About this Section
This section introduces what ADHD is, context that can complicate the issue, and tips to help. This section is designed with accessability in mind for non-experts. A more formal description of ADHD with academic citations will be added to the education section of this website for 3rd level students in psychology. Boring disclaimer: This is for educational use and is not a replacement for other services such as diagnosis. Some elements of this section are based on the fifth version of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders.
What is ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition that can influence people's:
- ability to pay attention.
- control impulses.
- level of physical or mental activity.
ADHD can manifest in different ways in different individuals. The presence and intensity of symptoms in individuals can change over time.
Why Diagnosis Matters
ADHD Risk Statistics
People with untreated ADHD are:
- over 30% more likely to drop out of school.
- 2 times more likely to be in a car accident.
- over 50% more likely to engage in suicide.
- more likely to have financial problems.
- more likely to experience premature death by up to 14 years.
- 70% more likely to have anxiety and depression.
- more likely to struggle with substance abuse.
- more likely to struggle with employment.
- more likely to focus on short term planning and have difficultly with long term planning.
ADHD prevalence in children is approximately 5-10% of the population.
In order to be diagnosed with ADHD, a person must have symptoms (detailed below) that persist for at least 6 months and in at least 2 contexts e.g., school and home. Symptoms must have had a negative impact in an education, social, or work context. At least 6 symptoms are necessary for diagnosis in people older that 17. At least 5 symptoms are necessary for people aged 17 or younger. A professional diagnosis should rule out other possible explanations e.g., giftedness and ADHD are often confused because of similarities in physical activity. Symptoms have to have been present before the age of 12.
One form of ADHD is the Inattentive Type. Criteria for this include:
- Displays poor listening skills.
- Loses and/or misplaces items needed to complete activities or tasks.
- Sidetracked by external or unimportant stimuli.
- Forgets daily activities.
- Diminished attention span.
- Lacks ability to complete schoolwork and other assignments or to follow instructions.
- Avoids or is disinclined to begin homework or activities requiring concentration.
- Fails to focus on details and/or makes thoughtless mistakes in schoolwork or assignments.
Another form of ADHD is the Hyperactive/Impulsive Type. Criteria for hyperactive symptoms include:
- Squirms when seated or fidgets with feet/hands.
- Marked restlessness that is difficult to control.
- Appears to be driven by “a motor” or is often “on the go”.
- Lacks ability to play and engage in leisure activities in a quiet manner.
- Incapable of staying seated in class.
- Overly talkative.
Criteria for Impulsive Symptoms include:
- Difficulty waiting turn.
- Interrupts or intrudes into conversations and activities of others.
- Impulsively blurts out answers before questions completed.
It is possible to have a combination of these two types of ADHD.
Other Symptoms or Signs (that apply in some cases)
There are other symptoms and experiences that are sometimes associated with ADHD. These are often shared with other forms of neurodiversity and are therefore not as useful for diagnosis. However, they can better inform strategies to help people and their social development. This is why people sometimes refer to certain forms of neurodiversity as being cousins. Traditional clinical psychology often focuses on the negative aspects of ADHD that need treatment. There are also extremely positive aspects to the condition. ADHD can be beneficial in some contexts and can make life more challenging in other contexts. Signs and symptoms can sometimes include:
- blurting out inappropriate statements or ideas.
- Hyperfocus. ADHD doesn't mean people can't pay attention to things. They just have difficulty regulating their focus. Sometimes they can focus on an area very intensely. This can sometimes lead to rapid learning and the development of new skillsets, inventions, or works of art. However, it can also lead to people overworking and getting tired or forgetting to eat.
- Interupting others or speaks at inappropriate times.
- Difficulty throwing away things that aren't needed anymore.
- difficulty getting settled, or engaging in rest or a fun activity. This can make it difficult to get to sleep, even when exhausted.
- Being easily bored.
- Frequently daydreaming.
- Frequently late or early to events.
- Time blindness (having trouble keeping track of how much time has passed).
- Having trouble estimating how much time a task will take.
- Difficulty ranking value or importance. This can make it difficult to prioritise certain goals over others.
- Difficulty finishing a task once started.
- Difficulty starting a project.
- Repeatedly misplacing important objects e.g., car keys.
- Doing well on complicated topics but making mistakes on simple low stress issues.
- Experiencing more accidents.
- Impulsive eating or sensitivity to certain textures.
- Easily overwhelmed in busy or loud environments.
- Focusing more on negative feedback.
- Rejection sensitivity dysphoria: People with ADHD can sometimes have emotional or sensitive reaction to criticism.
- Sometimes people can feel shame when they have trouble remembering to do something, or when struggling to do something.
- Biting nails or fidgeting.
- The ADHD walk or posture sway whereby people sway more to maintain balance. In some case people just like the feeling of movement and don't need it for balance.
- Infodumping or talking about a topic of passion at length.
- Jumping back and forth between tasks e.g., reading several different books at the same time.
- Doing a project in a non-sequential order e.g., writing the middle of an essay first, then part of the start, then the end, then the rest of the start.
- Spot patterns or notice things others have missed. This can give people excellent intuition or predictive capabilities in certain situations.
When reading about neurodiversity it's important to be aware that there can be differences between adults and children. A lot of research is based on children and not adult experiences. Literature about children should not always be genralised to adults. Adults with ADHD often learn to mask many or all of their symptoms (some of, or all of the time when in company). This can be exhausting and their effort can go underappreciated.
