Imagine spending every second of every minute of every day surrounded by voices yelling at you, demanding your attention, and telling you different things to think, say, and do.
Imagine that no matter how hard you tried to focus on one voice, or one task, the others yelled louder until you struggled to focus on anything. This is more or less the life of a person with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. The ‘voices’ are not audible nor tangible, nor are there any delusions or hallucinations associated with them, nevertheless, there is an endless barrage of thoughts and feelings which is essentially to the same effect. Having suffered from ADHD most of my life, and still struggling to learn to overcome it’s frustrating effects, this is a topic that is close to home for me.
To many, ADHD is discounted as nothing more than normal childhood hyperactivity. It is seen as a condition of little consequence, and that has minimal effect on patients’ lives. It is also believed by many that children grow out of ADHD, and it does not affect most adults. In reality, roughly 11 percent of the population has ADHD, and almost never do adults ‘grow out of’ ADHD, they simply learn to better cope with it, or fail to recognize the changes in symptoms and manifestations that come with age. It is estimated that roughly 15 percent of ADHD cases are severe, 45 pecent are moderate, and 40 percent are mild.
Living with ADHD is difficult, no matter age or circumstance, however the symptoms and repercussions can vary greatly based on age and which type of ADHD the patient has. There are three classes of ADHD – predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and combined. Predominantly inattentive type is characterized by difficulty focusing, finishing tasks, and following instructions. Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type is characterized by impatience, inability to wait one’s turn, and interrupting others. Combined type is most common, and as could be assumed, it is characterized by an assortment of the symptoms associated with the other two types.
Common ADHD symptoms observed in children include squirming, fidgeting, difficulty staying seated in class or at meals, inability to wait one’s turn, answering questions before they have been completely asked or called on, excessive running and climbing, inability to work or play quietly, excessive talking, intruding personal space, and interrupting others. These issues can lead to difficulty learning and frustration from teachers and other adults. They can also lead to difficulty forming friendships.
In adults, common symptoms of ADHD include feeling fidgety and restless inside, inability to sit through meetings, meals, and movies, extreme impatience, finishing others’ sentences, drawing rapid conclusions, fast or reckless driving, preference for an active job, low tolerance for frustration, excessive talking, inappropriate comments, interrupting others, monopolizing conversations, poor attention, excessive distractibility, spacing out, problems with memory and forgetfulness, frequently losing things, trouble organizing steps in a project, chronic lateness; procrastination, trouble starting and finishing tasks, poor time management, poor time estimation abilities, careless mistakes, and disorganization. In adults, the symptoms related to inattentiveness tend to become more prominent and the hyperactivity symptoms become more subdued and felt internally, rather than observed externally. ADHD in adults can cause difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships, money problems, difficulty at work and chronic unemployment, and many other related issues.
As a lone benefit of ADHD, many who struggle with it find themselves capable of achieving what is known as ‘hyperfocus’ on occasion. Hyperfocus allows those with ADHD to be able to focus very intently on a specific task or idea – due to necessity or to strong interest in the subject – yielding very fast, effective, and sometimes unique results. Some with ADHD even refuse to seek treatment for fear that it would impair their ability to hyperfocus if they did.
Treatment for ADHD should be determined with a doctor who specializes in behavioral health. Many Pediatricians and primary care physicians specialize in this area. Treatment may include medication, therapy, mental exercises, or special training. It is important to work with a healthcare professional to seek assistance in identifying ideal treatment for each patient.
While society has grown to recognize, accept, and accomodate ADHD more than it did previously, especially in children, there are still many who struggle due to misconceptions or misunderstandings related to the disorder. These issues can often, lead to the development of anxiety and depression, which makes coping with ADHD even more difficult. While those who struggle with ADHD will likely never be free of its effects, at least in this generation, having the general population grow to better understand and accommodate it can lead to a significant improvement in quality of life for those of us who do struggle with it. After all, one of the best ways to become the clearest voice in a crowd is being the voice that is recognized and that cares.