Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder. This means ADHD has to do with how the brain functions. It can affect a person’s emotions, learning ability and or self-control. There are three different subtypes of ADHD:
- Predominantly Inattentive Presentation
- Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation
- Combined Presentation.
Since ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, it means that it is not caused by poor parenting or psychological stress. However, the environmental conditions an individual with ADHD is in can affect how the symptoms present themselves and how the individual is able to cope with them. This also means there is hope, because if an individual receives appropriate treatment, they may be able to decrease their symptoms which can allow the individual to function better.
It is important to remember that ADHD symptoms occur on a spectrum and how they affect someone is as unique as they are. Still, there are some of the common symptoms like having difficulty paying attention, having a hard time following directions, often interrupting others, fidgeting, being forgetful, and individuals may avoid doing tasks requiring sustained attention.
As the demands on an individual’s life change, the presentation of the symptoms change. For example, an individual may have a tough time while in high school because they have difficulty sitting through their classes without fidgeting or wanting to get up and walk around. Once the individual leaves high school, they may find it a lot easier to manage their symptoms because they are no longer required to sit and listen for extended periods.
Some people are more familiar with the term Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and use it instead of ADHD. ADD is the label that was initially used to describe ADHD when it first appeared in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual III (DSM) in 1980 and was in use until 1987. The DSM is the standard handbook for doctors, medical professionals and counsellors to refer to when they are diagnosing mental health issues. The most current issue of the DSM, DSM-5, published in 2013 uses the term Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder and defines three presentations of ADHD. However, many people are familiar with the term ADD, and so it is still used, even though it is an outdated term that is no longer correct.
ADHD affects between 5 to 9 percent of children and between 3 to 5 percent of adults. For an individual to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, the symptoms must have been present before they were 12 years old. More than half of individuals who are diagnosed with ADHD as a child experience the symptoms as an adult. These symptoms appear on a continuum and may be expressed differently throughout an individual’s lifetime as the demands on their abilities change.
Since ADHD is a medical condition, an individual must have a full assessment from a qualified individual, such as an Educational Psychologist, a Psychiatrist or a Developmental Pediatrician, to receive a diagnosis. The point of the assessment is so the professional can develop a broader understanding of why the individual is the way they are. This will involve a collection of information about the individual’s developmental, medical and educational history. The professional should use interviews and questionnaires so they can establish an understanding of how the individual reacts in a number of different situations from different points of view (ex: parents, teachers, coaches, employers).
ADHD will only be diagnosed if the symptoms are not caused by something else. For example, someone may have a hard time paying attention during class if they are tired or going through a stressful situation.
When you or your loved one was given the diagnosis of ADHD, the professional should have discussed the different forms of treatment available. There is medication available to help treat some of the symptoms of ADHD, and there are different types of interventions available to treat the symptoms.
Unfortunately, there is not a one size fits all approach to handling ADHD symptoms and taking medication is not going to make all the symptoms go away magically.
When looking at a potential intervention, it is essential to be sure it targets the skills that you need help with. There is no point in taking a class on “How to ride a bike” if you already know how to ride a bike but want to learn how to ride a unicycle.
There will likely be some trial and error before you are able to find the right treatment plan, but it is important to keep trying different strategies until you discover the right combination.
Different strategies can be used at home, school and in work situations that can help individuals.
I feel recommendations for strategies or interventions need to be made on a case by case basis to allow for personalizing the approach to the individual’s needs, but generally speaking, I tend to recommend evidence-based practices such as:
- Executive Functioning Coaching
- Behaviour Interventions
- Social Skills Training
Did you know that Garforth Education has created two online courses, A Parent’s Guide to IEPs and A Teacher’s Guide to IEPs? These courses were designed to give you a clear understanding of the IEP Process and they guide you through the steps you should take to prepare for IEP meetings.
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American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.