Aunt Agatha Advocates: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Written by: Liew Yi Xuan (21-E1), Harel Tan (21-I2), Eliora Tan (21-E5), Carissa Aletha Liem (21-I1), Jachin Khoo (21-U5), Leanne Soh (21-E6) 

Designed by: Liew Yi Xuan (21-E1)

Introduction: What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or more commonly known as ADHD, is the most common psychiatric condition amongst youth seen at the Children Guidance Clinic in Singapore, with community studies finding the prevalence of ADHD to be between 1.7% and 16%. ADHD can be primarily classified by a predominantly inattentive type, where people have extreme difficulty focusing or following instructions, or predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type, where they show hyperactive or impulsive behaviour. However, most exhibit a combination of both. Some common symptoms include having trouble focusing or concentrating on tasks, having difficulty sitting still, interrupting others while they’re talking or being forgetful about completing tasks.

How do people with ADHD cope?

There are a few ways people can cope with ADHD. For one, some people with ADHD use exercise as a coping mechanism for ADHD. Apart from acting as an outlet of excess energy in ADHD patients, exercise could also act as a temporary distraction from stress and can improve one’s mood. During exercise, neurotransmitters, including dopamine, are released in the brain which help with attention and clear thinking. Stimulant drugs that are used to treat ADHD also increase the levels of dopamine in patients, as such exercising regularly actually achieves the same effect as stimulant drugs. 

Some ADHD patients also adjust their diet to reduce the severity of their symptoms. For example, instead of having 1 heavy meal, some ADHD patients opt to have multiple smaller meals spread out throughout the day. ADHD patients also regulate their sugar and caffeine intake as eating excessive amounts of sugary or caffeinated foods will exacerbate their hyperactivity during the day. Some ADHD patients choose to eat healthier foods like fiber-rich and wholegrains as it will not cause a sudden spike in energy levels which will worsen their ADHD symptoms.  

To stay on task, some ADHD patients choose to write a ‘to-do’ list in their daily planner. The planner acts as a memory prompt and an organising aid which alleviates typical ADHD symptoms like impulsivity, procrastination and shorter attention span. Younger ADHD patients have also used fidget spinners to distract themselves and increase their level of focus especially in school. 

Myths about ADHD

It is commonly mistaken that ADHD only occurs in males, which stems from the fact that the disorder is more often overlooked in females and thus remains undiagnosed. While the chances of males getting ADHD is double that of females, there is also a possibility that females have ADHD.

The problems that arise with ADHD are also usually undermined and people have the perceived notion that it is not a real medical condition and ‘isn’t that serious’. However, the fact of the matter is that the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Psychiatric Association all recognize ADHD as a medical condition.

People who are diagnosed with the disorder have a hard time trying to focus on tasks (Inattentive type) or have difficulty staying seated in situations (Hyperactive type), causing disruption in their lives which may lead to dropping out of school. These adverse impacts show that ADHD is in fact serious and should not be taken lightly.

What should we not do or say around them?

Approaching people with ADHD might be daunting to some, as we do not want to unintentionally offend them with our actions or words. To avoid this, we must be able to put ourselves in their shoes, think twice before speaking and know what comments not to make. 

One statement that should not be said is “Everyone has a little ADHD, it’s not that big of a deal.” Of course, everyone does experience forgetfulness or having some difficulty paying attention every once in a while, but this does not equate to having ADHD. One must remember that short attention spans are not a casual issue but something that ADHD patients struggle with on a daily basis, and that letting our occasional experiences invalidate this is extremely insensitive and hurtful. 

The comment “you are just lazy.” also undermines the amount of effort people with ADHD put into completing simple tasks. The symptoms of the disorder include disinterest, disorganisation, and a lack of motivation (unless the activity is something they truly enjoy), which may be mistaken for laziness. Thus, we need to understand that people with ADHD experience extra challenges just trying to keep organised and on track. 

If conflicts arise, try to view it from their perspective. Do not jump to conclusions, but instead remain calm and try to empathise with them. Listen with all ears and an open mind, and let them talk without being interrupted, asking them to do the same for yourself after.

Ways to support them

What can we do to support someone with ADHD? Firstly, we have to try and see things from their perspective. ADHD causes constant stress and seemingly menial or everyday tasks can be overwhelming for them. Thus, people with ADHD tend to lose their temper more easily or be more prone to forgetting things. Instead of being judgemental or losing our patience, we should avoid being critical and understand that they might need extra support. 

We can start by being active listeners and instead of micromanaging them, we should first clarify and ask what we can do to help. We can also acknowledge their strengths and understand that there is much more to them beyond this disability. Many people with ADHD also have low self-esteem and crippling feelings of inferiority, stemming from how other people tend to treat them. Thus, instead of labelling them as incompetent or irresponsible, we should help them by providing clearer instructions or breaking things down into smaller, more manageable parts. 

We should also try to separate their characters from their disability. This means that instead of associating the symptoms of ADHD as their personality, we should understand that these traits are just symptoms of a disability that they have no way of controlling. This allows us to empathise and form a deeper understanding with them, making them feel more validated or heard. To fully support someone with ADHD, we have to educate ourselves on the condition and try our best to understand the struggles they might be facing. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is important to educate ourselves about mental health disorders like ADHD. This helps to prevent misconceptions arising from lack of knowledge, leading to unnecessary conflict and stigmatisation against those suffering from ADHD. In addition, knowing the dos and don’ts when around those suffering from ADHD can help them to feel more welcomed and accepted by society, and showing understanding of these behaviours also helps to alleviate the stress they face in day-to-day interactions. We can work towards reducing mental health stigma in our society by first educating ourselves, and being empathetic towards the needs of those who are more vulnerable. 

References: 

  1. 8 Common Myths About ADHD. (n.d.). http://www.understood.org. https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/add-adhd/common-myths-about-adhd 
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2019, September 27). Causes of ADHD: What We Know Today. HealthyChildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/adhd/Pages/Causes-of-ADHD.aspx 
  3. Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Children. (2019). John Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/adhdadd 
  4. BCI Study – Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Www.imh.com.sg. https://www.imh.com.sg/research/page.aspx?id=894#:~:text=Attention%20Deficit%20Hyperactivity%20Disorder%20(ADHD)%20is%20the%20most%20common%20psychiatric 
  5. Debunking 5 Common Misconceptions About ADHD. (2019, May 28). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/adhd-myths-debunked 
  6. How You Should Not Treat Someone Diagnosed With ADHD. (n.d.). Verywell Mind. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from  https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-adhd-correcting-myths-about-adhd-20456 
  7. Melinda. (2019). HelpGuide.org. HelpGuide.org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/add-adhd/adult-adhd-attention-deficit-disorder-and-relationships.htm 

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