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MY child Definitely Does NOT have ADHD……

Mr. and Mrs. C came into my office for a two-hour assessment regarding their 9-year-old Ben. Ben’s grades have been declining in school for some time. “He just can’t seem to comprehend and retain the subject matter”, mom described. After a   thorough history and a battery of questions, I became increasingly clued into the possibility that Ben may in fact be suffering from ADHD. As our interview moved along Dad asked me point blank, can I ask where you’re going with all this”? I responded surely, I’m just trying to rule out if Ben may an attention deficit that may be the culprit of his symptoms. Both mom and dad 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. Mom and Dad clarified in unison “You see –Ben can pay attention when he wants to……. He can sit and read books for hours on end”! Mom added “and he can build Lego by himself for an hour uninterrupted, it is even hard for me to get him to stop focusing on things sometimes.” Oh, so you mean he’s hyper-focused at times?” I asked.  Exactly! Mom replied, and besides, he’s not at all hyper…And so I began my lengthy explanation of how hyper-focusing can be very characteristic of children with ADHD…and why….

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 some common childhood disorders and deficits. This can only empower us to be more vigilant when assessing if a particular symptom or observed cluster of symptoms is need for concern. There is no childhood diagnosis that parents will often dismiss due to misinformation, as much as ADHD. The above narrative has taken place within my office on several occasions. ADHD has become so standardized and stereotyped if you will, that has led to many of us being misinformed and the actual condition of ADHD very much misunderstood.  Hopefully, this article will give us a much 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, the result, therefore, being the inability to focus and stay on task. This often leads to the infamous presentation of the ADHD sufferer. ‘All over the place’ frazzled, even disruptive, etc ..However, all 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 were in a doctor’s waiting room full of patients for 2 hours. You are getting antsy and annoyed trying so desperately to find interest in the boring tv talk show that’s been the center of the waiting room’s attention. We begin squirming and fidgeting in our seats. However, it’s not only our bodies that become restless. Our minds begin fidgeting in their own way. Soon enough you will find your brain latching on to everything and anything it can. We may start to notice random items in the room that we never noticed before. Our brains soon begin to hop from one thought to another, from one fixation to another Jumping around like a fish out of water. Do you know why this happens? This all happens because our brains are organs that require …that’s right …stimulation! The brain needs stimulation of sorts to simply 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 some kind of external stimuli. This picture is a mere microcosm of the ADHD brain. The ADHD brain simply requires more movement and stimulation than its non-ADHD counterpart. It doesn’t take the ADHD brain 2 hours in a waiting room to crave more stimulation rather it’s happening constantly in most waking hours of the day. You see the hallmark struggle of lack of focus for the ADHD sufferer is not a failure of the gears in the brain to turn but rather it’s a result of the wheels 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 paradoxical distractibility that we have become familiar with.

Let us take a minute to look at the medications given to treat ADHD. The first line of treatment uses a class of medications known as stimulants. Ever ask yourself how in the world can ‘speed’ calm down an ADHD child? At first glance it appears as one of the great paradoxes of medicine, however, with our clearer understanding of the ADHD person, 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 focus on one specific thought more calmly.

I’ll never forget the time Judy’s mom decided to join in Judy’s session. I have been seeing Judy for about 6 weeks and quickly learned about her ADHD. Judy struggled to concentrate and focus during the session. Our conversation was very choppy and I found myself constantly needing to bring Judy back to the current discussion at hand It didn’t take long for me to realize that Judy’s brain simply required more stimulation in order to better concentrate. I then made sure to give Judy a maze ball at the beginning of session, WALA! Judy was now able to focus on our conversation with ease while providing her brain with the very much-needed stimulation. When mom finally joined the session, she witnessed Judy come into my office pick up her maze ball as usual start to play, and then we began to talk. Mom quickly reprimanded Judy for being impolite during our conversation. I motioned to mom that we will talk later. After Judy left the room I explained to mom how Judy’s brain worked best by staying stimulated. Since Judy had ADHD she was more capable of multi-tasking than most of us. (If only more teachers in school adapted as well as Judy’s mom has learned to).

Getting back to our friend Ben. Dad was insistent that ADHD was not an accurate diagnosis because Ben could concentrate ‘when he wants 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 to dad that this phenomenon was not necessarily a matter of Ben focusing ‘when he wants to’ but more accurately focusing when his brain was getting the much-needed stimulation that it enjoys.

ADHD is not a disability! It’s simply a slightly different way the brain works. Some of the highest achievers are ADHD (‘sufferers’?) due to their creativity and ability to multitask. We are all individuals with unique characteristics and people with ADHD are no different. So next time you are looking for that 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.


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