- Gonzalo Laje
October is National ADHD Awareness Month
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a difference in brain neurotype, or how the brain is wired. It is associated with both strengths and vulnerabilities. ADHD individuals can attend and focus, particularly when interested in a task. However, particularly when disinterested, ADHD individuals may struggle to consistently control their attention, executive functions, and related behavior. While an ADHD child, teen, or adult may want to focus, sit still, stay quiet, and remain calm, it might be a struggle to do so. This is not intentional, but rather, characteristic of ADHD. These individuals may also struggle with motivation, even when they want to perform at a high level, please their teachers, parents, or bosses, or impress their peers. It can be difficult to handle tasks that feel boring, or like too much at once, which can make the typical classroom and work environment quite overwhelming. Demand avoidance, low arousal, and seemingly low motivation are not purposeful or based in defiance. Rather, these tendencies are based on how the ADHD brain is wired. Many ADHD individuals experience related academic and emotional vulnerabilities.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental diagnosis. Thus, the traits and signs are evident in early childhood. However, children, adolescence, and adults sometimes use coping skills that make the signs harder to spot until later in life.
Common ADHD traits may include the following:
The individual may be able to focus on something they love for a long time, but struggle to focus when something is uninteresting to them.
They may be easily distracted by their own thoughts and feelings, or by things going on around them. They may seem to daydream or ‘tune out.’
They may be high energy. They may move, fidget, talk, interrupt, or touch things frequently.
They may act impulsively, making decisions without thinking them through.
The individual may find it hard to notice things happening around them, including things in their social interactions.
The individual may lose or misplace things, and struggle to stay organized.
They may have excellent memory for some things, but struggle to remember others.
They might become easily sidetracked, and may have trouble following instructions, especially if there are multiple steps involved.
It may be hard for the individual to get started on schoolwork, office work, or tasks, and they may try to avoid things they don’t enjoy. They may also find it hard to complete tasks, office work, or schoolwork they started.
The individual might get frustrated or upset easily when things feel hard or boring, or when they hear ‘no’ or have to transition.
The individual may struggle to keep track of time, or to know how long something will take them. They may rush, or work and think very slowly.
The individual may make lots of mistakes that seem careless.
They may be particularly sensitive to rejection or perceived slights.
What about strengths?
Here are just a few:
The individual may be a creative, assertive, driven, out of the box thinker.
They may have endless energy and charisma.
The individual may be spontaneous, fun, sassy, and fierce.
They may have big personalities.
They may be a master negotiator, with strong perseverance.
They can hyper-focus on areas of interest, allowing them to learn a huge amount, discover and develop new things, and build successful careers and hobbies.
They may never give up on things that interest them, leading to a growth mindset and the ability to develop incredible skills.
The individual may be highly adventurous and willing to try new things.
They may be notably empathic, picking up on cues from those around them that others may miss.
They are likely full of big ideas.
They may have a strong sense of right and wrong.
The individual may be very self-directed and independent, both in thought and action.
They are likely to be highly motivated when interested, and may motivate everyone around them!
What supports are available for an ADHD individual?
ADHD individuals often need accommodations and related supports to manage their very real vulnerabilities. Most school and work environments are set up for neurotypical individuals, but even then, they are not always easy to navigate. For ADHD individuals, navigating these environments is even harder. Accommodations for ADHD level the playing field. They don’t give ADHD individuals a leg up. Accommodations are not easy to come by, and one must qualify for them under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If someone qualifies for accommodations, it means they have diagnosed challenges that impact activities of daily living. To seek accommodations, an individual will need a letter from their therapist or medical provider, and/or diagnostic/neuropsychological testing. This is something we offer at WBMA.
The attention and executive functioning challenges many ADHD individuals encounter can impact nearly every aspect of their well-being. While everyone feels inattentive, distracted, or impulsive sometimes, the experience is not the same. ADHD individuals may benefit from ADHD or executive functioning coaching to develop strategies to support them in areas of need. They may also benefit from psychotherapy to help them better understand their brain and their related emotional needs, and to learn strategies for managing areas of struggle in day-to-day life. Many ADHD individuals also choose to explore medication management to improve focus and reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity. There are also non-medication options that can be helpful, like eTNS, neurofeedback, and medical foods. To learn more about any of these services, please reach out to our WBMA team. We can help!
Our favorite ADHD resources include the following:
https://HowtoADHD.com (An excellent YouTube channel with real world advice)
All Dogs Have ADHD by Kathy Hoopmann
https://www.adhddd.com (Lots of great resources and tips, and the comics are fantastic)
https://drlizangoff.com/2021/02/09/how-to-explain-adhd-to-kids/ (how to explain ADHD to kids)
Dr. Jaclyn Halpern
Director/Co-Founder, The SOAR for Psychotherapy and Testing; Licensed Psychologist & Clinical Supervisor