ADHD Awareness Month

Article by: Ian Woodwick, Psy.D.

Welcome to October, or as it is more commonly known, ADHD awareness month.  ADHD is relatively well-known, however, there is a substantial amount of confusion and misinformation regarding aspects of the disorder. Between social media, new reports, and common stereotypes, it can be difficult to know where to find accurate information about ADHD.  A common area of confusion occurs with regards to the symptoms that are actually associated with ADHD.  If it sounds like the symptoms may apply to you or someone you care about, it may be helpful to know what next steps to take to receive assistance.  Our goal is also to demystify what to expect when seeking out treatment or exploring whether ADHD is a diagnosis that applies to you. 

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is characterized by a pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity or impulsivity that interferes with one’s ability to complete desired or required activities.  People who struggle with inattention may:

  • frequently overlook details 
  • have difficulty staying focused
  • have difficulty staying organized
  • avoid doing things that require prolonged mental effort
  • easily distracted or forgetful

People who experience hyperactivity may:

  • often fidget
  • have difficulty remaining seated or staying still 
  • feel restless
  • have trouble waiting their turn 
  • often interrupt others.

Inattention and Hyperactivity are always mutually exclusive.  An individual may have either an Inattentive Presentation, a Hyperactive/Impulsive presentation, or a Combined Presentation.  Symptoms begin prior to the age of 12 and are most often noticed by parents and teachers, although they may not fully understand the reason for the inattention and hyperactivity.  Individuals with ADHD notice difficulty in a variety of settings: ADHD impacts someone at school, at work, and at home. 

ADHD is a relatively common disorder.  Approximately 8-12% of children across the world have received a diagnosis of ADHD.  For about half of children who have received the diagnosis, symptoms will persist into adulthood.  One theory behind this decrease in frequency is that individuals with ADHD may develop coping skills to manage their symptoms sufficiently or gravitate towards environments more conducive to the ways in which their brain works.  While there is a perception that ADHD is overdiagnosed, research indicates the opposite is true.  Girls of all races and ethnicities and BIPOC boys are significantly less likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than white boys.  Unfortunately, the effects of being misdiagnosed or undiagnosed can be quite profound and long-lasting.  

The causes of ADHD have not been fully identified but researchers estimate that it is over 70% heritable.  Some individuals have suggested that prenatal environmental factors may influence the development of ADHD but little actual evidence has been found to support those theories.  Neurological studies have found differences with regards to the dopamine production, brain waves, and internal communication within the brains of individuals with ADHD as compared to those without.  Understanding the neurological differences can help with reducing stigma and perceiving symptoms as symptoms. 

In order to receive an ADHD diagnosis, it is recommended that you consult with a prescribing physician or mental health provider.  Throughout that consultation, they may refer you for an ADHD evaluation.  During the course of an ADHD evaluation, such as one that the Assessment Team at Deep Eddy can provide, you will likely be asked to discuss your symptoms and personal history.  It is important for any diagnostic evaluation to gather information to rule out other possible causes.  In addition to the clinical interview, they will likely administer a variety of tests.  Some assessments require you to rate your own personal experience of symptoms.  Others may assess your ability to pay attention and remain focused.  Following the assessments, the professionals will provide a report with their diagnostic impressions based on the reported symptoms, history, and assessment results.

After receiving a diagnosis of ADHD, there are a few different options for treatment. The primary treatment for ADHD is medication, with stimulants serving as the first-line treatment.  Some examples of stimulant medications include Adderall (Mixed amphetamine salts), Vyvanse (Lisdexamfetamine) and Ritalin (Methylphenidate).  Non-stimulant medications include Strattera (Atomoxetine), Tenex (Short-Acting Guanfacine), and Intuniv (Long-Acting Guanfacine).  It is recommended when starting psychiatric medications to consult with the provider about side effects and the effectiveness of the medication.  Unfortunately, the process for finding the medication combination that works best for you can take time. 

In addition to medication, talk therapy can be useful for individuals with ADHD as well.  While the treatment plan may vary by individual, it is generally best practice to use talk therapy in conjunction with medications. Individuals may benefit from developing strategies and techniques to help manage their symptoms.  Another component of talk therapy is exploring feelings of grief and symptoms of trauma, particularly for those diagnosed after childhood.  The systems in which we live and work and are expected to function are often unforgiving and we can internalize messages about ourselves and our worth as a result.

If you feel as though you may be experiencing symptoms of ADHD and would like to explore this more with a therapist or with our Assessment Team, please reach out!

References

Biederman, & Faraone, S. V. (2005). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Lancet, 366(9481), 237–248. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(05)66915-2

Burdick. (2016). ADHD : non-medication treatments and skills for children and teens : 162 tools, techniques, activities & handouts : a workbook for clinicians and parents. PESI Publishing & Media.

Sciberras, Mulraney, M., Silva, D., & Coghill, D. (2017). Prenatal Risk Factors and the Etiology of ADHD—Review of Existing Evidence. Current Psychiatry Reports, 19(1), 1–1. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-017-0753-2

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