ADHD can be a stressful and upsetting disorder to cope with. From symptoms to coping mechanisms, we explore everything you need to know about ADHD.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has probably been around nearly as long as humans have. A condition sounding very much like ADHD was described by the Greek physician Hippocrates in the year 493 B.C., and since he is regarded as one of the most outstanding figures in medical history, his description does carry some weight. In the language of his time, Hippocrates characterized it as an imbalance of fire over water, whose physical symptoms demonstrated, “quickened responses to sensory experience, but also with less tenaciousness because the soul moves on to the next experience.”
Whether or not Hippocrates was describing ADHD, the condition we recognize today was identified formally by physicians during the mid-20th century when it was defined as persistent inattention coupled with excessive motor activity and impulsivity. These symptoms usually appear during a person’s developmental age. Non-medical personnel today might re-phrase Hippocrates’ assessment of the disease as something that makes concentration or focus difficult and makes it hard for someone to sit still. Then, too, it might motivate someone to interrupt others frequently or act impulsively without first considering and thinking things through. All these behaviors are among those commonly associated with ADHD syndrome and an afflicted person might exhibit any or all of them.
Obviously such symptoms can also be merely standalone behaviors that have little to do with ADHD, so one critical metric used by physicians is to compare a given child’s degree of inattention or hyperactivity to other children in that same age group. Where those levels seem significantly higher than levels of others of the same age, it may be an indicator of ADHD.
These behaviors may not sound particularly sinister and certainly not life threatening in any sense, but without a doubt they can be a huge nuisance to the person afflicted, interfering with their day-to-day life and making it difficult to form and sustain long-term relationships. In addition, academic success, home life and career goals can all be jeopardized and sabotaged, so the gravity of the disease should not be underestimated.
There is no single test that can be given a child or an adult that provides a clear diagnosis of ADHD and therein lays the difficulty in positive identification. The rule of thumb used by physicians is to check for the presence of multiple symptoms in a person over a span of six months or more, and as mentioned above, at significantly higher levels than peers of similar age.
In addition, the symptoms must be exhibited in more than a single setting. For instance, symptoms shown only in school or only at Boy Scout meetings are not indicators of ADHD, but perhaps only simple disinterest. When hyperactivity and inattention are persistent behaviors across all aspects of a child’s life, this is a much more solid indication that the disease is present in an individual.
Diagnosis isn’t as easy as it sounds though, because it involves collecting information from several different sources and evaluating the data for signs of similar behavior. One piece of medical equipment that can help with identification of the disease is called the Neuropsychiatric EEG-based Assessment Aid (NEBA), which is a non-invasive scan that measures beta and theta brain waves. The theta/beta brain wave ratio is almost always higher in children and adolescents troubled with ADHD than in individuals of similar age without ADHD. While this scan is not decisive on its own, it is intended to be used as part of a comprehensive physical and mental evaluation of a person suspected of ADHD behavior.
If ADHD is thoroughly assessed and properly diagnosed at an early age, it can be effectively managed through medication and through a treatment program that specifically targets an individual’s particular symptoms. In such cases, those symptoms can be controlled and mastered, and an individual can go on to lead a relatively normal, productive life, with a reasonable expectation of success in a career and in relationships.
Since it is not a handicap in any sense, or a brain disorder, there is really no obstacle to success as an adult if the problem is properly diagnosed and treated. However if the reverse is true, people afflicted with ADHD do not typically grow out of the symptoms on their own.
Successful treatment of ADHD involves two main components: psychotherapy for both child and parents, and a program of medication. After a great deal of research was done on the subject, it was found that no program of medication alone was sufficient to overcome the symptoms of ADHD entirely, but had to be coupled with training to develop skills that helped to manage them.
The medication part of the treatment generally includes a stimulant such as Ritalin or Adderall. These two have been shown to be generally well tolerated, and in most cases, they begin acting very quickly after ingestion. Fortunately, they also have very few and very minor side-effects, and after a fairly long history of success in the treatment of ADHD, there is now also a great deal of clinical data to draw upon which details their effectiveness.
However, even a proven track record is no guarantee of success in any given case. Quite often, the prescribing physician will have to experiment to some degree to find the optimum combination of effective medication with degree of tolerance in the patient. When either effectiveness or tolerance is lacking, a different dosage or an entirely different medication may have to be tried to increase overall usefulness for the patient.
In truth, this switching to one or another, and experimentation with dosage is more common than not; only rarely does the first attempt at medication and dosage hit the nail squarely on its head. It should also be borne in mind that no matter which medication is being used it will not cure ADHD. The most it will ever do is to control the symptoms on the day that it is taken and not beyond that.
Parents may notice some side effects in children or adolescents shortly after a program of medication has begun, and if any of these should become severe, the prescribing physician must be notified immediately so an alternative may be considered. Because the medications used in the treatment of ADHD are from a class of stimulants, it is possible that side effects may be experienced such as increased anxiety, jittery behavior, headache, irritability, loss of appetite, high blood pressure, paranoia and difficulty sleeping.
There is no risk of over-stimulation, however, so parents need not worry about family members becoming high from the medication, nor are there likely to be any other side effects beside those already mentioned.
ADHD makes its appearance in a person’s pre-adult years, usually after about age 12 or so, but it is possible for the disease to remain present into adult years, in which case both the medication and the treatment of the disease must be continued. Some of the ways that you can learn to cope with the effects of ADHD on adults are outlined below:
– Ask a therapist, ADHD coach or friends to help the patient with conversational skills, including how to phrase questions correctly.
– Encourage the patient to practice active listening regularly, which means listening very closely to an ongoing conversation before even joining in on it. This trains the mind to focus on a specific topic and be attentive to the direction of conversation.
– Before the patient speaks or answers a question, have him/her pause for a few seconds and consider a response before actually delivering it. This will help to avoid blurting out something inappropriate and will have the effect of filtering comments to ensure that the response relates well to the question.
For younger patients troubled with ADHD, the above strategies will be less effective, because the maturity factor will work against them. Still, there are lifestyle strategies for younger patients that can be very helpful and supportive:
– Show your child lots of love and affection and concentrate on his/her positive achievements and behaviors rather than any kind of destructive or critical feedback.
– Spend quality time with the child whenever possible, and practice appreciation of behaviors that are not the undesirable symptoms of the disease. Ideally, this should be one-on-one time and should focus much more on positive than negative behaviors.
– Find ways to build up your child’s self-esteem and self-confidence, for instance by involving him/her in sports activities that he/she is good at, so that small successes gradually build up positive vibes.
– Help your child acquire organizational skills such as jotting down tasks in a notebook.
– Speak clearly and somewhat slowly to your child so that you are easily understood, and use gestures where appropriate to increase his/her attention on you.
– Make sure your child receives the proper amount of rest and is not frequently exposed to situations which are beyond his/her capabilities to resolve.
– Be patient with your child, but if necessary don’t hesitate to discipline the child for inappropriate behavior.
– Don’t allow yourself to get exhausted or overwhelmed in the care of your child. If your own health declines or suffers in some way, you will be unable to provide proper care for your child.
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