ADHD: Visibility and Research
October is a month that is near and dear to my heart – and not just because I get to dress my dogs up in adorable costumes or because it’s the time of year to sit around the fire while roasting marshmallows and sipping on hot spiced apple cider with a cinnamon stick in it (although I do very much enjoy those things).
October is near and dear to me because it’s ADHD awareness month!
It’s a time to acknowledge all of the progress made in ADHD research, education and advocacy and to recognize what we still don’t know about it.
Of course - I think that raising ADHD awareness should be an all the time thing (and in my life, it kind of is because I talk about it A LOT). Still, it’s nice to have a dedicated month to reflect and see where we are and where we’re going.
The good news is that the research shows the earlier we are able to identify ADHD and provide interventions, the more effective and successful the outcomes are. That makes sense, right? Each of our brain’s ability to change in response to different experiences is much higher in early childhood when our brain is more “plastic” and receptive to modifications.
As a clinician, it is both rewarding and heart-rending to support an adult client going through the process of getting diagnosed and helping them to make sense of it. The process can be emotional and quite literally life-changing – discovering explanations for a lifetime of negative feelings and behaviors that others could not identify with. That is why ADHD awareness is SO important to me – because there are so many children and adults who continue to struggle with both diagnosed and undiagnosed ADHD, and the timeline for diagnosis needs to change.
As I’ve explored in earlier blogs, women tend to be underdiagnosed compared to men –not because ADHD affects fewer women but because it tends to affect women and girls differently than it does men and boys. In women and girls, symptoms tend to be expressed in more subtle ways making it more difficult to identify.
Often, it is not until girls become women that they are diagnosed which can make treatment more complex given a lifetime of difficulty as a result of their ADHD symptoms. Luckily, things are changing as more research and attention are given to the diagnosis in women (and adults, in general).
However, the older a person gets, the more difficult treatment can be - with the appearance of other psychiatric disorders, poor academic performance, behavioral issues, and troubled relationships with family and friends (not to mention all of negative feedback that go along with all of that). Studies have found that as people with undiagnosed or poorly managed ADHD grow into adults, their self-esteem and sense of self-worth tends to drop over time because of mounting criticism and challenging life experiences.
It’s important for everyone, especially clinicians, to be familiar with the symptoms and to also know that ADHD can be managed – most successfully with a combination of medication and therapy.
This month is also about working to shatter the stigma surrounding ADHD. Research shows that the most effective way to break the stigma is by personally knowing someone who has it (and chances are that you probably do). It's so easy to sit there (or stand up – however you fancy) and say that ADHD is not real (grrr) or is caused by bad parenting (double grrr) when you have ZERO experience with it.
We need to learn to become more comfortable talking about it and telling people, "I have ADHD," or "My best friend/member has ADHD." It is only when we own it and stop hiding that the stigma will start to disappear. Can I get an Amen?