As I indicated in last month's column, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder of executive functioning that has its basis solely in biology (i.e., related to decreased brain functioning).
Theories that ADHD is caused by excessive TV or video games, food additives, sugar consumption, parenting or family structure are not supported by research.
So, what is a disorder of executive functioning? When most people hear of ADHD, they often assume that it strictly refers to a young child who is very hyperactive or who cannot pay attention. Though this can be the case, people show many other symptoms when they have ADHD.
Executive functioning is a big term that encompasses all functions that require a person to execute their lives. There are specific neural networks (i.e., associated with slowed or decreased development in specific brain regions that are interconnected) that support these functions, including:
The "What" Network:
Inhibition or problems with stopping. People with ADHD may have a million thoughts running through their head and may struggle to express a complete thought. People with ADHD may be impulsive and do or say something without thinking. The hyperactivity is associated with their lack of ability to stop their own activity.
Planning and organization. People with ADHD often struggle to plan for and remember assignments, bills, appointments, etc.
Working Memory. It is hard for a person with ADHD to work with information in their minds to solve problems.
Freedom from distractibility. People with ADHD often will become sidetracked by anything that looks or sounds interesting. They also may become hyper-focused on an activity that is enjoyable.
The "When" Network:
Timeliness. People with ADHD are notoriously late and have a poor sense of the passage of time. Hours can pass, but it feels like only minutes.
Motor Coordination. People with ADHD struggle to coordinate the timing of motor activities. They may be clumsy or lacking in coordination.
The "Why" Network:
Emotional dysregulation. People with ADHD have a tendency to have impulsive emotions including frequently tantrums or tearfulness and problems with anger management.
Initiation and follow through. This means problems with starting tasks, being motivated. If a task seems overwhelming, they will struggle to begin them. Kids with ADHD may struggle to get dressed in the morning. Additionally, if they get the urge, they may start a zillion things and never complete one of them. Kids with ADHD are not lazy. They just struggle to start and finish things.
Most people experience some symptoms of ADHD from time to time. However, people with ADHD have many symptoms most of the time that significantly disrupt their functioning.
As life's demands become more complex, frequently people with ADHD will function less well. The good news is that there are treatments available to help manage the symptoms and to prevent them from interfering with functioning.
If you suspect that you or your child may have ADHD, you will want to speak with your primary care physician and schedule an appointment with a psychologist.
For more information, visit our website at www.lycominghealthyliving.com.
Seiler is a licensed psychologist and neuropsychologist and sees clients through Associates in Neuropsychology and Collaborative Healthcare, PC.