ADHD Is A Real Disorder

March 11, 2011

“Maybe I’m crazy! Maybe I’m crazy! Possibly!” (Gnarls Barkley.) …Or possibly, you have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Contrary to what many people think, ADHD is not another word for “crazy.” Many people, including professionals such as family doctors, pediatricians, school teachers, and few psychiatrists/psychologists, etcetera, don’t believe that ADHD is a legitimate disorder. The popular belief shared by many of the mentioned individuals is that those that are said to have ADHD are really just badly behaved individuals looking for an excuse to take prescription drugs. However, that is not the case. ADHD is a misunderstood disorder found in children and teens, as well as in adults, which is characterized as being primarily either inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, or a combination of the two.

ADHD is not widely recognized in today’s society. Joel Turtel, an opponent of ADHD and author of “Public Schools Public Menace,” goes on to ask [his opponent] what was happening in the “years before ADHD was INVENTED! Considering that psychology has been studied forever, why has ADHD only recently needed to exist? ” Turtel goes on to say “psychologists could have created the condition hundreds of years ago if ADHD is really only controlled by drugs but they never because it did not exist” (Turtel!) It would behoove Turtel to know that through the years the understanding and recognition of ADHD has increased significantly. Dr. Heinrich Hoffman, a physician and poet, first described ADHD in 1845. He wrote “The Story of Fidgety Philip,” (“Let me see if he is able To sit still for once at table:” Thus Papa bade Phil behave; And Mamma looked very grave. But fidgety Phil, He won’t sit still; He wiggles, And giggles… ,” (Heinrich Hoffman.).) Fidgety Philip is an accurate description of a young boy with ADHD. Later, in England in 1902, Sir George F. Still published a series of lectures in which he “described a group of impulsive children with significant behavioral problems, caused by a genetic dysfunction and not by poor child rearing” (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.) The knowledge and understanding of ADHD has increased over the past years. As recently as 1964, ADHD was labeled as “Minimal Brain Damage” (MBD), due to the lack of understanding of the disorder. Through obtaining knowledge we, as well as psychiatrists and those studying as well as diagnosing ADHD, are aware that ADHD is a genetically inherited condition, and is due to a variation in how the brain functions, and not a result of brain damage. In 1968, the name was changed to “Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood.” Researchers focused primarily on hyperactivity in children in their classroom setting, who had trouble completing their work and sitting still. They had a limited understanding of the disorder because they failed to look at those individuals suffering from hyperactivity not only as children, but those in other age groups, and places other than the school setting. In 1980, the name was changed to “Attention Deficit Disorder” because it became recognized that severe attention problems and poor impulse control were major defining characteristics as well. It also became clear through research studies, years of clinical experience, and the reports of many adults, that ADHD did not go away after childhood but continued to profoundly affect many people in their adult lives. The most recent term in the advancement of medical terminology is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, more commonly known as ADHD. As the understanding of this disorder continues to expand, along with the advances in science, medicine, education and disability legislation, the developing of the name changes to better capture what the disorder truly is.

Presently, ADHD is an acknowledged disorder is accepted by many of those in the psychiatric community, as well as by others in the community. Although many people may have a general knowledge of what ADHD is, they may not truly understand the disorder, or even believe it is a “real” disorder. The general understanding of ADHD by many is that it is simply a “hyperactive disorder.” Many try to label children in the school setting who may be disruptive and troublesome as having ADHD, but that may not be the case.

The primary characteristics of ADHD are hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. Although many individuals my exhibit some or all of these behaviors at some point in their lives (typically during childhood) ADHD may not be the cause of these behaviors. There are certain patterns that must be present in order for one to be diagnosed with ADHD. “According to the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 2 (DSM-IV-TR,) there are three patterns of behavior that indicate ADHD. People with ADHD may show several signs of being consistently inattentive. They may have a pattern of being hyperactive and impulsive far more than others of their age. Or they may show all three types of behavior. This means that there are three subtypes of ADHD that are recognized by professionals. These are the predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type (that does not show significant inattention); the predominantly inattentive type (that does not show significant hyperactive-impulsive behavior); and the combined type (that displays both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms)” (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder.) For an individual to be diagnosed with ADHD, these symptoms must have been apparent early in a child’s life. Those individuals who have ADHD, which follows the pattern of hyperactivity-impulsivity seem to be constantly moving or on the go. Keeping in mind that ADHD can be found in teenagers and adults, as well as in children, “Hyperactive teenagers or adults may, feel internally restless. They often report needing to stay busy and may try to do several things at once” (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.) On the impulsive side those who are impulsive tend to have a hard time restricting their immediate reactions or think before they act. When dealing with those on the inattentive side of ADHD, these individuals tend to have a difficult time keeping their mind focused on one thing and may get bored with a task after only a few minutes. For these persons who have ADHD and are primarily inattentive it is hard to focus deliberate mindful attention to organizing and completing a task or learning something new.

