I recently read a guest opinion in the Boulder Daily Camera entitled The misnamed ADHD is not over-diagnosed that discussed the misconception that a person diagnosed with ADHD simply cannot pay attention. Veteran Boulder psychologist Bob Hopper, author of the guest opinion, noted that research has long demonstrated that people with ADHD can, in fact, exhibit concentrated focus when they are engaged by the activity or the topic. Not only is ADHD not over-diagnosed, but is actually under-diagnosed in girls and adults, particularly women, because of the lack of understanding that ADHD presents differently in females, much like many other conditions.
I felt compelled to respond to Dr. Hoppers opinion, because he voiced something that I completely agree with. ADHD is, indeed, misnamed. ADHD is not the inability to pay attention, it is the unregulated ability to pay attention. Simply put, the parts of the brain that are responsible for intentionally focusing on something are “sleepy,” which is why people with ADHD can focus on things that are of interest to them. There are those, lacking a strong understanding of the nature of ADHD, who will observe a child or an adult deeply engrossed in an activity and draw the inaccurate conclusion that the person being observed “doesn’t really have ADHD–it’s just an excuse for lack of discipline or for simply not wanting to do some things.”
Dr. Hopper notes in his article that people with ADHD are interest-based learners, easily engaged in material or topics that are compelling to them. He notes that this learning style successfully responds to four qualities: newness, interest, challenge, and urgency, and provides several examples of people, with whom we are all familiar, who fit this description: Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison. As an adult with ADHD, I see this principle in action not only in myself, but also in my daughter and other children with ADHD with whom I interact with on a regular basis. School systems that use these principles to drive education reach and teach not only students with ADHD, but all students. Where are these school districts? Few and far between. I know of two: Meade School District in South Dakota, and Boulder Valley School District (BVSD). Fortunately, my daughter attends Lafayette Elementary School in BVSD, and I am incredibly thankful for the teachers and staff in this school. The care and respect with which they treat their students is profound, and the difference they make is stunning. I cannot fathom why this isn’t the norm across the country. Dr. Hopper comments in his article that students with adhd child are like square pegs being forced into round holes, forced to try to fit a one-size-fits-all mold that obviously does not work, yet education still tries to ride that dead horse. The concept of tailoring education to meet learning style is not foreign; I experienced it and even had to study it when working on my masters, and experienced it while working for Corporate America as well. Why do we appreciate this concept when referring to adult learning, yet cannot seem to grasp its importance when educating children?
As a final note, I would like to address medication for a moment. When my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD, I was loathe to put her on anything; however, it was clear that ADHD was interfering with her ability to learn reading skills, so I chose to try it. It worked, meaning that it increased her focus enough for her to learn the skills she needs to. Medication did not cure her, and it did not alleviate other ADHD characteristics. It simply allowed her to focus enough to learn. The end. I am on the same medication as she is, and I experience the same results. It helps me focus enough to get work done, and to actually comprehend what I read. Period. Management of ADHD is a lot more involved for me and my daughter than simply taking our pill in the morning. We both exercise, we both avoid certain foods and concentrate on others, we both need various organizing and time management tools, and we both are learning meditation and mindfulness, as well as techniques to manage stress and anxiety. ADHD requires daily management, and without medication, this would simply be impossible. Medication puts our minds in a place where everything else can happen.