When neurodiverse people make an effort to accomodate others, it's only fair that neurotypicals should do the same. Many of the problems associated with ADHD are actually because of the way society responds to it. Example mistakes neurotypical populations sometimes make include:
- Don't point out how easy a task is. People with ADHD often already know how easy a task should be. It's not always easy for someone with ADHD to do something they intend to do. Don't make it harder with what can feel like condescending or repetitious remarks.
- Don't ask someone with ADHD to slow down if you haven't made any effort to speed up. Expecting the other person to make 100% of the effort is not fair and it implies that the other person's feelings or preferences don't matter or are not equal to yours. They may already be making an effort to slow down.
- Don't give out to them for being lazy of forgetful. People with ADHD often live in the moment. It can be difficult to organise things in the distant future. Trying to make them feel guilty will not boost performance.
People can have comorbidity whereby a person has two or more conditions at the same time. This can make it more difficult to get an accurate diagnosis sometimes.
Support Strategies and General Tips
Some research suggests that a protein rich breakfast can reduce the chances that ADHD medication will cause irritation or restlessness. Protein is also important for your body to be able to amino acids to help you make neurotransmitters that help regulate mood. Example foods rich in protein include: beans, eggs, fish, lean beef, low-fat dairy products, nuts, peas, poultry, pork, and soy. You should always try to consult a medical expert before making dietary plans. The microbiome in people's stomachs can influence mood and it take a while for this to change after a change in diet.
Therapy and Medication Options
Therapy with a trained professional can help people work through their experiences or improve their life skills in a number of areas. There are a lot of different forms of therapy (e.g., mindfulness or cognitve behavioural therapy) and everyone is different in regards to what works for them. It can be disheartening if one form of therapy doesn't work but it's always worth trying another. It's also important to work with a professional that you're comfortable with. A qualified professional can also help you to explore medication options. People can react differently to the same medications and they can take a while to take effect. A professional will sometimes offer a combination of therapy and medication. Your local area may not have enough therapists or long waiting times. Online therapy is an option. Services are not always well advertised and can be difficult to find. Sometimes your local political representatives or local council can help you find relevant services.
- Adding tracker devices to important objects you might misplace.
- Habitually carrying a notepad to jot down ideas or tasks. A calendar app or day planner can also help. Sometimes apps have alarms.
- Remembering things can sometimes be difficult. Sometimes adding physical cues can help e.g., turning a chair upside down in the house could act as a reminder to do a chore.
- Seeing or listening to other people's experiences in person or online can help people realise they're not alone and they're not strange. Neurodiverse people can have what feel like unique experiences in a neurotypical dominant world. Listening to the experiences of others can help people realise that their neurodiverse thought processes are completely normal. Hearing other people's stories can help people realise their neurodiversity matters and that other people's feelings are equal to yours.
- playing videos online at faster speeds. If you look for it, many websites hosting videos have features that allow video and audio to be played faster.
- People with ADHD often enjoy physical movement. Activities like dancing can help some people.
- If you're in school, sitting in the front of class can help limit distractions.
- Take time to be yourself. It can be exhausting if you are neurodiverse and are expected to hide your symptoms all the time. You don't have to conform to neurotypical standards all the time and you don't have to tolerate people who try to impose unfair standards on you.
- Relaxation tip: breathing gently into your lower stomach can help relax the vegas nerve at the base of your spine.
- Education about the topic can help people develop better awareness and to develop strategies that work for them.
- If someone with ADHD is feeling guilty (e.g., for being late or not getting something done immediately) directly saying "I am not judging you, I understand your circumstances, and I believe you" can sometimes really help.
- People with ADHD are sometimes more vulnerable to manipulations like gaslighting. It is important that people with ADHD educate themselves on how to spot common manipulation techniques and their sources (e.g., narcissism).
- People with ADHD can sometimes have trouble sleeping. It can sometimes help to try and burn up energy with an activity before trying to sleep. Brown noise or gentle background music or rain sounds helps some people.
- Avoid talking to or interupting people with ADHD when they are in the middle of a task.
- The physiology behind anxiety is almost identical to the one behind excitement so don't be surprised if people feel excitement after anxiety relief. Both cause the heart rate to go faster, and cortisol builds up as the body prepares for action. The only difference is that excitement is focused on what could go well. Asking someone with ADHD to imagine something positive in the future, and to try to feel excitement, can sometimes help anxiety. Some people when referring to ADHD talk about "following the dopamine". Dopamine is a neurotransmitter or hormone that is associated with pleasure, motivation, and reward. However, it is also associated with anticipation, and anticipation can relate to anxiety and excitement. When listening to music, dopamine release is associated with anticipation and reward. Music can sometimes help people with ADHD regulate themselves. Music contains rhythm and beats. This can help the central nervous system regulate itself so it can influence anxiety, excitement, ability to focus, or relaxation. It is not uncommon for people with ADHD to experience a phase for listening to the same song over and over again. Sometimes, but not always, neurodiverse people often enjoy or benefit from listening to more than one song at the same time.
Articles and various resources: https://www.additudemag.com/
Educational resource: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ie/basics/adhd
ADHD charity: https://adhdireland.ie/
Something different just for fun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugKm0iTbF4Q
Website with articles on ADHD and related topics: https://www.mind-diagnostics.org/blog/adhd
Website with articles on ADHD, related topics, and support tips: https://www.drugwatch.com/mental-health/adhd/treatment/
Videos about ADHD from ADHD experts: https://www.youtube.com/@adhdvideos286/videos
Our website has links to neurodiverse content created by neurodiverse people: https://mentaldiy.com/neurodiverse-tv/
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