ADHD: understanding the disorder and the confusion
Updated: Jun 14
With Andrew Laming’s recent diagnosis, ADHD has becoming an interesting talking point with many Australians. ADHD is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder and estimated to affect 4.2% of Australian children. Without understanding the disorder, people living with ADHD can be misunderstood as rude and disruptive. But, there is a difference between shitty actions and someone living with undiagnosed ADHD.
What is ADHD?
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and can be sorted into three types. Firstly, the inattentive type, which sees behaviours like being easily distracted and having difficulty concentrating and organising. Secondly, there is hyperactive/impulsive type, which is characterised as being restless, constantly moving and talking, and commonly a disruption in a classroom. Lastly, combined type, meaning symptoms are from both the inattentive and the hyperactive/impulsive. Most children display combined ADHD, with the most common symptom being hyperactivity. It’s important to note, just because you can’t concentrate on reading that book that’s been on your bedside table for 6 months, it doesn’t mean you have ADHD. People with ADHD demonstrate a persistent pattern of inattentive and/or hyperactivity symptoms in which, if left untreated, can interfere with that person’s life and relationships.
Research has found ADHD to occur within families of a person with ADHD. It is thought that certain genes you inherit from your parents could be a significant factor in developing ADHD. However, the inheritance pattern is not well understood and is hypothesised to be the result of multiple genetic faults. Meaning, it’s not just one gene fault causing ADHD. Many studies have looked at the difference in brains from people with ADHD and people without. Brain scans demonstrated some parts of the brain are bigger in people with ADHD, while other areas are smaller. Other studies have examined neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers of the brain) and found a neurotransmitter imbalance or that the neurotransmitters aren’t working properly. Overall, the mechanisms of ADHD still require extensive research.
How is ADHD diagnosed?
Because there is no one gene responsible in those with ADHD, no biological tests can be used to diagnose. A trained healthcare provider will use an evaluation-style test to diagnose. To be diagnosed with ADHD, the person must have several symptoms present before the age of 12 and have a certain number of symptoms (depending on the medical classification system used) from inattentive and/or hyperactive types. The diagnosis also requires the person to have the symptoms present in at least two different settings and evidence that the symptoms interfere with normal functioning in these settings. ADHD diagnosis can also co-occur with other mental disorders, with 64% of children with ADHD having another disorder, according to a 2016 study.
What about adults with late diagnosis?
ADHD starts in childhood, but sometimes a person is not diagnosed until they reach adulthood. Symptoms of ADHD often look very different in adults than in children. A lot of behaviours in children can be considered inappropriate for adults. Because the person has lived with ADHD for so long, it’s common to create coping strategies in order to not be inappropriate. For example, hyperactivity in children can be demonstrated in getting up in class and running around the classroom. This would be considered odd in adults and thus adults are more likely to fidget with their hands and feet while sitting. Late diagnosis is caused by the disorder not being diagnosed in childhood. This could happen for many reasons, including the masking of symptoms or a misdiagnosis.
Treatment for ADHD can include behavioural therapy and/or medication, as well as other things such as diet and exercise. Behavioural therapy is most effective in young children and works to reinforce good behaviours and decrease problem behaviours. The therapy praises small steps toward good behaviour. For example, raising a hand but still blurting out the answer to eventually waiting to be called upon before answering. A survey in 2014 found 6/10 children with ADHD received some type of behavioural treatment and 9/10 received school support.
Stimulants are used as medication for ADHD, with some common brands being Ritalin and Adderall. Medication isn’t recommended for young children normally and is only used in severe cases. ADHD medication work by targeting the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, in which influence attention and concentration. The medication work by increasing neurotransmitter levels, giving the brain time to absorb the neurotransmitters effectively. This increased communication of the brain causes increased concentration, less hyperactivity and allows the person to pay attention to boring tasks easier. Stimulant ADHD medication can either be short term (working for around 4 hours) or long term (staying in the body up to 12 hours). Long term medications are more helpful for kids or adults with a long school or work day ahead of them.
MP Andrew Laming has recently been diagnosed with ADHD. This diagnosis followed recent scandals involving a photo taken by Dr Laming of a woman bending over at work. While the police found there was no case under the law, Dr Laming was sent off for empathy training. He came back with a surprise diagnosis of ADHD and medication he says changed his life. Dr Laming (yes, that type of doctor) had no idea ADHD was an adult condition and was surprised of his diagnosis result. Whilst Laming says this diagnosis is no excuse, many of his colleagues were happy to realise “why Andrew Laming is a dickhead”, according to news.com.au. We need to remember ADHD affects behaviours, such as impulsiveness and inattentiveness. I don’t seem to see any ADHD symptoms including “harassing women” weirdly enough! Looking at Laming’s behaviour and the diagnosis from his doctor, there is no reason to doubt his diagnosis. But, it is reasonable to feel uncomfortable at the timing. So, if Laming is suggesting his erratic behaviour is an excuse for his inappropriate behaviour, we better not see any more slip ups now he’s on the proper meds!
ADHD affects many Australians and with proper treatment, people with ADHD are able to live without their disorder interfering. Unfortunately, being a dickhead isn’t a symptom and can’t be cured with medication! Otherwise, I’m sure parliament would be filled with prescriptions.