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Raising Awareness of ADHD

This is ADHD Awareness week. This is a time in the year where we find out and understand what Attention Deficit Disorder is all about and what it is not.

ADHD is the shortened form of the long medical description for a condition known as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. In the “old” days of the 1970's it was called Minimal Brain Damage and hyperkinesis among other labels.

Understanding has come a long way since and today we recognize the fact that ADHD children and adults are NOT brain damaged but rather operate in a different way. For some it is with inattention – just not getting focused, easily distracted and unable to settle down to a set task or routine. For others, it is hyperactive and impulsive activity – always on the go, always talking, never settling or focusing. For some, it's a mixture of both.

So what exactly is ADHD? Brenton Prosser describes it as “persistent hyperactivity, impulsivity and difficulty concentrating caused by a subtle difference in parts of the brain that manage behaviour, concentration and self-control.” ( ADHD - Who's failing Who, 2006, 9). Some believe that neurological factors are to blame while others point to a combination of genetics and environmental factors. There also appears to be a mismatch between the natural diversity of human behaviour and the world which has changed so much in last 30 years that these behaviours no longer fit.

Most children with ADHD are experts at being noticed. Their natural exuberance and zest for life becomes a magnet for other children. They are the ones who usually have the good ideas for fun games They can also create a disaster which quickly follows and lands them in hot water. Most children with ADHD want desperately to fit in and be noticed. They know that there is something different in the way they behave and do things but want, at the same time, to be just like all the other children. Sadly, for many, the harder they try to be the same, the worse the disaster around them becomes.

As adults, they tend to become hyper-focused workaholics or drifters struggling to hold down a job, unable to complete tasks, unorganized but great party animals.

Socially, children and teenagers with ADHD can be likened to insects in a garden. They are the social butterflies. They flit fleetingly from group to group. They are also the bumble bees flying headlong into encounters, doing things without thought, things that no other sane person would dream of doing. They are the social grasshoppers jumping and landing all over the garden with no apparent sense of purpose or direction.

In a school situation, these are the exciting children. They are the ones who cannot sit still, cannot focus on the work at hand for longer than a few minutes, daydream, never get started, never finish a task, cannot contain themselves. They just have to get up and share some very important part of their lives right now. As a result, classroom interactions are tinged with peer disapproval from a number of children who see it as their right to ostracize, to bully, to ignore and to hurt this child. Others see the child with ADHD as a kindred spirit, someone who can lead the pack to greater feats of mischief and mayhem – and conveniently, have someone who will be the fall-guy.

Looking at the social content of their lives, most children with ADHD are not wise when it comes to choosing friends. Social encounters are a disaster zone of broken toys, unpacked cupboards, destroyed flowerbeds and abandoned bicycles. To the ADHD mind, they have had a wonderful activity filled day. The result – we won't be inviting that kid back in a hurry.

Others with ADHD are dreamers They are not hyperactive but struggle to pay attention They are on their own mission, on a planet far away from the classroom, the sports field, the art centre. Their inability to focus for more than a few minutes lets them drift quietly out of sight making it difficult for them to learn.

Some are able to hyper-focus and will spend hours focusing on one task – the challenge of getting to the top level of the computer or play station game, the need to watch TV even though the whole house is in chaos around them. For many of this group, life just passes them by. They are never organized, never have their things ready, always lose their clothes and shoes and socks.

As the children with ADHD get older the social quality of their life takes them on the butterfly journey. They flit, trying to fit in and not quite making the grade. For some, the exuberance of teenage life allows them to once again come into their own. Others become more isolated; sometimes they find a few good friends who cherish their honesty, their openness, their loyalty. Many struggle to fit in. They become the outcast not easily understood by their peers and labeled by the adult community as “that child”. This results in them still desperately searching for a sense of place, of belonging in an increasingly hostile world. They are the graffiti writers of the world, the angry fringe element who really do not want to be at odds but see their activities as a way of striking back at the unkindness of the world around them.

The biggest question is how do we help and understand those with ADHD? What can we do to make life easier for them?

Start by looking at ourselves and our attitude. Are we willing to make a change of attitude in our own minds? If we call these children naughty, badly behaved, distractible, lacking in concentration – what else can they do but play up to the expectation. The challenge is to look beyond the face and the behaviour patterns and see the child crying for help and understanding.

Put yourself in their shoes and look around their classroom. Ask yourself – as I sit here, how busy are the walls, the floor, the display boards, and the front of the class. Bright colours, lots of pictures and a board full of information lead to an information and sensory overload. I cannot cope so I just shut down. Where am I sitting – at the back with all those bobbing heads to look over, at the side – wonder what's happening in the corridor, on the field, outside? Am I sitting near someone else – sharing a desk is hard – that kid moves, takes my things, touches my side of the desk. So much to do, so little time.

Another theory has it that we are emasculating our boy children in the modern classroom. Girls are bred and are developmentally more able to be verbal, controlled, focused. Boys are bred for big and noisy and loud and active – then we lock them into a classroom and expect them to behave like girls.

Are we being fair to ADHD children or do we just need to medicate them into submission? Perhaps we need to also be realistic about medication – it is there for a purpose, a last resort once we have tried the diet modification, the parent training, the discipline and routine needed discussions.

But back in the classroom and work place – what do we do? Contracts and agreements work, as do shorter, more organized and focused bits of work with regular report backs. A discussion and agreement worked out quietly and with mutual respect. This is what ADHDers need. In return they expect small rewards, often given. A smile, a touch on the arm, the acknowledgement of “you are doing well” …

ADHD is here to stay. It is a condition which is easily understood and can be well managed by the person who cares, who makes the effort to understand and who ensures that they see the person for who they truly are. Today is ADHD Awareness. Be aware of ADHD. Be aware of those around you that need your respect, love and care. Be sensitive to the needs of the ADHD person and help them to also have a positive and fruitful life.

Attention Deficit & Hyperactivity Association of South AfricaThe mission of ADHASA is to raise awareness, provide information and understanding through holistic, practical support to those affected by ADHD.
For more resources and information regarding ADHD or to join the ADHASA, please visit the website