Mr. and Mrs. C came into my office for a two-hour assessment regarding their 9-year-old, Ben. Ben’s grades had been declining for some time. “He just can’t seem to comprehend and retain the subject matter,” Mrs. C stated. After a thorough history and a battery of questions, I became certain that Ben was, in fact, suffering with ADHD.
As our interview moved along, Mr. C asked me point blank, “Can I ask where you’re going with all this?”
I responded, “I’m just trying to determine whether attention deficit could be the cause of his symptoms.
Both parents shook their head and said, “Like an ADD thing? There is no way Ben has ADD.”
“What makes you say that with such certainty?” I asked.
“You see, Ben can pay attention when he wants to. He can sit and read books for hours on end! And he can build Legos by himself for an hour uninterrupted. It’s even hard for me to get him to stop focusing on things sometimes.”
“Oh, so you mean he’s hyperfocused at times?” I asked.
“Exactly,” replied Mrs. C. “Besides, he’s not at all hyper.”
And so I began my lengthy explanation about how hyperfocusing can be characteristic of children with ADHD.
In many ways, parents are blessed with an eerie intuition regarding their child’s potential challenges. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to educate ourselves more regarding common childhood disorders and deficits. This can only empower us to be more vigilant when assessing if a particular symptom or cluster of symptoms demonstrated by our child is cause for concern.
ADHD is the most common diagnosis often dismissed by parents due to misinformation. The above narrative has taken place within my office on several occasions. ADHD has become so standardized and stereotyped that many of us are misinformed and the actual condition of ADHD is misunderstood. Hopefully, this article will give us a clearer understanding of ADHD and its mechanics, and ultimately debunk some of the myths.
Most of us conceptualize ADHD as a deficiency in the ability to focus and stay on task. This often leads to the infamous presentation of the ADHD sufferer: someone who is all over the place, frazzled, and even disruptive. However, this is only partially true. The reality is that the ADHD brain is a lot more complex than this traditional picture. Let’s imagine for a minute that you’re stuck in a doctor’s waiting room for two hours. You are getting antsy and annoyed, trying desperately to find interest in the boring tv talk show that’s been capturing the waiting room’s attention. You begin squirming and fidgeting in your seat. However, it’s not only your body that becomes restless. Your mind begins fidgeting in its own way. Soon enough you will find your brain latching on to everything and anything it can. You may start to notice random items in the room that you never noticed before. Your brain soon begins to hop from one thought to another, from one fixation to another, jumping around like a fish out of water.
This happens because our brains are organs that require stimulation to function normally. While we are anxiously awaiting our turn in that waiting room, our brains CRAVE stimulation. It will go to any measure to quench its thirst for external stimuli. This picture is a mere microcosm of the ADHD brain. It simply requires more movement and stimulation than its non-ADHD counterpart. It’s not just two hours in a waiting room that causes the ADHD brain to crave more stimulation. Rather, it craves this stimulation constantly for most of the brain’s waking hours. You see, the hallmark struggle for the ADHD sufferer is not merely getting the gears in the brain to turn; instead, the wheels are turning too fast. It is precisely because the ADHD brain requires more stimulation than average that it is in constant search mode, thus creating that paradoxal easy distractibility that we have become familiar with.
Let’s take a look at the medications given to treat ADHD, known as stimulants. Have you ever asked yourself how in the world “speed” can calm down an ADHD child? At first glance, it appears to be one of the great paradoxes of medicine; however, with our clearer understanding of ADHD, it is no longer contradictory. Stimulant medications are nothing but an artificial means to stimulate the brain. Once the brain becomes more stimulated, it no longer needs to hop around and search for external stimuli. We are now left with a brain that can calmly focus on one specific thought.
I had been seeing another client, Judy, for about six weeks and quickly learned about her ADHD. Judy struggled to concentrate and focus during sessions. Conversation was very choppy, and I found it necessary to constantly bring Judy back to the current discussion. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Judy’s brain simply required more stimulation in order to better concentrate. So I began to give Judy a maze ball at the beginning of each session, which provided her brain with much-needed stimulation and allowed her to focus on our conversation with ease.
One day Judy’s mom joined the session. Judy picked up her maze ball as usual and started to play, and then we began to talk. Judy’s mom quickly reprimanded her for being impolite during our conversation. After Judy left the room, I explained to her mother that Judy’s brain worked best by staying stimulated. Since Judy had ADHD, she was more capable of multitasking than most of us. (If only more teachers in school understood this the way Judy’s mom has learned to).
This is a concept Ben’s dad didn’t understand. He insisted that ADHD was not an accurate diagnosis because Ben could concentrate when he wanted to. Ben was able to sit and read and play video games for hours without getting distracted. In fact, he could sometimes hyperfocus on his activities. I explained that this phenomenon was not necessarily a matter of Ben focusing when he wants to but, more accurately, Ben could focus when his brain was getting much-needed stimulation.
ADHD is not a disability. It’s simply the brain working in a slightly different way. Due to their creativity and ability to multitask, those with ADHD are often the highest achievers. We are all individuals with unique characteristics, and people with ADHD are no different. So next time you are looking for a talented person to run your business office, make sure to leave your fidget spinner out during the interview. If they pick it up, you just may have found the person you’ve been looking for.Posted on