Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Research shows that as many as one in twenty in the UK may fit the criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD, but why and how to recognise it and what to do about it?
The lived experience of ADHD
Everyone’s ADHD will be different but the lived experience can include finding it hard to arrive to places on time, to be organised, finish tasks, focus and remember things as required. You may find the way people speak and the way in which they want you to do things may not always make sense or be interesting for you.
It is likely that the experience of trying to be with others in the way they seem at ease will not always feel comfortable for you. Probably the most difficult situations for you will be where you get a sense that others have expectations of you and the fear of getting things wrong may well create such stress and anxiety that you may find it difficult to feel at ease, think clearly and get things done.
Conversely, when left to your own devices you will be able to put intense focus and energy into things that you find interesting. This can lead to your being able to achieve things which leads to others expressing admiration, however it is likely that these exchanges may also feel uncomfortable for you as you sense their inability to fully understand what you are talking to them about.
Additionally, some of your relationships, those where you do not sense expectation can be really positive experiences for you providing the opportunity for connection and a felt sense of understanding that leaves you feeling stronger and more motivated.
Generally you may have feelings of impatience, frustration and an energy so you might not want to stay in the same place or position, may feel bored or overwhelmed by noise, lights or distractions and when moving you might sometimes lose your balance, knock into or break things.
Conversely, away from the demands of others and when doing something you enjoy it is likely that you can have extraordinary focus and energy leading to you having expert knowledge or expertise in a particular area. As a result there is the potential for creativity and innovation.
How do people manage ADHD?
Everyone has to find their own way, their own sense of balance. There’s a need to be realistic because there are some things that always need doing but what often gets overlooked is the potential for things to be done differently.
Large organisations are increasing understanding that those who fit under the umbrella term of neurodiversity have huge contributions to make and as such are ensuring working environments and practices enable this.
For some people there will be a desire to make changes to how they think and feel so that they are more comfortable with what is seen as everyday demands and there are a range of pharmacological possibilities and behavioural therapies available. Meanwhile others may prefer to change their lives to reflect what they can and want to do and in this instance therapy is available to talk this through to find a way forward.
How is ADHD thought about by the medical profession?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is often first diagnosed during childhood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviours or be overly active.
Adult symptoms of ADHD can cause difficulty at work, at home, or with relationships.
Many adults who struggle with ADHD have never been diagnosed in their childhood.
The symptoms of ADHD vary from person to person. There are three different types of ADHD, depending on which symptoms are strongest in the individual. These types are predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactivity-impulsive and a combination of both.
Predominantly inattentive - people with this type of ADHD have extreme difficulty focusing, keeping organised, finishing tasks on time and following instructions. They may also have troubles in following conversations, due to being easily distracted and forgetting details. It may be hard for them to stick to daily routines. It is common for the individual with the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD to not receive a proper diagnosis as a child because people with inattentive ADHD don’t tend to cause disruptions or problems in school. This type of ADHD is believed to be more common among women.
Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive - people with this type of ADHD primarily show hyperactive and impulsive behaviour. This may include fidgeting, interrupting people while they are talking and not being able to wait their turn. A person with predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD typically finds it hard to sit still for too long (for example in a classroom, while eating a meal or doing work at the desk). They often feel restless and act impulsively, for example by speaking before thinking, not listening to directions and not paying attention. Due to their impulsive and hyperactive behaviours, they are more prone to accidents and injuries.
Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive type – this is the most common type of ADHD. People with the combined type of ADHD display both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms. These include an inability to pay attention, a tendency toward impulsiveness, and above-average levels of activity and energy. Symptoms of the other two types are equally present in the person.
Symptoms of ADHD may look different at older ages, for example, hyperactivity may appear as extreme restlessness. The symptoms of ADHD usually improve with age, but many adults who were diagnosed with the condition at a young age continue to experience problems. In fact for some people symptoms can become more severe when the responsibilities of adulthood increase.
Strengths recognised in people with ADHD
There is increasing awareness of the strengths often witnessed in those with ADHD. Many of the common ADHD characteristics can also be strengths and can be taken full advantage of. Although not every person with ADHD has the same traits, it is important to recognise them, as they may benefit the individual’s current and future life. These benefits include:
Hyperfocus - someone with this trait can focus on a task for hours on end. Hyperfocusing can help to concentrate, finish tasks and gain detailed knowledge about a topic. Hyperfocusing is defined as a period of intense concentration, attention and absorption in an activity that produces strong feelings of enjoyment. While hyperfocusing, the person can work faster and more efficiently. The benefit of this is that, when given an assignment, a task or a goal, a person with ADHD may work on it until its completion without breaking concentration.
