ADHD has been described as the most misdiagnosed and misunderstood condition in school children. It is officially the most commonly diagnosed chronic psychiatric disorder in school age children, described as a neurological, genetic and developmental disorder. Yet ADHD is situational, and depending on the circumstance can be the source of wonderful talent.
The child is hyperactive, is disruptive in class, fidgeting, tapping a pen or foot, constantly blurting out answers out-of-turn, or is quiet, but not able to concentrate and follow the lessons, being a constant day dreamer. The conventional answer is to diagnose them as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) or ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and prescribe stimulant medication.
Somewhere between 6% and 10% of children in school are afflicted by this disorder. About 70% of them will continue into adulthood with this condition. There are an estimated 5% of adults with ADD or ADHD.
The list of people who have suffered the handicap of this impairment throughout their lives include the philosophers Socrates and Aristotle, scientists Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and James Clerk Maxwell, Thomas Edison, the entrepreneur Richard Branson, the rocket scientist Werner von Braun, actors Whoopi Goldberg, Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams, composers John Lennon, Georg Frideric Handel, Rachmaninov and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, authors Jules Verne, Leo Tolstoy, William Butler Yeats, Edgar Allan Poe and Samuel Johnson, the Emperor Napoleon, many United States Presidents and innumerable sports stars.
Obviously there must be some benefit with this condition and it must be possible to develop coping mechanisms to compensate for some of the impairments. If it were not for great people with ADD, ADHD and even autism we would not have come as far today as we have in science and technology. Many of humanity’s greatest geniuses and creative people have had one of these conditions.
We keep hearing the negative sides of the ADHD coin, but there is a flip side, which is very positive. ADHD people tend, by their nature, to be enthusiastic, open-minded, determined, imaginative, creative, hardworking, insightful, trusting and sensitive. The problem while they are in school is that school was not designed for hyperactive or daydreaming children.
School is the most difficult part of an ADHD person’s life. In the list above of successful and creative people are many who failed at school. The rocket scientist Werner von Braun failed mathematics, Einstein was a school dropout, and failed a university entrance exam despite his excellent results in maths and physics. Winston Churchill failed a year at school and Louis Pasteur did not do well in chemistry. The list goes on.
Unfortunately the school system crushes many ADHD children’s spirits with all the negative criticism they receive. Low self-esteem from the feeling of not “fitting in,” being lazy or being stupid for thinking differently is baggage many ADHD children carry with them from their school years. Many go into adult life still trying to fit in when they should be creating an environment and lifestyle which suits them as individuals.
Why is ADHD so contradictory? The majority of research studies on attention deficit look at a disorder that needs to be fixed. Focussing on the negative sides of attention deficit and labelling it a disorder, automatically makes it a “disorder.” The people with ADD or ADHD who succeed have gone beyond the label and found their own personal path in life. One of the positive traits of an attention deficit personality is resilience.
Going back to the description of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as being a neurological, genetic and developmental disorder. That description should throw up red flags. This is one complicated disorder.
- Is it neurological? Yes and no.
- Is it genetic? Yes and no.
- Is it developmental? Yes and no.
Left-handedness and right-handedness, having a talent for art or for mathematics, being a sports star or a sports coach all are based on neurological differences. A talented artist with dyscalculia would not work as an engineer, but can lead a successful life as an artist. The mathematical tasks can be delegated to a spouse or a manager. Defining a normal brain is tricky as the ADHD brain works differently, but is it abnormal? Hardly if so many geniuses have had this type of brain.
ADD and ADHD is a result of brain wiring. The attention deficit and hyperactivity can be rewired by biofeedback, brain training, such as the Cogmed method, balancing boards with bouncing balls and a variety of other physical training methods. Coping mechanisms and strategies can be used to compensate for the “handicaps” left over. These natural methods of treating ADHD improve the attention focussing ability without dulling the positive traits of the ADHD personality.
76% of people with attention deficit share certain genes. There is a definite genetic component to attention deficit. But this over simplifies the complexity of ADHD genetics. This is not an either/or, you have it or you don’t have it issue. For example in one study 45% of ADHD children and 34% of non-ADHD children were considered at risk based on one of these genes, the dopamine DRD4 gene.
There is no direct link. Having a gene predisposes the person to developing certain traits, but does not guarantee it. Genetics is complex.
About a 30% of the hyperactive school children develop out of their hyperactivity by the time they finish school. Brain scans follow-ups have confirmed this.
What is odd is that this developmental delay comes as a surprise. When we look at a class of 14-year-old children, some look like 12 year olds while others look like 16-year-olds, yet by the time they are 18 they all look like 18-year-olds. Children develop and mature at different rates, but schools have chronological age groups not taking consideration to developmental delays.
The other two-thirds who go on into adulthood with ADHD might seem less mature, but that is linked with their creativity, intuitive thinking, energy, enthusiasm and passionate charismatic personalities. These positive characteristics are a part of the positive makeup of the ADHD personality.