What is ADHD?

This article originally appeared on the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute website.

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder also known as ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder; these terms will be used interchangeably here. Both ADHD and ADD possess a collection of traits reflecting a child’s inborn, neurologically based temperament.

There’s no question about it, ADHD children are difficult to raise due to their unique cluster of temperament traits. Positive traits associated with ADHD are: spontaneity, creativity, the ability to lock on to and hyperfocus on tasks of the child’s own choosing. Problematic ADHD traits include; selective attention, distractibility, impulsivity and sometimes hyperactivity.

People with ADD/ADHD are a very heterogeneous group. ADD/ADHD appears in many varieties and within each subgroup are children who manifest the symptoms in varying combinations and different degrees. In order to qualify for a diagnosis, the behaviors must be out of the ordinary in comparison to children of the same age and they must display impairment in functioning at home or school.

About ADHD

ADD or ADHD is not a deficit in attention. A deficit means “a lack of something,” implying less of something. However, children with ADHD or ADD sometimes pay more attention to certain topics. What is important about ADHD is children with ADHD have two extremes of focus. One, they struggle with paying attention to things they find boring. Two, they focus very intensely on things they find interesting. This trait can be of an advantage when children are creating something. On the other hand, it can be a disadvantage when their hyper focus in one specific area prevents them from paying attention to items other people find important. For example, a child may spend six hours doing an incredibly clever cover page for a project, but spend little time on content; this won’t earn a good grade from the teacher.

ADD or ADHD is not just a problem with attention. ADD includes problems with paying attention, but this is not the whole story. ADHD symptoms can also include impulsivity, distractibility, and sometimes hyperactivity. Academic underachievement is a frequent complaint from parents and it frustrates the child too, when they see others with no more ability doing much better in school. Unfortunately, these children are in some ways immature, but in others they display creativity, wisdom and insight far beyond their years.

ADD and ADHD are not disorders in the usual sense. “Disorder” implies illness or pathology. ADD and ADHD cannot be categorized as traditional disorders. ADD/ADHD is merely a difference. Just as being left-handed is a difference. Similar to being left-handed, the difference is related to the way the individual’s brain works. Like left-handedness, ADD occurs in at least 9 percent of the population and it affects people to different degrees. Being different does not equate to being less. Therefore, to call this collection of traits a disorder is a disservice to individuals who have these traits, often making them feel handicapped.

Since ADD and ADHD are classified as disorders, this grants access to services in some instances in exchange for a possible loss of self esteem. Later on, this label may have other disadvantages. Who knows, the time may come, when car insurance rates are higher for people who have been diagnosed with ADD. In extreme where the symptoms prevent a child from functioning at school without major interventions, ADD does merit the term “disorder.” Sadly, there is much wasted potential in children with less severe ADD symptoms. They are predetermined to have a disadvantage due to their traits rather than being viewed as having a unique disorder that makes them abnormal.

Another “D” word we want to dismiss is “diagnosis.” “Diagnosis” suggests that outcome of lab tests, a box on an insurance form or a tag necessary to quality for educational benefits. You cannot diagnose ADD with any single test. A much more accurate “D” word is “description,” which is truly a summary of observations from significant people in the child’s life. For this reason parent and teacher questionnaires make such a strong impact when identifying ADD.

To read the original article, please visit the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute website.

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