Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), once thought to be the fault of lousy parents or a conspiracy propagated by drug companies, is a brain-based disorder, and quite the disorderly disorder it can be.
The part of the brain affected is called the prefrontal cortex, which lies directly behind the forehead. It is responsible for “executive functioning,” which includes attention, planning, problem solving, decision-making, and reasoning. Trouble with executive functioning translates into two groups of symptoms:
Group #1: Inattention. Symptoms like disorganization, messiness, forgetfulness, and losing things drive parents of inattentive kids and partners of inattentive adults up the wall. Other signs include not paying attention to details, distractibility, spacing out, daydreaming, not following through, and trouble focusing on tedious tasks. Also difficult for an individual with inattention is prioritizing what’s happening around them. For example, for a kid with ADHD, the TV in the background and the garbage truck outside seem just as important as the homework in front of them. Individuals with these symptoms are said to have ADHD Predominately Inattentive Type, which is the most common type among girls.
Group #2: Hyperactivity and impulsivity. Picture the arms-and-legs tornado of the Looney Toons Tasmanian Devil, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. Hyperactive kids seem to have a motor—they are often in constant motion, touch everything, and have a hard time waiting their turn. They also have a motormouth—talking a blue streak, blurting out answers, and interrupting. Hyperactive adults often feel restless, have a hard time sitting at a desk or in a meeting, and may find themselves making impulsive purchases, repeatedly starting and abandoning projects, being chronically late, or having trouble controlling anger. Individuals with these symptoms have ADHD of the Predominately Hyperactive-Impulsive Type.
Then there are the kids and adults who have both sets of symptoms. This is called ADHD Combined Type and is the most common variation.
An interesting symptom that doesn’t get much…um…attention is hyperfocus. Despite its name, ADHD may not be a “deficit” of attention at all, but rather an inability to regulate attention. On a spectrum of attention, let’s call one end The Disco Ball, where attention is scattered and boring tasks are quickly abandoned. We’ll call the other end The Laser Beam. When a task is interesting or stimulating, focus becomes intense, sustained, and shifting to another task is difficult. You can think of hyperfocus as Attention Surplus Disorder, as it were. Folks with ADHD move from The Disco Ball to The Laser Beam without much in between.... Read Full Article