Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder or ADHD is one of the most controversial and misunderstood conditions in today’s world. The American Psychiatric Association states that 5% of American children have ADHD. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the number at more than double the APA’s number or 11%. I spent three years studying ADHD in children and adults and have helped many clients work with this condition successfully.
Signs and Symptoms of ADHD
ADHD typically falls into three broad categories:
- Inattentive, but not hyperactive or impulsive.
- Hyperactive and impulsive, but able to pay attention.
- Inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive (the most common form of ADHD).
People who only have inattentive symptoms of ADHD are often not diagnosed, since they’re not disruptive. However, the symptoms of inattention have consequences: getting in trouble with for not following directions, underperforming in school or work, or clashing with other people over not playing by the rules. Some specific signs of the inattentive presentation of ADHD include:
- Has trouble staying focused; easily distracted or gets bored with a task before it’s completed
- Appears not to listen when spoken to
- Difficulty remembering things and following instructions; doesn’t pay attention to details or makes careless mistakes
- Trouble staying organized, planning ahead, and finishing projects
- Frequently loses or misplaces homework, books, car keys or other items
The most obvious sign of ADHD is hyperactivity. While many children are naturally quite active, kids with hyperactive symptoms of attention deficit disorder are always moving and there is an intensity to their movement that is not apparent in others. They may try to do several things at once, bouncing around from one activity to the next. Even when forced to sit still which can be very difficult for them their foot is tapping, their leg is shaking, or their fingers are drumming. Some specific signs of hyperactivity include:
- Constantly fidgeting and squirming
- Difficulty sitting still, playing quietly, or just relaxing
- Moves around constantly, often runs or climbs recklessly
- Talks excessively
- May have a quick temper or “short fuse”
The impulsivity of people with ADHD can cause problems with self-control. Because they censor themselves less than other do, they’ll interrupt conversations, invade other people’s space, ask irrelevant questions, make tactless observations, and ask overly personal questions. Instructions like “Be patient” and “Just wait a little while” are twice as hard for children with ADHD to follow as they are for other youngsters.
People with impulsive signs and symptoms of ADHD also tend to be moody and to overreact emotionally. As a result, others may start to view them as disrespectful, weird, or needy. Some specific signs of impulsivity include:
- Acts without thinking
- Doesn’t recognize or respect other’s boundaries
- Guesses, rather than taking time to solve a problem or blurts out answers without waiting to hear the whole question
- Intrudes on other people’s conversations or games
- Often interrupts others; says the wrong thing at the wrong time
- Inability to keep powerful emotions in check, resulting in angry outbursts or temper tantrums
Just because a person has symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity does not mean that he or she has ADHD. Certain medical conditions, psychological disorders, and stressful life events can cause symptoms that look like ADHD. Before an accurate diagnosis of ADHD can be made, it is important that you see a mental health professional to explore and rule out the following possibilities:
- Learning disabilities or problems with reading, writing, motor skills, or language.
- Major life events or traumatic experiences (e.g. a recent move, death of a loved one, bullying, divorce).
- Psychological disorders including anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.
- Behavioral disorders such as conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder.
- Medical conditions, including thyroid problems, neurological conditions, epilepsy, and sleep disorders.
While many therapists say they have training in treating ADHD, the actual training is often not in-depth. Early in my career, I was fortunate to work closely for several years with Barry Chaloner, founder of the Center for Early Intervention, who is an expert in assessing and treating ADHD. Under his supervision and with the use of his tools, I developed a high level of expertise in this area, augmented by my personal understanding of ADHD in myself and in a family member. I use a robust combination of 360-degree assessments to determine not only if an individual has ADHD, but what kind of ADHD they are experiencing. This allows me to quickly understand their specific challenges and provide support to them.
How I can Help
I begin by screening my clients to get a holistic view of their symptoms. This includes things like learning disabilities, medical conditions, stressful life events and psychological issues that could be showing up like ADHD symptoms. I also conduct 360-degree assessments specifically for the various kinds of ADHD. I ask parents, partners and sometimes teachers to complete the assessment, as well as the individual themselves. I also carefully observe the client to gather my own point of view on how they present. After reviewing all the data I’ve collected, I offer my thoughts on whether ADHD is present or not, and if so, what kind seems to be predominant.
From here, we move to exploring various treatment modalities to support the individual in managing his or her ADHD more successfully. Various kinds of modalities work well with ADHD clients, including Internal Family Systems, SensoriMotor Therapy and EMDR. Psychoeducation can also work well in treating ADHD, as people need to understand how their condition impacts them and how to better manage it.
The Whole Story of ADHD
In addition to the challenges, there are also positive traits associated with people who have attention deficit disorder:
- Creativity – People who have ADHD can be marvelously creative and imaginative. The child who daydreams and has ten different thoughts at once can become a master problem-solver, a fountain of ideas, or an inventive artist. Children with ADHD may be easily distracted, but sometimes they notice what others don’t see.
- Flexibility – Because someone with ADHD can consider a lot of options at once, they don’t become set on one alternative early on and are more open to different ideas.
- Enthusiasm and spontaneity – People with ADHD are rarely boring! They’re interested in a lot of different things and have lively personalities. In short, if they’re not exasperating you (and sometimes even when they are), they’re a lot of fun to be with.
- Energy and drive – When people with ADHD are motivated, they work or play hard and strive to succeed. It actually may be difficult to distract them from a task that interests them, especially if the activity is interactive or hands-on.
Keep in mind, too, that ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence or talent. Many people with ADHD are intellectually or artistically gifted.
Free initial phone consultation
If you’d like to get started, I would invite you to contact me by phone or email (below) so we can assess your situation and determine whether it makes sense for us to meet for an initial session. What do you have to lose? Get in touch today.