You may have heard about someone at school suffering from ADHD. They didn’t seem different from others, but they did cause some trouble and were overly active in class. It’s easy to see why so many of us don’t know or understand what ADHD is and why it’s a real mental disorder. Unfortunately, in many places of the world, someone might have ADHD and would never be diagnosed, leading to frequent conflicting emotions, depression, and difficulty in maintaining relationships (Klein, 2021). It’s been reported that there is a rate of 3.9% of children diagnosed with ADHD in Malaysia, but there are still unreported cases for both children and adults (Bakti-Mind, n.d.). Read on to learn more about ADHD and what we can do to raise awareness.
What is ADHD
An acronym that stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, it’s reported to be one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders among children (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.). It’s usually diagnosed in children first and later their symptoms would fade away, but some adults would still struggle with persisting symptoms (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.). Children with ADHD have difficulty focusing or are hyper-focused on activities that interest them. Moreover, they act on impulsive behaviors and are hyperactive. While it sounds concerning, there are millions of studies conducted to understand ADHD and effective treatments to handle the symptoms.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Psychiatrists and healthcare providers can help identify whether a child can be diagnosed with ADHD by pointing out symptoms that are categorized into Inattention and Hyperactivity and Impulsivity. From each category, children up to 16 years of age need to meet at least 6 or more symptoms and must be present for more than 6 months. These include the following, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
- Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
- Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
Hyperactivity and Impulsivity
- Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
- Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
- Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless).
- Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
Read more on (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.)
Causes and Brain Structure Differences
ADHD does not have a straightforward cause, but there are major risk factors that scientists have concluded. Major risk factors include genetics, where children with ADHD are more likely to have relatives or parents who suffer from it too (Klein, 2021). Brain injuries during development or irregular brain development also increase the risk of prevalence. Lastly, pregnancy issues such as exposure or consumption of alcohol and drugs, premature birth, or low birth weight could make it likely for the child to develop ADHD (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.).
Since ADHD is caused by irregular brain development, scientists have actually found visible differences in the brain structures of those with the disorder compared to a neurotypical brain. Development of the brain may vary from person to person, yet it’s confirmed that the size of the brain and essential areas of the brain, such as the hippocampus (responsible for learning and memory), mature at a slower rate than neurotypical brains (Lener et al., 2021).
ADHD in Children vs Adults
Diagnosis of ADHD in adults is slightly different because it could have started in their childhood, but has not been addressed when they were younger (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.). Signs of ADHD in adults 17 or older only need to meet five of the symptoms listed above. Nonetheless, talking to a psychiatrist or healthcare provider will help in finding out whether it is ADHD or if it’s symptoms of other mental conditions.
Similar to children, adults with ADHD often face difficulty in sticking to one job at a time and impulsive behavior. However, because of the number of responsibilities they have, makes it hard for them to cope with the stress of their work (Mayo Clinic, 2019).
ADHD treatments have shown that they are helpful in reducing the symptoms of inattention and impulsivity, especially when it comes to medications. The way medications such as Adderall work is they stimulate the inactive parts of the brain responsible for focus (Braaten, 2017). All ADHD treatment plans are different to accommodate the different kinds of ADHD to each person. One person may only take their medication when necessary, while others may need to take it on a daily basis (National Health Service, 2021).
Combining medication with therapeutic approaches is always beneficial to all mental treatments. Starting with psychoeducation, it aims to teach the person with ADHD and their family about the disorder in order to have an in-depth understanding and learn how to cope on a day-to-day basis. In behavioral therapy, the therapist would go through learning social skills and reading facial expressions and reward good behavior.
ADHD is listed as one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders experienced by both children (5% globally) and adults (6.76% globally) (Washington et al., 2021). Unfortunately, it is also a misunderstood condition that makes it difficult for those who have it to seek treatment because they believe that it’s not true. The myths and beliefs individuals make can truly make someone with ADHD feel ashamed and unwarranted for treatment. However, ADHD can hinder productivity and social relationships and it is beyond the person’s control. Thus, It is crucial to raise awareness on ADHD as it creates a more wholesome and inclusive environment for them. Moreover, listening to one’s experience with ADHD and debunking myths can eliminate or reduce the stigma around the illness. If you believe someone expresses symptoms similar to those listed earlier, advise them to get a clear diagnosis from a psychiatrist.
Bakti-Mind. (n.d.). ADHD signs in girls – MIND. bakti-mind. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from https://mind.org.my/article/adhd-signs-in-girls/
Braaten, E. (2017, October 27). 5 things parents and teachers need to know about ADHD. Harvard Health. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/5-things-parents-and-teachers-need-to-know-about-adhd-2017102712643
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD. CDC. Retrieved November 18, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). What is ADHD? – What is ADHD? CDC. Retrieved November 18, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/facts.html
Klein, A. (2021, March 16). Untreated ADHD in adults: Symptoms, consequences, and risks. Medical News Today. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/untreated-adhd-in-adults
Lener, M. S., Cronkleton, E., & Greene, N. (2021, August 12). ADHD brain vs. normal brain: Function, differences, and more. Medical News Today. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/adhd-brain-vs-normal-brain#key-differences
Mayo Clinic. (2019, June 22). Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/adult-adhd/symptoms-causes/syc-20350878
National Health Service. (2021). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – Treatment. NHS. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/treatment/
National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults: What You Need to Know. NIMH. Retrieved November 18, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/adhd-what-you-need-to-know
Washington, N., Johnson, J., & Sherrell, Z. (2021, November 9). The importance of ADHD awareness. Medical News Today. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from http://medicalnewstoday.com/articles/adhd-awareness
Researched and written by Jumana Raggam