What is it like to race down a hill on a bike, and get so side-tracked with all the distractions along the way that you don’t even notice the pot hole in front of you? That’s what oftentimes happens with those that struggle with attentional and hyperactivity problems. Those racing brains spill out loads of information, but with an undeveloped filtering system to organize the data overload. If our brains don’t filter out all the sensory input it takes in, we are left with a whole host of intruding thoughts that we don’t know what to do with.
ADD/ADHD is one of the most common mental disorders in children today. According to a 2018 study from the American Medical Association, the prevalence of ADHD in U.S. children and adolescents has increased from 6.1 percent in 1997 to 10.2 percent in 2016. Most children outgrow the symptoms with improved brain development, but approximately 4% adults also maintain symptoms. There are at least two primary attentional problems; including:
- Attentional Problems: Those that simply have difficulty sustaining attention, making careless mistakes, being disorganized, having difficulty listening to others and following instructions, completing tasks in a timely manner or that require sustained effort, are forgetful and are easily distracted. Possibly these individuals react to this over-load by retracting within themselves as a coping mechanism.
- Hyperactivity/Impulsivity Problems: Those that struggle with excessive hyperactivity, including restlessness and being intrusively fidgety, difficulty being patient or playing quietly, speaking out of turn or interrupting frequently, is oftentimes “on the go” as if driven by a motor, and have difficulty taking turns. Oftentimes, those struggling with hyperactivity also have difficulty managing their impulses. For example, they oftentimes engage in activities without thinking or considering the consequences, putting themselves at risk. Possibly these individuals react to over-stimulation by expelling it out of themselves.
The causes of ADHD are unknown. Researchers say several things may lead to it, including a family predisposition, a chemical imbalance, slowed development in 5 parts of the brain that control attention, brain changes or developmental problems during pregnancy (e.g., poor nutrition, smoking, drinking, substance abuse), etc.
There are multiple treatment efforts made to help those struggling with attentional problems, including behavioral therapy for children and parents, pharmacological therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, ADHD coaching, symptom control treatment, making accommodations, etc. Unfortunately, if left untreated, those with attentional problems are more at risk of having self-esteem problems, behavioral problems, poor performance at school, troubled relationships; and as adults, substance abuse and legal problems.
It is important to recognize that the behavior, not the person, is the problem. These individuals, just like everyone else, respond poorly to being judged, avoided or punished. Guiding those suffering with this brain disorder is crucial to helping them improve.
Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW