The usual medical focus in articles about ADHD is on how to support the family that is coping with a child with ADHD. Another common focus is about the misdiagnosis of ADHD, and how medication is overprescribed. This article is different. I want to emphasise, from personal experience, the importance of empowering the child or young adult who has ADHD. I also appreciate the chance to explain to others how it feels to have ADHD so they understand the difficulties people like me have.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition,1 the hallmarks of which are trouble concentrating and remembering details (attention deficit), particularly if the person is also hyperactive.2 It is a spectrum, a variation of normal, and each person who has it will present differently. Their behaviour is largely influenced by their family (the degree of tolerance shown, methods of discipline, siblings understanding the condition). A positive and patient family will foster good self-esteem and help the child/young person to understand how to manage their condition optimally (extra tutoring, reassurance, accessing help via the education system, educating teachers). This family understanding and support cannot be overemphasised. The idea of good parenting is to bring out the best in your child, even the irritating ones! Having a child with ADHD is a challenge, not just for those who have it, but also for our parents.
Other environmental factors affecting our current and future behaviour and self-esteem are unfortunately largely outside our control. Young people, especially children, who have ADHD are more often disciplined by their teachers3 and bullied by their peers.4 This leads the person to assume they are not valued for what they can do, but rather are criticised for what they cannot do (typically, concentrate, make an effort to learn and not distract others).
Early diagnosis of ADHD leads to early education and management. The education should not just apply to the family, but should be focused on the young person with ADHD so they can understand how to modify certain behavior and make progress with educational and social disabilities as soon as possible. Emphasis should be put on the child or young person’s strengths and energy, and they should be guided into subjects they are interested in. ADHD does not automatically mean that a person is “not academic” and will not go on to higher education.
Young people who have ADHD must be told about their condition in order to manage it. They need an explanation as to how they are different to others and that this condition is a variation of normal. This difference should not be portrayed in a negative light but as a challenge. In my personal experience, it helped my confidence greatly to know that I think a bit differently to others and that there is a reason that is not within my control for the irritation, impatience and intolerance that other people show me on a near-daily basis. I have learned to understand why I am misunderstood and why they feel this way about me, but society is greatly lagging in its willingness to understand my condition. Many people don’t even believe I have a neurodevelopmental condition at all, but that I am a result of poor parenting or due to possible marriage problems in my parents. The parents of children with ADHD also put up with a lot from others.
Many people still have no idea what specific challenges people with ADHD face, and how very hard it has been for me to achieve good grades. I cannot concentrate at all without medication. The side-effects (headache, nausea and unwanted weight loss) are necessary for me to have a normal life and achieve what I would have been able to achieve without ADHD. Off medication, I am entertaining, amusing and quirky but could never have had a career or done as well as I have. I know the statistics about untreated ADHD leading to drug addiction and crime in Australia.5 In my opinion, it is “Medication for Education!”.
I find it frustrating that there is so little focus in the medical and general media about anything positive or encouraging about ADHD. Society tends to regard ADHD as a disruptive, antisocial, oppositional personality disorder that has no redeeming features. This is not the person with ADHD, but rather, the outcome of someone with ADHD who is misunderstood, unsupported and quite possibly, very mismanaged. Suggestions to avoid such an outcome are below: