ADHD: A Different State of Mind
by Lauren Sousa | published Feb. 25th, 2015
Over 10 percent of the childhood population has been diagnosed with ADHD, a disorder surrounded by some publicly held misconceptions. The condition continues to affect many of these children as they grow into adulthood and go through college.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is categorized by long term symptoms, including attention issues, hyperactivity and impulsivity that start during early childhood. However, public understanding of the disorder and its treatments has been warped in part due to a variety of factors, including the saying “I’m so ADD right now” and the belief that ADHD is just a disorder for children.
According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), ADHD is “a neurobiological disorder characterized by developmentally inappropriate impulsivity, inattention and, in some cases, hyperactivity.” The group claims that people with ADHD experience such extreme symptoms that it interferes with their daily lives.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 11 percent of children between the ages of 4 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, and research shows that some symptoms can carry over to adulthood. ADHD is usually diagnosed at an early age, with 7 being the average age of diagnosis due to the onset of symptoms in childhood. This may have contributed to the misconception that it is a disorder only for children. However, according to CHADD, about 60 percent of children with ADHD will continue experiencing symptoms into adulthood. These adults may experience a change in symptoms, but they will still be present.
CHADD also reported that ADHD is three times more likely to be present in boys than girls, but all children regardless of ethnicity can be diagnosed with ADHD. Nonetheless, it is not just a diagnosis for misbehaving children; it is a disorder that is often hereditary.
The National Institute of Mental Health has produced several studies that have supported the theory that ADHD can run in families. The studies have identified genes like one that causes a “thinner brain tissue in the areas of the brain associated with attention.” They also say that this genetic thinning and other causes are not permanent, and children with ADHD can have a reduction in symptoms as they get older.
In cases where it is not inherited, there are a number of risk factors that can cause the disorder, including problems during pregnancy like prenatal exposure to tobacco and alcohol, high lead levels, low birth weight and premature delivery, as well as infant head injuries. These issues can lead to executive functioning impairments, according to the National Resource Center on ADHD, which can cause issues with working memory, motivation and complex problem solving, all of which are contributing factors to the distraction aspect of ADHD.
Those who are diagnosed go through a rigorous evaluation process with a number of criteria necessary to confirm this diagnosis. This criteria is outlined by the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV-TR, a manual of a variety of disorders and the symptoms that need to be present in order to receive a medical diagnosis. In order to categorize specific symptoms of ADHD, the book identifies that there are three types of ADHD that deal with different symptoms.
ADHD Predominately Inattentive Type is the category for people with extreme inattention issues, but little trouble with hyperactivity or impulsivity. ADHD Predominately Hyperactive Impulsive Type is on the opposite end of the spectrum; those with hyperactivity and impulsivity issues, but not inattention issues, are in this group. However, CHADD says that the people who usually fall into this category are small children who are likely to develop the last type of ADHD, ADHD Combined Type, which combines traits of both previous types of the disorder at a chronic level.
Although ADHD is a disorder, some with the diagnosis don’t feel like they suffer from it, and may even see it as an advantage. Jeanette Schramm is a third year Journalism student and has experienced the symptoms of ADHD since an early age, but she doesn’t feel like she suffers as a result of the condition.
“I don’t think it’s a disorder, it’s a different state of mind,” she said.
She says that it’s much easier for her to think creatively and to brainstorm, and is proud that it allows her to think in ways that others do not. She equates it to “being able to see a whole different side of the color spectrum.”
Even though some may share Schramm's perspective, some people with ADHD also seek treatment. For them, there are two main options: behavioral therapy and medication, each of which focuses on different aspects of the disorder. In combination, these treatments can greatly reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
According to the CDC, behavioral therapy is helpful for children with ADHD because it also changes how they interact with others. The therapy focuses on creating a routine so the children can follow a schedule that reduces distractions, maximizes organization and minimizes the need for discipline. An important part of the therapy is to limit the child’s choices, which keeps them from getting overstimulated and symptomatic. By using behavioral therapy, children with ADHD can learn to minimize their symptoms by creating a stable world for themselves.
Medications are the most well-known treatment for ADHD, with drugs like Adderall advertised for their ability to increase attention. According to the CDC, 70–80 percent of people with ADHD experience a reduction in symptoms when taking stimulants like Adderall and Concerta. However, several non-stimulants have entered the market, such as Strattera and Kapvay, which the CDC reports to have fewer side effects and can be effective for up to 24 hours.
Schramm said she has been both on and off of Concerta during her years in college. Off of the medication, she reported that she’s enjoying life more, and while her attention has decreased, she has found ways to control her symptoms without the use of medication. She has found motivation to be the biggest issue for her, so to combat that she has developed a complex set of calendar reminders to push her to do the work she doesn’t want to do, but which still leave her with “play time” to reduce the added stress.
Since Concerta is a stimulant, it had an adverse affect on Schramm's heart, but now her heart palpitations have been minimized. She said she also finds that her creativity is at a record high, and her appetite has returned. As of now, she does not plan on going back on medication and believes that she has control over her ADHD.
The medical community and general public consider ADHD to be like any other disorder: something that needs to be treated. Those with the disorder experience life with a collection of symptoms that some don’t see as a disadvantage. Many do need medication to help them control their ADHD and consider it a necessity, but to others, ADHD is simply a different state of mind.