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International ADHD Awareness Week

This week is the official international ADHD Awareness week and I thought it might be appropriate to talk about the condition - especially since it's so common in children (and adults) with Asperger Syndrome. In fact, it's very common for people to be diagnosed with ADHD first.

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and it goes hand in hand with another disorder which was once called ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). These two disorders are now considered one, though it's quite common to distingish ADD as ADHD-I (ADHD - Inattentive).

Public Perception
If you don't have children with ADHD/ADD, you're probably imagining children who are literally bouncing off walls, throwing things and jumping across furniture. Like Aspergers, ADHD suffers greatly from stereotypes.

It's quite common for people to witness televised "extreme acts of ADHD" and blame it on the parents, red cordial, too much TV, poor discipline or any number of other things. Lots of people say that ADHD wasn't around when they were young. That children "behaved" and were harshly disciplined.

I beg to differ. ADHD was around years ago. ADHD is NOT about "extreme acts" it's about smaller everyday impulses. There have always been people who are easily distracted, impulsive or disorganised. It may not have been called ADHD in the past, perhaps they were simply "spirited" children but it was no different to the ADHD being diagnosed today.

Being Distractable
A person with ADHD may seem inattentive but the truth is that they are simply too easily distracted by their senses. A child with ADHD may find that other noises in the classroom constantly pull them off topic, that movement outside a window, or even within the classroom will constantly direct their gaze away from the board or that the smell of food in the classroom causes them to think about lunch rather than the topic at hand.

It's not all jumping around behaviour. Often it's just constant but little distractions which make it impossible to concentrate. These distractions can seriously impact the learning ability of the ADHD child.

Unlike the media portrayals, being impulsive isn't about walking up to people and hitting them. Most impulsive actions are far less visible. An impulsive child may start answering a question before it has been completely asked. In the classroom setting, this is simply annoying because it seems like an interruption but have you considered how this would affect a test?

In the classroom, the teacher can correct the child, "You didn't answer correctly because you didn't wait for the entire question". In an exam situation, the child is too busy answering the first part of the question to read the fine print. They might take three pages to answer a question that is supposed to be answered in 25 words. They may miss a vital part of the question or they may complete their test without knowing that there are more questions on the other side of the paper.

Children with ADHD already have enough issues in exams due to sensory issues and inattentiveness. Misreading questions makes it even more difficult. These are smart kids but even the best special exam considerations are simply not enough.

Of course, there are impulsive physcial actions too. A child may throw an object without taking the time to check that people aren't too closely grouped around them. They might chase a ball across a street without stopping to look both ways or they might snatch something off a friend without remembering to ask for it nicely. This isn't rudeness or deliberate endangerment, this is simply the ADHD child missing steps in a procedure.

Impulsitivty manifests at home too. It occurs when the child sits down to the table without having washed their hands. When they help to carry food to the table without being careful of spillage and when they are so eager to eat that they forget to use their knife and fork.

Being Disorganized
A child with ADHD will often live in either "the moment" or a "daydream". There's not a lot in between these states. They tend to react to things going on around them and they will often withdraw into their own thoughts. What they generally won't do is plan. Even when they do plan, their impusitivity prevents them from following a strict ordered list. They will rush out of a classroom, leaving their books still on the desk. It's not laziness, it's just steps in the procedure being missed.

They'll readily agree to go to an event but won't think to write down the date or the location. They won't consider potential clashes and chances are that if they do remember, they're going to be late. It all looks like complete disorganisation but really, it's just another way to look at impulsiveness.

Children don't grow out of ADHD. There are plenty of adults with the condition. Many of them have learned to use lists, plans and other methods to get by. Some are on medications (and some apparently swear by recreational drugs).

I'm not here to propose solutions. Today, I just want to sway a few opinions. Next time you hear about someone with ADHD, try to understand how difficult things that you take for granted are for them.

Lets try not to be so judgmental.


Anonymous said…
This is great, i finally get what adhd really is. I have a question: do you think adhd is a disability? Is it a 'special need?' or is it a 'character trait' that some people have?" i would love to know your answer to this about adhd and aspergers as well..?
Gavin Bollard said…
It's hard to say exactly what ADHD is but I do believe that it's a naturally evolved trait.

You can observe ADHD traits in animals. Dogs sometimes show it but more importantly, so do animals which move in herds.

The distractability comes in very handy when it comes to noticing a creeping predator on the edge of the herd.

It's no good if the entire herd has ADHD but having a few individuals is very healthy.

I think there are very good reasons in nature for ADHD but that these are no longer needed in modern society. As a result, ADHD is now being viewed as a disability.

It's difficult to see any clear benefit for ADHD in western society.

Aspergers is almost the opposite. There's not a lot of use for aspergers traits in a herd but in our modern technological society, the traits are actually quite useful. Our best scientist tend to have a lot of aspergian traits.

Unfortunately, society as a whole is yet to recognize and exploit the benefits of aspergers, though there are some companies out there (notably computing companies) who have an explicit policy on the employment of aspies.
IanMKenny said…
Like autism and many other conditions (eg bipolar disorder, schizophrenia), ADHD is a spectrum disorder. It is possible to be a "little bit" ADHD, or a lot ADHD, and anywhere in between.

And like autism and bipolar disorder, it is highly genetic. Also, smoking or alcohol during pregnancy can interact with the candidate genes and magnify their effect.
Ralph Doncaster said…
Legally ADHD is a disability. In contrast to Gavin, I do see some clear benefits to ADHD. I wrote a blog post about the "gift or curse" question.
Gavin Bollard said…
@Ralph, Thank you for the link it was very informative.

It's hard to say whether a specific difference is a benefit or a disability since it varies from one person or one situation to another.

