ADHD has been diagnosed in approximately 8 million children in the United States. As a result, there is a whole generation of children growing up on stimulants and other medication. How will all of this affect their adult life is a question that has no answer at this time. In order to clarify this condition for parents, in my next four blog posts, I’m going to cover, what ADHD is, what occurs in the brain to cause it, it’s diagnosis, and treatment options.
True ADHD is characterized by behavioral problems in reacting to an average, every-day situation. The diagnosis is based on the history of displaying three types of behavior:
- An inability to perform everyday tasks, or distractibility
- An impairment in the ability to control impulses, or impulsivity
- Restlessness, or hyperactivity
In reality, everyone displays those behaviors at times, so to classify for ADHD, those behaviors have to be excessive, occur before the age of seven, last for at least six months, and cause a problem in a social environment, such as at school or home, at work or in a marriage. If the school is the only place where the child is acting up, the parents should see if there are problems with the school before pursuing a medical diagnosis.
Every person with ADHD will display a combination of the three behavioral aspects. ADHD is broken into subtypes—with predominant or non-dominant aspects depending on the individual – such as predominant inattention or predominant hyperactivity. The range of symptoms will vary from one patient to another and may include inability to concentrate and irritability, as well as confrontational, defiant, and oppositional behaviors.
Non-verbal communication and interaction with people is a major problem for people with ADHD. They don’t pick up body messages and don’t understand personal space. It’s hard for them to get jokes and the context of speech. They understand what you say, but not how you say it. As a result, they often have difficulty making friends and being in social situations, which leads to aggression and frustration.
The reason ADHD cannot be considered just a psychological problem is its functional presentations. There are motor signs—tics, tremors, and balance or postural problems. Soft neurological signs, such as sensory integration deficits—unusual sensitivity to touch, movement, sights, or sounds—are also present in ADHD children.
But how is the inability to focus and sit still connected with postural problems and sensory integration? Research shows that the link is in the brain. ADHD is caused by a problem with the reticular activating system—the attention center of the brain. Its other functions include vision, hearing, and preservation of older genetic traits. By using a PET (positron emission tomography) scan, researchers can observe the metabolic areas of the brain and compare the brain structures in non-ADHD and ADHD individuals. In patients with ADHD, certain areas of the brain, such as the cerebellum, the frontal lobes, or the right or left hemisphere, are under-functioning. Under-functioning may be caused by two factors: the level of stimulation of the brain or the biochemical substrates to the brain.