Understanding ADHD: Symptoms, Realities, and Diagnosis
The acronym ADHD stands for "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder", which is "Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder"
ADHD, or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is "characterized by a short attention span and/or excessive liveliness and impulsivity [...] that interfere with functionality or development" (MSD Manuals); it can therefore manifest in different forms. Specifically, the symptoms can include:
- Attention deficit;
- Hyperactivity and impulsivity;
- A combination of both elements.
Despite its symptoms resembling a behavioral disorder, it is a neurodevelopmental disorder - which therefore falls into the same group as SEN. In simpler terms, ADHD belongs to the same group as other disorders that manifest in childhood, such as intellectual disabilities, tic disorders, SpLD, and autism spectrum disorders. Because it is characterized by a neurological configuration, ADHD is referred to as a pediatric disorder; however, as you will read below, it can also be diagnosed in adulthood.
ADHD can be a source of shame and difficulty for those who suffer from it, especially (but not only) in childhood
Attention deficit and/or hyperactivity disorder manifests before the age of seven through specific symptoms that need to be observed for a minimum period of six continuous months. To mention the main symptoms identified by the DSM ("Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders"), a child may suffer from ADHD if:
- Struggles to initiate concentration activities;
- Has poor listening skills;
- Is very lively;
- Easily loses focus;
- Has no patience;
- Interrupts questions, answering as soon as they understand the meaning;
- Is impulsive and tends to act without thinking;
- Tends to lose things or forget commitments;
- Cannot plan their study;
- Constantly changes activities, leaving previous ones unfinished.
ADHD between clichés and reality
Recently, some studies have shown that ADHD diagnoses have increased. According to research conducted at the Kaiser Permanente Center, from 2001 to 2010, children suffering from it increased by 24%. Due to particularly widespread and harmful word of mouth, this important data has been interpreted in various and distorted ways.
In particular, many have confused the increase in diagnoses with an increase in cases, speculating on the influence of new technological means on the onset of ADHD. However, simply by following American researchers, it is understood that the new diagnoses reflect more of a cultural change than an actual expansion of the disorder itself.
Many children with ADHD today receive a diagnosis that they would not have received in different times. The current school system, which is more rigid, requires more structured behaviors and learning abilities that often do not take into account the specificities of students. Behaviors that deviate from the system are more easily recognized and categorized, while in the past they were simply interpreted as typical character traits of children. The use of the masculine gender in this case is not accidental, as ADHD has specific characteristics regarding gender, which in turn have led to distortions.
Despite common stereotypes that associate it primarily with (male) children, ADHD can also affect females and older individuals.
Data regarding ADHD is particularly debated even within the scientific community; despite all the disputes, it appears that around 8-11% of the school-age population suffers from it. Within this group, three out of four diagnoses are related to males, leading many to believe that females may only marginally or sporadically suffer from it.
However, recent research seems to contradict this common belief, often supported by experts. In particular, it seems that symptoms in women manifest differently and less prominently from a social perspective, leading to them being underestimated. As for girls, attention disorders should be given more consideration than hyperactivity.
The issue of underdiagnosis not only affects the validation of boys and girls, but it can also influence their entire educational path and adult life. In recent years, many mental health experts have emphasized the need to change the perception of ADHD as a childhood disorder, in order to also give proper attention to adults who suffer from it.
As reported by Dr. Hallowell, a correct diagnosis can "save a life" even if applied later in life. The challenge of redefinition represents an important goal that could improve the lives not only of many women but also of many men who, for socio-cultural reasons, have not had their ADHD recognized at a young age.
How to obtain and deal with an ADHD diagnosis
Although the symptoms of ADHD can be recognized independently, the only reliable diagnosis is obtained from a professional. Whether you think you suffer from it personally or recognize its manifestations in your children, a specialist consultation will prevent you from falling into the toxic vortex of self-diagnosis.
The attention to be given will undoubtedly be greater in the case of intervention directed at a child. The educator's task is to understand how to best meet their specific needs and how to value them. As role models, although difficult, you will need to set aside prejudices and negative attitudes, adopting a new set of ideas.
Aggressiveness and mockery will only worsen the likely frustrations related to learning difficulties. It will be essential for you to seek the best information, reorganize your ideas, and compensate for the child's difficulties through organized activities and days with a pre-established routine as much as possible.
Children with ADHD require specific attention regarding their disorder, but they should not be limited or considered solely in terms of it. Always remember that a person with attention deficit disorder and/or hyperactivity, whether adult or not, has their own personality and can lead a fulfilling life thanks to the appropriate therapies indicated by experts.
Article by Nina Komadina.