ADHD typically arises in children aged 6 to 12, and can also affect teenagers and adults.
I wasn’t diagnosed with the ADHD until my first year of university. My GP thinks that it wasn’t picked up during childhood because I was a goody two shoes who was too scared to act out on impulsive tendencies.
Yet my lack of impulse control, inability to focus on tasks unless hyper-focusing and often uncontrollable drive to be juggling many projects non-stop had been an issue my parents noticed throughout my teenage years. By the time sixth form came round, I was a bit manic – I couldn’t sit still in class at all. I would skip as many lessons as I could to do one of the many other things I had on the go.
What is ADHD?
ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The exact cause of ADHD is unknown but research continues to show that it has a hereditary, neurobiological basis.
There are three subtypes. My diagnosis is hyperactivity-impulsive type, which affects dopamine levels in the brain. This leads to reduced interest and engagement in everyday activities, which means that I seek novelty and distraction constantly; essentially overcompensating to stimulate the dopamine receptors in my brain.
Existing research does not support the popularly held myths around ADHD. Things like it’s the result of excessive sugar intake. Or poor child management by parents. Nor is it down to environmental factors such as poverty or family problems. Of course these factors might aggravate or reveal symptoms more pointedly, especially in certain individuals. For me, I think the transition to using more social media and smart phones in adolescence exacerbated behaviour or at least gave my impulsivity and distractibility an alibi.
So what’s the problem?
The lack of provision for different learning styles at many schools in Wales mainly. This is partly the result of narrow, “legitimate” formal education methods which support our examination system.
Students with learning difficulties and conditions like ADHD (they often go hand in hand; I am also dyslexic) all too often struggle with dominant methods of teaching and testing.
I am fortunate enough to be very good at cram-revising just days before exams. Yet many teenage students with ADHD underperform. This is partly due to a lack of knowledge and provision of the condition in schools and colleges.
Is there a solution?
I refuse to let the label of ‘ADHD’ get in my way, especially as an adult studying an essay-based, academic degree at university.
Realising that the problems I faced at university did not solely lie in me, but in the wider education system was deeply frustrating; but also an empowering reminder to, as far as possible, mould my lifestyle in ways that suits my ADHD. I have learned to embrace my distractibility as simply a heightened awareness of my surroundings; my sometimes manic procrastination levels often result in very creative ideas and side projects.
Acquiring a label to help explain behaviours forced some introspection to find out what worked for me, day to day. For instance, I find quiet rooms incredibly difficult to study in; so at uni, I work in busy environments with plenty of external stimulation such as music and people talking. This can often be the pub! I also find that cooking is an amazing way to focus on a sustained activity with a clear and imminent end goal. Doing sport, especially before bed, helps me fix my sleeping pattern (a common issue for people with ADHD). Also giving myself short, sharp deadlines to do tasks such as homework or admin mean I am far more likely to get them done.
What I’d tell parents
I am about to embark upon the third year of my degree this autumn and have a date set in October for starting my medication. I know for a fact that being diagnosed earlier and having the chance to try meds at home, around my supportive family, would have been ideal for me. This is partly why I am, on the whole, pro-diagnosis at an earlier age. Whether you go down the medication root or not, being able to recognise behaviour as related ADHD and intervene in some way is important.
I would never shy away from getting your child diagnosed. Whether that’s out of the fear of stigma or a genuine misunderstanding around the condition, which continues to exist. There are heaps of resources available online for parents and young people (I’d recommend chadd.org as one place to start) and it really is not a label to be scared of!
ADHD, if managed properly, can be a super power of creativity and ‘sparkyness’ that is beginning to serve me well in adult life.
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