October is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) awareness month. It’s celebrated every year with events and informational sessions to raise awareness about a disorder that is very much a medical disorder.
With this being a well-known affliction, it’s not uncommon to hear jokes relating to it in everyday life.
“I don’t have a short attention span, I just...oh, look, a squirrel!”
“I’ve been procrastinating lately, I think I have ADHD.”
While these comments do have truth in them, they’re nitpicked symptoms not indicative of the depth of the disorder. It is, in reality, a lot more complex.
Every year, millions of children in the US are diagnosed with the disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Four million of those are within the 6-11 range, the most common age group to be diagnosed.
Adults have a much lower prevalence for diagnosis, with only around 4 - 5%. While some kids do outgrow it, 60% still have it in adulthood (WebMd.)
ADHD consists of two different components: inattention and hyperactivity. Everyone is slightly different in how they present, with some exhibiting one more than the other. This can make diagnosis difficult and frustrating for those that might only present with inattention, as ADHD is stereotypically known as a high strung disorder.
It can present with contradictory symptoms, and it often overlaps with many other mental and physical disabilities.
The more visible symptoms associated with hyperactivity can include talking excessively, fidgeting or squirming in one's seat (inability to sit still), interrupting or intruding on others when inappropriate to do so and blurting out answers before a question is finished.
The signs of inattention are less visible and can include failing to pay attention to details, leading to careless mistakes, trouble organizing tasks and keeping environments neat and trouble following instructions.
In adults, it can manifest as problems at work due to chronic lateness and forgetfulness, changing jobs often and low self-esteem.
These symptoms are difficult enough by themselves, and ADHD usually comes with comorbid diagnoses. A whopping 64% of children with ADHD have some other mental, emotional or behavioral disorder, all of which can persist into adulthood and cause a wide array of problems. Anxiety is amongst the most common coinciding issues.
A surprising amount of celebrities suffer from the disorder. Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, Jim Carrey and Ryan Gosling are amongst a few.
The best bet if you suspect you or someone you know might suffer from these problems is to find a psychiatrist who specializes in diagnosing the disorder. They will probably request you to get a physical exam and blood test to rule out anything obvious that can cause similar signs. They will ask about your history, such as symptoms growing up, grades and comments from teachers and they might talk to the parents if necessary. Psychological testing might be recommended as well.
Once properly diagnosed, a psychiatrist will recommend medication, stimulants being the most popular. Around two-thirds of adults with ADHD who take a stimulant show a vast improvement after starting medication.
The doctor may also point you in the direction of complimetary therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy or stress management.
For more information, visit adhdawarenessmonth.org.