Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Where To Start? - SACAP
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ADHD: Where to Start?

Oct 02, 2023 | By Kyle Young and Saranne Durham
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Where to Start?
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What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Psychologists call Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) a neurodevelopmental (mental health) disorder. This means that we think it is mostly caused by mechanisms within our brains. Over time, we have also learned that ADHD might be caused by in-utero exposure to environmental toxins like lead. ADHD is found in children and adults. It is mostly known for causing impulsive behaviours, hyperactivity and difficulty sustaining focus for longer periods of time.

“ADHD is most commonly expressed through inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.”

What does ADHD look like?

We’ve come to think of ADHD as something that is best understood on a scale or spectrum. On the one side, we have difficulty sustaining attention and on the other side is hyperactivity and impulsivity. In addition to being forgetful and distracted, being inattentive makes it difficult to stay on task. Alternatively, having high levels of energy and impulsivity make it difficult to sit still or wait in turn to speak. Someone can also be in the middle of the scale and exhibit aspects of inattentiveness and hyperactivity.

What does Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder feel like?

People experience ADHD in a variety of ways. Over time an individual’s symptoms may also change. However, despite variances between individuals, there is commonality.

4 Common ADHD Symptoms

  1. Finding it extremely difficult to focus on unstimulating tasks.
  2. Feeling overloaded with ongoing or torrential thoughts.
  3. Being nervous of what might have been forgotten.
  4. Wandering attention, daydreaming and lost time.

How can ADHD impact your life?

Although being overly distractible or excitable (or somewhere in-between) can sound relatively benign, living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is difficult, for children and adults alike.

“Having ADHD can be frustrating, isolating and emotionally tumultuous.”

Parenting a child with ADHD

ADHD makes it more difficult for a child to develop control, attention, behaviour, and emotion-regulating skills. Accordingly, parents might feel like they are constantly needing to address misbehaviour and a family could experience disruptions to routines. This can make managing a child with ADHD tricky and frustrating. Ahead of diagnosis, many parents feel like their child is misbehaving and disrespecting them. They might also feel embarrassed by their child’s behaviour and concerned with their rate of achieving developmental milestones. 

ADHD and School

ADHD most often emerges for the first time in primary school. Consequently, teachers will report interruptions, difficulty sitting still and now, more frequently, “tuning out” or daydreaming. As a result, children with ADHD can struggle academically and can develop learning problems. This can lead learners with ADHD to be left behind, have low confidence, and be disinterested in school. However, research tends to agree that there is no relationship between ADHD and intelligence. This also means that there are many children with ADHD that do well in school. Which might be a result of them being smart and able to pick up on new concepts very quickly. Or it could be because they put in lots of additional effort when they struggle, so as not to disappoint parents or teachers.

Relationships and Social Skills

ADHD can also affect social skills and relational well-being. Being inattentive can make one seem distant or non-caring. While being hyperactive and impulsive will sometimes lead people with ADHD to crash through social conventions like turn-taking. People with ADHD can also have difficulty interpreting social cues and understanding non-verbal communication, like gestures and body language. This can make building relationships difficult, especially during childhood. It can result in one feeling socially awkward or like an outsider. Furthermore, the higher likelihood of miscommunication and being misunderstood within a relationship can result in difficulties in maintaining social relationships.

For someone with ADHD, feelings of isolation, being misunderstood or even being deemed stupid are sadly quite common. Thus, it is believed people with ADHD are at higher risk of experiencing depression and anxiety.

ADHD and Substance Abuse

Finally, in some studies, as many as one in four people with ADHD use substances. It was also found that those with ADHD tended to begin using substances earlier than their peers. Researchers put forward that there are three potential reasons why those with ADHD are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.

3 Reasons for Increased Risk of Substance Abuse

  1. Higher levels of impulsivity, poor judgement and difficulties at school.
  2. Genetic predisposition (link) to developing a substance use disorder.
  3. The need for self-medication to cope with social awkwardness, unpleasant feelings, depression or anxiety.

Treating and Managing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

There are a few options when it comes to treating and managing ADHD. These interventions can be both psychological and pharmacological (treatment with medication). Often, they are supported by remedial learning and health-promoting activity. Good treatment plans involve close monitoring, implementing routines, follow-ups and the willingness to make adjustments where necessary.

“Left untreated, ADHD will negatively impact the individual as well as those around them.”

Identifying ADHD early can help prevent or mitigate some of the social and educational hardships that often occur. Doctors, paediatricians and teachers may refer caregivers to a psychologist for assessment and, if necessary, a treatment programme. This process may include consulting with the individual, family and teachers to promote shared understanding and to develop coping strategies.

Research shows that promoting physical and mental health can have a profoundly positive effect on ADHD. Healthier eating, regular exercise and good sleep hygiene serve as powerful protective factors too. Remedial work or one-on-one tutoring may also be helpful. Psychologists may also suggest psychotherapy (talk-therapy) or refer to a psychiatrist for medication.

ADHD Misconceptions and Myths

A diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can elicit different responses. For some, it’s an explanation that’s a welcome relief that provides answers and possible solutions to challenges. Others find that accepting a diagnosis results in more questions and increased uncertainty. Often this is because there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding ADHD that are difficult to sift through. One of the primary misconceptions relates to questions of over-diagnosis and thus trustworthiness of an ADHD diagnosis.

Is ADHD Over-Diagnosed and Over-Treated?

Research shows that there has been a significant increase in the number of ADHD cases. According to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) it is the most common mental condition in children. In 2020 it was estimated that worldwide 366 million adults have ADHD. This increase in diagnosing ADHD, particularly in children, started in the 1990s. 

The result of an increased number of ADHD cases has led many people to worry that ADHD is over-diagnosed. Some also fear the effects that psychoactive drugs will have on children. They worry that we risk trying to make our learners more compliant, even in instances where their behaviour might be appropriate or expected. 

There are however reasons why ADHD cases have increased. One is that doctors are increasingly more apt at diagnosing ADHD. Additionally, parents are more aware of ADHD. As a result, more parents are reporting symptoms and seeking assistance for their children. The efficacy of medications has also improved which has encouraged people to seek treatment.

“Some worry that ADHD is over-diagnosed and others see it as a different way of being in the world.”

The Reality of Untreated ADHD

Within the context of a growing understanding of the brain and its structures as well as a sensitivity for those with neurological differences, these concerns need to be discussed. Especially, if diverse neurology is another aspect of human uniqueness and expression rather than a disability. 

However, even when considering diverse neurology, the reality of many living with ADHD needs to be remembered. Without the appropriate support for ADHD, further issues, like anxiety and depression, can develop. Thereby, making life increasingly more difficult and negatively impacting those with ADHD, as well as the people around them. Thus, for many being able to thrive can be severely hampered by not addressing their ADHD. So, while people debate the merits of increased diagnosis and treatment, for those dealing with it, the reality of not accessing treatment can be severe


You can gain more insight into the many facets of the human experience by studying psychology. SACAP offers a range of courses that can pave the way for a career in psychology, while developing skills that will prove valuable in a variety of other career paths. For more information, enquire now.

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