On Oct. 16-22, the public is invited to observe ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) Awareness Week. As mental a health professional and advocate for children with ADHD, I am aware of misconceptions regarding veracity, causes and treatment of ADHD. CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), the nation’s leading nonprofit organization serving individuals and their families, has developed a list of “Seven Facts You Need To Know About ADHD” to promote awareness, identification and treatment for those affected by this disorder:
1. ADHD is real. Nearly every mainstream medical, psychological and educational organization in the United States long ago concluded that Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a real, brain-based medical disorder. These organizations also concluded that children and adults with ADHD benefit from appropriate treatment.
2. ADHD is a common, nondiscriminatory disorder. ADHD is a nondiscriminatory disorder affecting people of every age, gender, IQ and religious and socioeconomic background. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the percentage of children in the United States who have ever been diagnosed with ADHD is now 9.5 percent. Boys are diagnosed two to three times as often as girls. Among adults, the Harvard/NIMH National Comorbidity Survey Replication found 4.4 percent of adults, ages 18-44 in the United States, experience symptoms and some disability. ADHD, AD/HD and ADD all refer to the same disorder. The only difference is that some people have hyperactivity and some people don’t.
3. Diagnosing ADHD is a complex process. In order for a diagnosis of ADHD to be considered, the person must exhibit a large number of symptoms, demonstrate significant problems with daily life in several major life areas (work, school or friends) and have had the symptoms for a minimum of six months. To complicate the diagnostic process, many of the symptoms look like extreme forms of normal behavior. Additionally, a number of other conditions resemble ADHD. Therefore, other possible causes of the symptoms must be taken into consideration before reaching a diagnosis of ADHD. What makes ADHD different from other conditions is that the symptoms are excessive, pervasive and persistent. That is, behaviors are more extreme, show up in multiple settings and continue showing up throughout life. No single test will confirm that a person has ADHD. Instead, diagnosticians rely on a variety of tools, the most important of which is information about the person and his or her behavior and environment. If the person meets all of the criteria for ADHD, he or she will be diagnosed with the disorder.
4. Other mental health conditions frequently co-occur With ADHD.
• Up to 30 percent of children and 25-40 percent of adults with ADHD have a co-existing anxiety disorder.
• Experts claim that up to 70 percent of those with ADHD will be treated for depression at some point in their lives.
• Sleep disorders affect people with ADHD two to three times as often as those without it.
5. ADHD is not benign. Particularly when it is undiagnosed and untreated, ADHD contributes to:
• Problems succeeding in school and successfully graduating.
• Problems at work, lost productivity and reduced earning power.
• Problems with relationships.
• More driving citations and accidents.
• Problems with overeating and obesity.
• Problems with the law.
6. ADHD is nobody’s fault. ADHD is not caused by moral failure, poor parenting, family problems, poor teachers or schools, too much TV, food allergies or excess sugar. Instead, research shows that ADHD is both highly genetic (with the majority of ADHD cases having a genetic component) and a brain-based disorder (with the symptoms of ADHD linked to many specific brain areas). The factors that appear to increase a child’s likelihood of having the disorder include gender, family history, prenatal risks, environmental toxins and physical differences in the brain.
7. ADHD treatment is multi-faceted. Currently, available treatments focus on reducing the symptoms of ADHD and improving functioning. Treatments include medication, various types of psychotherapy, behavioral interventions, education or training and educational support. Usually a person with ADHD receives a combination of treatments.
Colleen Murphy is a licensed clinical social worker and a child, adolescent and family therapist in Helena.