,” or even for children, “disrespectful.” This is not the case. Executive dysfunction can be overcome with solutions that are ADHD-informed and do not require traditional methods of structure that work for neurotypical individuals. Executive dysfunction-related procrastination behavior is directly linked to negative emotion avoidance, not laziness or indifference (Resnick). Many individuals with ADHD also benefit from structure and routine, which helps them stay task-oriented. Conversely, some aspects of ADHD are considered by many to be strengths in many respects. The ability to concentrate on tasks for long periods and perform tasks to high levels of success is known as ADHD hyperfocus. Many creative and successful individuals with ADHD have used this ability to its best effect, including Olympic athletes, famous musicians and artists, and entrepreneurs. Even if you are not personally affected by ADHD, knowing the symptoms of the diagnosis and the struggles that often accompany them will help you have more compassion and understanding for those with ADHD and potentially help a friend or loved one spot them in themselves. In doing so, you could help someone begin the journey to receiving life-transforming help and treatment strategies they have been longing for their whole lives.

“ADHD isn’t a bad thing, it’s a different way of thinking.” – David Neeleman

 “Be who you are. Because you never know who would love the person you hide.” -Anonymous 

“Procrastination is not laziness, it is fear. Call it by its right name, and forgive yourself.” – Julia Cameron, The Prosperous Heart

References

Hinshaw, S., Nguyen, p, O’Grady, S., & Rosenthal, E. (2021). Annual research review: Attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder in girls and women: underrepresentation, longitudinal processes, and key directions. https://apsard.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Child-Psychology-Psychiatry-2021-Hinshaw-Annual-Research-Review-Attention%E2%80%90deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-in-girls.pdf 

https://health.ucdavis.edu/mindinstitute/research/about-adhd/adhd-treatment.html 

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD): https://chadd.org/adhd-weekly/is-there-an-increase-in-adhd/ 

Resnick, A. (2023). What to know about executive dysfunction in ADHD. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-executive-dysfunction-in-adhd-5213034