I wrote this disability report for my class on children with special needs. I really want to share it. Maybe you have ADHD, or maybe you know someone who does. Maybe you think you have it, but you’ve never been diagnosed. I see you. ❤ (Also, I added memes. I cannot resist memes!)
This past Friday, I experienced a surge of hyperfocus. For hours, I poured myself into a homework assignment outlining the importance of global conservation as a valuable topic for advocacy. I did so by comparing aspects of humanity’s environmental protection efforts to the typical plot paradigm taught at least once in every student’s English education. I wrote of rising action as illustrated by mass extinction, potential climax through climate change, and hopefully positive falling action as we take steps to mitigate our environmental footprints and adapt to change without causing further harm to the planet. Quite proud of the results, I submitted my paper online. Positive feedback lead to a rush of endorphins as praise of my writing typically does. I vowed that the following day I would begin my five-page essay for this course with the same amount of focus. I know by now that I have limited control over my hyperfocus, but I do occasionally delude myself into thinking the opposite. After years of learning to adapt, ADHD still has a firm grip on me. Incurable as it is, it always will.
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is not as black and white as its name might suggest. It is not a problem of chronic inattention so much as an issue of attention dysregulation and persistent hyperactivity. Some everyday tasks seem impossible to focus on, and at other times, people with ADHD are subject to surges of hyperfocus that leave us unable to concentrate on anything other than the task we have at hand. Do you have an essay due tomorrow, but you are hyperfocused on another assignment that isn’t due for three weeks? I guess you are getting that one done early and turning in your essay late. You could also struggle through changing gears, but your essay is going to suffer for it. It will also take hours longer to write than it otherwise would, and who knows if you will be able to focus well on the later-due assignment when you eventually return to its completion. ADHD and its subcategory ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) are a struggle in everyday life. However, their consequences are not entirely negative. ADHD is associated with creativity and ways of thinking outside the box honed over a lifetime of adapting to a world not designed around people with our particular needs and proclivities.
I have reread the first two paragraphs of this essay about
eight ten twelve fifteen times as I truck along in my writing. I have found personally that reading my work aloud helps me focus my attention when I am struggling. It is important to note that coping strategies that work for one person might prove useless for another. It has taken over a decade of trial and error to find out things that work (and do not work) for me. I find instrumental music (or music in a foreign language) helps me focus in that it splits my attention in only two directions instead of letting it wander aimlessly. I also fidget with a hair tie ever present in my hair or around my wrist, because if I cannot move, I am focusing on controlling my body rather than anything else I am trying to accomplish. Because I have struggled, I deeply empathize with others whose struggles are invisible. After all, to many ADHD is not real. Many believe ADHD behaviors stem from a lack of discipline, when in truth, ADHD is a neurobiological condition genetically inherited or acquired by brain damage which can be influenced by environment. In my case, it runs in my father’s side of the family, with my grandmother, father, and brother displaying symptoms to varying degrees. “In people with ADHD, you can see their brains light up differently,” my mother—and greatest advocate—would say when someone tried to argue the point. “It is real.” She is correct, and she knew long before I did that people with ADHD display different brain activity than their neurotypical peers.
Presently, more and more children are being diagnosed, and it is difficult to know if this is due to an increase in cases, greater awareness and better means of identification, or overdiagnosis when typical childhood behaviors are seen as problematic. My gut tells me that the latter two suppositions are both true, though I have no proof to back up this feeling. About 9.4% of children in the U.S. aged 2-17 are living with an ADHD diagnosis according to data supplied by the National Association of Pediatrics; the condition is more commonly found in boys than girls (healthychildren.org). ADHD is often accompanied by other diagnoses such as Depression, Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. In addition to difficulty regulating one’s focus and attention, symptoms of ADHD include restlessness, mood swings, difficulty multi-tasking, difficulty coping with stressful situations, poor time-management skills, and hyperactivity, (Mayo Clinic) as well as losing things and forgetfulness. In children specifically, symptoms are often inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity (WebMD). On the positive side, ADHD is also associated with creativity, an excellent long-term memory regarding subjects of hyperfocus, and a deep and abiding passion for interests not always otherwise displayed. Personally, I believe living with ADHD has made me more empathetic and patient.
Often, the hyperactivity associated with ADHD calms as a child grows into an adult, but the disorder itself in incurable. It is important for people with ADHD to learn coping mechanisms that work for them, though as I have written, those coping mechanisms look different for everyone and are based on individuals’ unique struggles. Some strategies for combating ADHD include working in small spurts, taking breaks for physical activity, engaging in kinetic learning, writing EVERYTHING down (especially homework, oh my goodness), utilizing fidget tools, listening to instrumental music while working, etc. Some of these suggestions will work for some but not others; some will make things harder. The coping process is full of trial and error, which makes it frustrating, but it is necessary to undergo. It is made better when engaged in with a network of support dedicated to a person’s encouragement and boosting their self-esteem. It is important that educators assist families and students by creating supportive environments with the least amount of restriction possible.
Medication and behavioral therapies are also available, including training for parents of children with ADHD. Medications can be stimulant or non-stimulant and are available in short-acting and long-acting varieties. As a person who has personally taken Ritalin, Adderall, Strattera, and Focalin over the course of her childhood, I can attest to the benefits of medication (increased focus and decreased hyperactivity) and their side-effects (loss-of appetite, racing pulse and rapid heartbeat, weight loss, anxiety, insomnia, etc.). Treatment decisions should always be made in consultation with qualified medical professionals and reevaluated habitually. Medications can prove harmful, especially in the case of a misdiagnosis. My own experiences with medication have been mixed, and as an adult, I find that consuming small amounts of caffeine (a stimulant) helps me stay calm and focused during my workday. I often joke that it “slows me down” instead of “speeding me up.” (My students find Mrs. Shoujo out of reach of her coffee cup an unusual sight.)
Outcomes for people with ADHD are positive if the correct support and encouragement is given, though they will have to manage the condition over the course of their entire lives. Even just receiving the proper diagnosis is often life-changing for adults or (or even children!) who do not understand why they have always struggled. ADHD is not a sentence to some sort of mediocrity. As a child, I struggled with my self-esteem and even knowing that I had ADHD, I resented how much harder I had to work to accomplish seemingly simple tasks like remembering things and staying organized when compared to my peers. As an adult, I see ADHD as a blessing of sorts that contributed to the growth of the person that I am today. I would not “cure” myself even if a cure were possible. After all, I would lose the good with the bad, and that is not a trade-off I would willingly make.
In spite of its academic nature, I inserted my own experiences into the paper both to help me concentrate on its completion and because this is a topic regarding which I feel strongly and have a great deal of personal experience. It took me some time, but my focus improved during the last three paragraphs. (Thank you, coffee.) Its sources are primarily my existing knowledge born from dealing with ADHD over a lifetime and a ridiculous abundance of passion for helping others struggling like I have, but it is finished! It stands as one small success against my ADHD for which I will reward myself by going on a walk down the lane and having a dance party in my kitchen.
“Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 22 June 2019, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/adult-adhd/symptoms-causes/syc-20350878.
“Causes of ADHD: What We Know Today.” HealthyChildren.org, http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/adhd/Pages/Causes-of-ADHD.aspx.
Bhandari, Smitha. “ADD vs ADHD: What’s the Difference Between ADD & ADHD.” WebMD, WebMD, 22 Oct. 2019, http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/add-vs-adhd#1.