ADHD is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

As parents we instinctively know when our child is developing differently to their peers.

If this is you, read on…
We’ll discuss ADHD symptoms, brain chemistry, contributing factors and how to view these ‘symptoms’ as positives so you can decide on your next steps.
Unfortunately ‘deficit’ and ‘disorder’ carry negative connotations and many people think that individuals with ADHD are also always hyperactive.
It’s important to stay positive and acknowledge the many strengths that come with ADHD, while navigating the challenges

Introduction to ADHD

  • ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
  • ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition meaning there is brain dysregulation affecting a child’s development.
  • ADHD does not influence intelligence.
  • ADHD is a controversial condition that comes under a lot of scrutiny.  Some question it’s existence or argue it’s caused by lack of motivation, willpower or bad parenting – none of which are true.
  • ADHD is a condition characterised by persistent and developmentally inappropriate levels of over activity, inattention and impulsivity, which can continue into adulthood.
  • With between 6-9% of school-aged children in Australia and New Zealand diagnosed with ADHD, it is the most common psychiatric condition in young people.
  • The incidence has risen over the years due to increased awareness together with an actual increase in the condition.
  • ADHD not only affects the learning ability of children but can often also create more stress within families and interpersonal relationships.

Did you know there are different types of ADHD – not only the hyperactive type?

  • Inattentive
  • Hyperactive
  • Combined type

Confusion often arises as people often refer to the inattentive presentation as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). However, since 1994, the official term covering ALL THREE presentations is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – confusing right? For the sake of correctness the term ADHD is used throughout this website.
  • Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes
  • Has difficulty sustaining attention
  • Does not appear to listen
  • Struggles to follow through on instructions
  • Has difficulty with organisation
  • Avoids or dislikes tasks requiring a lot of thinking
  • Loses things
  • Is easily distracted
  • Is forgetful in daily activities
  • Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in chair
  • Has difficulty remaining seated
  • Runs about or climbs excessively (in children)
  • Extreme restlessness in adults
  • Difficulty engaging in activities quietly
  • Acts as if driven by a motor
  • Talks excessively
  • Blurts out answers before questions have been completed
  • Difficulty waiting or taking turns
  • Interrupts or intrudes upon others
  • Has symptoms from both of the above presentations

Each child with an ADHD diagnosis is unique, and with hundreds of possible combinations of these symptoms it means each individual child’s ADHD will present in many different ways.
ADHD is a complex combination of brain chemistry and genetics affecting the dopamine transporter gene and its receptors, which affects the brain by causing it to react differently to stimulation.

To understand how various ADHD treatments work you need to know a few brain chemistry basics.

  • Our brain is an extensive communication network
  • Millions of messages are sent from one brain cell (neuron) to the next
  • Between each neuron is a gap (synapse)
  • The synapse is filled with chemical messengers (neurotransmitters)
  • Each neurotransmitter is responsible for a different function
  • There must be enough neurotransmitters in the synapse for efficient messages
  • Dopamine and norepinephrine are responsible for executive functioning
  • In ADHD dopamine and norepinephrine are not working as they should
  • Other mental health conditions rely on neurotransmitters such as serotonin
  • Neurotransmitters are constantly created within our brain & our gut
  • Neurotransmitters are synthesised from nutrients - amino acids, vitamins & minerals
  • Deficiencies in building blocks for neurotransmitters cause cognitive problems
  • Advances in neuroscience and epigenetics has made us aware of the impact of nutrients on gene expression

In fMRI scans, altered blood flow to certain areas of the brains of people with ADHD, compared to those without, can be seen. A decrease in blood flow indicates decreased brain activity in that area. There is a decrease in blood flow to the pre-frontal cortex in people with ADHD.

The pre-frontal cortex is the area of the brain that is responsible for executive functions such as planning, organising, paying attention, memory, making choices between right and wrong, predicting the probable outcomes of actions or events as well as regulating short-term and long-term decision making.
Bearing in mind all of the above, it becomes clear why people with ADHD have the challenges they do.

To view ADHD positively, flip the symptoms on their head and view these “symptoms” as positive traits!

  • Thrives in situations of chaos – calm under pressure
  • Creative
  • Non-linear thinker
  • Notices things others miss
  • Adventurous spirit
  • High energy
  • A capacity for hyper focus in areas of passion
  • Rapid decision-making skills
  • Excellent debating skills
  • Great verbal skills
  • Sensitive
  • Doesn’t follow the pack

This list reads like the criteria for an entrepreneur or innovative business leader!

As long as we can teach children the skills to master their particular traits they can thrive with ADHD!

In a different time and place, for example when humans were hunter-gatherers, the traits of people with ADHD would have been highly valued.

In today’s information-based society we place a higher value on sedentary skills than we do on more hands-on tasks. It has only been a little over 100 years since children have been expected to attend school – to sit still and passively learn information that may or may not interest them.

An ADHD brain has a very low boredom threshold and finds it hard to pay attention to the mundane, routine or boring.

Society may be on the cusp of changing again – knowledge is easy to attain via technology – the challenge now is to create a generation of problem-solvers. Those ADHD traits – the out of the box thinkers, those who push the boundaries of what’s thought possible, those who refuse to accept the restrictions of the status quo and thought leaders – may become highly valuable to our society.

The exact causes for ADHD are unknown.
Some of the factors listed below may not be a ‘cause’ of ADHD but can be a contributing factor to symptoms.

  • Heredity – most children with ADHD usually have at least one close relative who also has ADHD and around a third of fathers who reported ADHD symptoms in childhood have children with ADHD.
  • Genetics – Multiple genes, which involve specific neurotransmitter receptors or transporters, have been identified showing a possible reason for the heredity factor.
  • Gender – ADHD is diagnosed more frequently in boys than girls. The ratio is 4:1. However, girls are notoriously under-diagnosed.
  • Cognitive difficulties – those with learning disabilities, speech & language difficulties, Tourette’s Syndrome etc are more likely to also have ADHD.
  • Those with Anxiety or Depression may be more likely to have undiagnosed ADHD – or it can be wrongly diagnosed.
  • Digestive disorders – there is growing evidence that in some children brain dysfunction occurs because the gut-brain axis has been affected by food constituents or toxicity.
  • Environmental toxins – exposure to lead, mercury, aluminium and other toxic metals, which are neurotoxic, are therefore linked to neuro-behavioural conditions.
  • Nutrition – food intolerances or allergies can affect behaviour.
  • Nutrient imbalances – deficiencies of some nutrients such as magnesium or B vitamins affect methylation cycles and as a result behaviour. Conversely too much copper could cause aggressive behaviour.
  • Biochemical imbalances of neurotransmitters.
  • Poor diet – including blood sugar imbalances.
  • Maternal health – drug, alcohol, cigarette use during pregnancy and in-utero exposure to environmental toxins or maternal nutrient deficiencies/ imbalances.
  • Hormonal or thyroid imbalances.
  • Infections.
  • Psychosocial stressors or traumas in early life.
  • Traumatic brain injury.

If you think your child might have ADHD according the criteria above...

1. Read - Conditions that Mimic ADHD

2. Read - Getting a Diagnosis

3. Use the ADHD Directory to help you find a practitioner to help you with your next steps.

4. Read about ADHD Treatments

If you live in and around Sydney’s Northern Beaches please come along to one of our monthly ADHD speaker evenings to increase your knowledge.

You can find more information or book one of our events here.

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