When diagnosing ADHD an ongoing pattern of attention problems and/or hyperactivity issues must be present in the individual from an early age. Turtel, states that because certain “medical conditions can cause some or all of ADHD’s symptoms. It becomes next to impossible for any teacher, principal, or family doctor to claim with any certainty that a child had ADHD” (Turtel.) Although Turtel is correct in his reasoning he fails to realize what takes place during the process of diagnosing ADHD. For a child the events in a typical diagnosis include taking a series of tests including various aptitude, memory, math, reading, and hand-eye coordination. The legal guardians of the child must also answer several questions about their child over any other issues their child might have, or had, such as previous medical conditions, or issues with medications, the child’s education, and the life-style of their child. Turtel focuses primarily on the means of observation for the diagnosis process of an individual with ADHD, yet does not realize the other factors taken into consideration.

In order for an individual to qualify as having ADHD the behaviors must be long-term and excessive. They must occur more frequently than in individuals of their same age, and must occur in several settings and situations.

Since ADHD is a real disorder, it does affect the lives of those who live with it. In many cases, especially with those who have the disorder and do not have a clear understanding of it, when asked why they cannot pay attention or control their impulsive and disruptive behaviors “many will tell you, with sadness and shame, that they are ‘lazy,’ or ‘stupid,’ or simply ‘bad.’ This is the only explanation they have, because it’s what they often hear from others around them who may not know any better” (Jaska.) This response is found typically in those persons with the conditions who do not have a strong knowledge of what the disorder is. Jeff, a 40 year old man recently found out he has ADHD, and got treated. After taking medication for ADHD, he reports that the “medication made a huge difference. After 37 years, my brain [is] finally working the way it [is] supposed to…I [can] concentrate. I [can] listen to what people [are] saying and absorb new facts and ideas” (ADDitude p 16,17.) Jeff, an adult with the disorder, notices the differences in everyday life of living with ADHD treated and untreated. He realizes more clearly the struggles that one deals with as an ADHD individual.

ADHD can be detected, and often is more commonly, in children in their school settings. A student with ADHD has difficulty concentrating and completing assignments in class. For example, the process of writing a paper may be much more time consuming and difficult for a student with ADHD. The paper may seem unfinished, underdeveloped, messy, unorganized, and overall poorly constructed. There may be gaps and highlights, scratch-outs in the paper, which may remain in the end product not because the child is “lazy,” but maybe because the child may have simply forgotten to go back and fix their errors or the paper was overwhelming for them. A typical paper may look like:

This example is an illustrated version of the interworking of the mind of a child with ADHD when writing a paper. This example shows where the writer went back and scratched out mistakes without correcting them. In the second line “gro” is misspelled and skipped over. The writer tends to miss small details when it comes to spelling and grammar and punctuation. The highlighted areas are where the writer may have stopped in mid-thought, forgetting the idea in his/her head at the time due to all the jumbled thoughts taking place in their minds too fast for them to get out on the paper. This may seem frustrating and overwhelming for the reader to read, but it is ten times more frustrating and difficult to write for the child. It can be painful and embarrassing for the child to go back and read. Such a simple task may take hours longer for a child with ADHD to finish and may still end up being incomplete and unorganized.

Speaking as one with ADHD, I share these difficulties completing assignments, and activities in as well as out of the school settings.

When treated, ADHD can be a manageable condition, making it easier to overcome impulsivity and decreasing hyperactivity. The medication does not make it go away, but helps make it more controllable. Once an individual has ADHD, they have it for life, which means that one cannot simply outgrow ADHD. With time, one can learn to better deal with and control the symptoms of ADHD, but it never goes away. ADHD affects the lives of many children, teens, and adults.

ADHD is found in every 1 in 5 people. Larry B. Silver, M.D. states that “about 25 to 40 percent of children and adolescents with learning disabilities also have ADHD…. Between 30 and 50 percent [of those with ADHD] will have a learning disability” (Misunderstood p.151). ADHD is more common in the community than people realize, and it does affect the lives of those who have it, and those persons around it.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a REAL disorder that HAS been around for a long time. The sooner we recognize it and accept it, the sooner we can help those who have it, work through it and make the community an easier place to live in for everybody. ADHD is as much of a disorder as bipolar and depression. Once this is realized we can better accept those who have it, and understand that they are not simply “crazy” or badly behaved individuals.

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