Resilience – someone who struggles with ADHD faces obstacles and challenges in life, which often lead to building resilience. Resilience refers to having the mental strength to cope with stress and hardship, without developing unhealthy coping mechanisms. Research studies have found that parents and teachers rated most children with ADHD as being resilient. Resilience helps people with ADHD to keep working towards their goals during difficulties and stops them from giving up easily.
Creativity – it is common for someone with ADHD to be highly creative, especially in something that interests them or when they set a specific goal for themselves. Those with ADHD often think of unusual solutions because of their different perspectives, which often leads to great problem solving skills. Living with ADHD may give the person a different perspective on life and encourage them to approach tasks and situations with a thoughtful eye. As a result, someone with ADHD may be artistic and original. While people with ADHD can be inattentive and easily distracted, they also tend to be divergent thinkers. Instead of following fixed patterns and ways of thinking about problems, they are able to spot new solutions and come up with innovative ideas.
Spontaneity and courage – the impulsive nature of many people with ADHD leads them to be involved in spontaneous activities, which often turn into enjoyable moments and lasting memories. People with ADHD tend to engage in activities to enjoy the current moment without overthinking it. Impulsivity may be characterised by acting without thinking, being impatient, and interrupting others but it can also have its benefits. Spontaneous actions help keep things interesting for many people, being open to new experiences, free from worrying about other distractions. Studies also suggest that spontaneity plays a role in the development of courage.
High energy – many people with ADHD have high energy levels which may result in above-average levels of fitness and great performance in physical activities. Some individuals with ADHD have huge amounts of energy that they’re able to take advantage of in order to become successful in sport. Hyperactivity and the ability to hyperfocus on certain tasks, such as training, can allow people with ADHD develop their skills to a highly professional level.
Understanding different abilities can help to make the most of them in different situations. Someone who receives a diagnosis of ADHD, should not be disheartened or allow the disadvantages of the condition to overshadow the potential benefits.
Therapists and parents can help a person with ADHD to discover the potential benefits of their condition.
The difference between “ADD” and “ADHD”
ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is an outdated term which is no longer used. It was previously used to describe people who have problems paying attention but are not hyperactive. The type of ADHD called “predominantly inattentive” is now used in place of ADD.
How to spot the signs of ADHD
Although people experience ADHD differently, some of the common day-to-day issues which may arise include getting ready for school / work on time, being organised, dealing appropriately with social occasions and listening to and carrying out instructions and tasks.
A person with ADHD might:
- forget or lose things a lot
- talk too much
- make careless mistakes or take unnecessary risks
- have a hard time resisting temptation
- have trouble taking turns
- have difficulty getting along with others
- have difficulty shopping
- have difficulty falling asleep
In most cases, ADHD is best treated with a combination of therapy and medication. Therapy is often recommended as the first line of treatment for adults and children with ADHD before medication is tried. During therapy, the patients and the therapist will discuss how ADHD affects their daily life and the ways which may help to manage it.
In addition to therapy, having a healthy lifestyle can make it easier to deal with the ADHD symptoms. It is recommended to develop healthy eating habits such as eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, participating in daily physical activities, limiting the amount of daily screen time from TVs, computers, phones and other electronic devices, and getting the recommended amount of sleep each night based on age.
More than 60 percent of children with ADHD still show symptoms as adults. For many people, hyperactivity symptoms often decrease with age, but inattentiveness and impulsivity may continue.
Untreated ADHD can make adult life difficult. ADHD has been linked to poor work performance, financial problems, trouble with the law, alcohol or other substance misuse, frequent car accidents or other accidents, unstable relationships, poor physical and mental health and poor self-image.
Untreated ADHD in adults can have a negative impact on many aspects of life. Symptoms such as trouble managing time, forgetfulness, and impatience can cause problems at work, home, and in all types of relationships.
Treatment for adult ADHD is similar to treatment for childhood ADHD. Adult ADHD treatment includes psychological counselling (psychotherapy) and therapy for any mental health conditions that occur along with ADHD, as well as medication if necessary.
If your difficulties are recent, you probably don't have ADHD. ADHD is diagnosed only when symptoms are severe enough to cause ongoing problems in more than one period of your life. These persistent and disruptive symptoms can be traced back to early childhood. However, if you suspect you may suffer with ADHD, it is recommended you seek professional help as soon as you can.