It's good to be able to see the positive side of things though - and I did allude to that when I talked about why it was a product of evolution.

You'll find my example described better here - just scroll down to the bit marked "The Deer Example"
Anonymous said…
Thanks, i guess why i asked the question originally is to understand if my daughter (with the dual diagnosis) is to be considered a disabled person? And if so what will this mean? Will she be part of 'maintstream' society?
Gavin Bollard said…
@Anonymous. That changes things. On no account should ANYONE be given a "disabled" label simply because they have ADHD.

The word is different NEVER disabled.
ForestMama said…
Im kinda new to the ASD world, my spouse is being tested for it now but the reality is that this is what he has. He also has INSANE ADHD and they are wondering if the ADHD medication doesn't help him much because he's actually had Aspergers all along!?! We actually read something that said some psychs don't even think its possible for ADHD and ASD to coexist, but that doesn't seem right to me...what do you think of that?
Ralph Doncaster said…
@NT Bird: I have a formal ADHD diagnosis, and my doctor agrees with my Aspergers self-diagnosis.

The lack of focus in ADHD vs the hyperfocus of ASD may lead some to think you can't have both. I can focus on details of challenging things for hours or days; I think that's the Aspergers at play. I procrastinate and have difficulty focusing on things like doing my taxes; that's the ADHD at play.
Barkley talking about hyperfocus

Having both together can be a recipe for volatile relationships. You've got a short temper(ADHD) and you have no f'ing clue what your partner is feeling (Aspergers). When they are undiagnosed, your partner thinks you just don't give a f*ck!
Ralph Doncaster said…
"up to 58% of the individuals diagnosed with autism and 85% of those diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome tend to meet full criteria for ADHD as well"
Canadian ADHD Practice Guidelines (
Shiella Weisch said…
It's sad how many people can be so insensitive when it comes to those families with an ADHD member. Parents are directly blamed for having a child who has behavior problems. They do not even consider the possibilities of them having to suffer such disorders.
The difficult thing about having ADHD is not having to be properly diagnosed by a doctor. There are still parents who are oblivious to ADD/ADHD and fails to understand and relate properly to their kids who has it. It is essential for us parents to know more about the behavior problems of our kids and how it may be related to ADHD.
9C said…
As an adult woman 45, just recently diagnosed with ADHD, THANK you for your thoughtful words about ADHD!
Miguel Palacio said…
I'm an Aspie, but before I was finally diagnosed as one I had been diagnosed as having pretty severe ADD/ADHD. As such, I had been placed on such meds. But, given that I'm an Aspie, what this did was make me over-hyper-focus on my special interests. This was both good and bad, depending on the interest. And it ultimately became a decisive blow to my personal relationships. I also think that ADD/ADHD meds further dulled my ability to perceive and express emotions.

I'm no longer on such meds. Now I'm on anti-psychotic and anti-seizure and tho Aspergers is not that these really really seem to help with the distraction, confusion and excitability. The end result is that I can focus, but in a more natural way. It's like there's less background noise caused by hyper-sensitivities. So that makes me wonder if, say you were extremely hyper-sensitive, a pin dropping could not only be distracting it could be startling. Too much stimuli coming from too many directions and you may seem ADD/ADHD. The meds I was transitioned to were not sedative and did not dull the senses but instead helped make sense out of them.

Before I had been diagnosed as ADD/ADHD I was diagnosed as anxiety disorder. And went through those associated meds. But those dulled my senses and lowered my IQ.

Now I don't have to worry about that either. And the amount of anti-psichotic anti-seizure meds needed are very small, unlike what psicotuc people or people with seizures normally would take. But it does the trick.

Later on I discovered a supplement called Noopept, which had helped me immensely with the interpretation of social nuance and emotions and the expression thereof.

As proof, I have been promoted by several layers and am now a director the business development of an European space services program.

I know that there are many of you out there who don't believe in meds. I believe in meds, to the least degree that they are effective, along with constant self investigation, such as reading these blogs, watching YouTube and reading books about Aspergers and 'high-functioning' autism to learn the most possible about the condition. I've taken it on as a special interest and it's helped incredibly with my self actualization and happiness.

I have been taking these meds, under doctor supervision, and this supplement for three years now and it has made such a difference.
Kathleenp said…
Lovin this BLOG.Thanks Gavin.

My husband and I have four kids( 17yrs to 23yrs). One is officially ASD, two have strong ASD tendencies and the youngest is the most NT- but I suspect she is faking it! HAhaha. As for my hubby and me, we are probably both somewhere on the spectrum.

Regarding this ADD discussion, our eldest has been diagnosed with ADD for only a few years and it was such a relief when he figured out what was going on there. Since being on dexamphedamine, his ability to organise himself has improved 100%. He is a smart kid, now in his 4th year of a Law degree but he was struggling to get to his exams in the first year on time and having studied for them.

Our other son (the Aspie) also has a ADD diagnosis which came only recently many years after his HFA one at 2yrs. He takes Ritalin as he has a pediatrician rather than a Psychiatrist (I think peds don't prescribe Dex). He says that he is much better at getting school work done on the Ritalin.


Kathleenp said…
My son has ASD and ADD and they certainly can and do exist together in some people.

My other son also has ADD and has ASD tendencies!

My two daughters also have ASD tendencies and one is bi-polar officially and also ADD we suspect.

This may all sound bad but I find my kids fascinating and of course my husband and I are like them in many ways. We are all a bit out there but I don't consider our difference to be a disability. The opposite really. We are sensitive,caring, and understanding of all thinking styles. We are just not into dinner parties or big social gatherings!

Love your BLOG Gavin,

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