• Mental Health Focus: ADHD, Misconception vs. Fact

    The Mental Health Program at Nutley Family Service Bureau (NFSB) provides counseling and psychiatric services for individuals and families. New clients are welcome and immediate in-person and telehealth appointments are available. This article is part of an ongoing educational series focused on common mental health challenges, treatment techniques, and helpful tips.

    Did you know “ADHD symptoms” is the most Googled mental health concern in the nation, according to a study from RegisteredNursing.org? The most recent research data from the CDC estimates that about 6 million children ages 3-17, or 9.8 percent of children in this age group, have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

    Although ADHD is fairly common, ADHD tends to be misunderstood. Let’s discuss what ADHD is, misconceptions about ADHD, common symptoms, and what you can do to help your child reach their full potential!

    What is ADHD?

    ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that starts in childhood and can continue into adulthood. Differences in brain development and activity affect a person’s focus or attention in different ways.

    Most people associate ADHD with hyperactive-impulsive presentation, which typically involves excessive movements, restlessness, and impulsiveness. For example, a child could be having difficulty staying in their seat and waiting their turn in school. However, this is just one type of ADHD.

    “On the flip side is predominantly inattentive ADHD, which is often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed,” said Brandon Lee, LSW, mental health clinician at NFSB. “The child could be inattentive but do their homework and stay quiet. They may do well in school and they’re not disruptive, so they’re often passed through the school system without any treatment for ADHD.”

    There is also combined presentation, which includes symptoms of both hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive. This is the most common type of ADHD.

    What are common misconceptions about ADHD?

    You may know someone with ADHD who is very different from you or your child. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have ADHD. Because there are several types, ADHD can present in many different ways. Although ADHD can be very challenging, people with ADHD can and do lead very successful, fulfilling lives. Of course, that doesn’t mean ADHD will just go away on its own.

    “Many students with ADHD are incredibly intelligent,” Brandon said. “ADHD is not a disorder of intelligence. It’s more about executive functioning – focus, planning and prioritizing tasks, managing time, and getting things done on time. A child with ADHD may succeed in school when there is a structure in place, but they may struggle in college or at work because of the lack of structure. In this case, they may not be diagnosed until their 20s, 30s, or 40s.”

    Unfortunately, ADHD is often dismissed as laziness, which can lead to internalization in children. This is one reason why rejection sensitivity dysphoria (RSD) is so prevalent in people with ADHD. They feel like they can’t do anything correctly. Similarly, parents are sometimes blamed for not providing inadequate discipline. ADHD is believed to be caused by genetics and environmental factors, but parenting has never been proven to cause ADHD.

    What are common symptoms of ADHD?

    ADHD symptoms depend on the type. For inattentive ADHD, symptoms include but are not limited to:

    • Difficulty paying attention or focusing.
    • Carelessness in schoolwork and behavior.
    • Incomplete schoolwork, tasks, and job functions.
    • Not paying attention when spoken to.
    • Difficulty following instructions or getting organized.
    • Aversion to tasks that required mental effort for a prolonged period.
    • Losing things required to complete tasks and participate in activities.
    • Easily distracted and forgetful.

    Symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity ADHD include but are not limited to:

    • Restlessness, fidgeting, and squirming in one’s seat.
    • Leaving one’s seat.
    • Running and climbing when and where inappropriate.
    • Difficulty remaining quiet, talking excessively, and interrupting.
    • Difficulty waiting one’s turn.
    • Engaging in risky and potentially harmful activities.

    What should you do if you suspect your child has ADHD?

    The action you take as a parent depends on the age of your child.

    “For a child in preschool, ADHD can look like many different things, so it’s a good idea to see a developmental psychiatrist or neurologist,” Brandon said. “For a child in elementary school, evaluations can be handled through the school. Schools typically have a child study team and can recommend professionals who evaluate children for ADHD. Accommodations can then be made based on that evaluation.”

    Again, ADHD is not an intelligence condition. For example, a student with ADHD might need more time to complete a test or assignment. In some cases, a doctor may recommend safe medication, which does not increase the risk of addiction or change the child’s personality when taken as prescribed.

    For adults with ADHD, the focus shifts from development to understanding how ADHD affects work, home, and relationships and applying coping skills. Because the frontal temporal lobe is fully developed, there is more openness to medication for adults.

    ADHD Coping Skills that You Can Try on Your Own

    Organization and task management can be improved with very simple, practical steps. For example, a smartphone calendar or sticky notes of different colors can be used as reminders or affirmations. The ADHD brain does a great job noticing patterns, so changing the color of the sticky note and the marker can be helpful at maintaining interest.

    “Many people have big chunks of unscheduled time,” Brandon said. “For someone with ADHD, it can be easy to lose track of what needs to be done. They can set aside a certain amount of time to complete tasks at school, home, or work. There’s a delicate balance between structure and flexibility depending on the individual.”

    How Counseling Can Help Someone with ADHD

    Counseling can help each individual figure out what process, coping mechanisms, and timeline work best for them without judgment or pressure.

    “Counseling allows us to dive into your day and experiment with different strategies,” Brandon said. “You’ll learn to meet yourself where you are. As you learn about yourself, you can apply what you learn to all areas of life – school, home, work, and social situations. Instead of comparing yourself to others or feeling self-conscious, you’ll gain more awareness of yourself and choose a path that puts you in a position to succeed.”

    If you or your child is showing symptoms of ADHD, we’re here to help. Schedule an appointment at NFSB. New clients are welcome and immediate in-person and telehealth appointments are available. English- and Spanish-speaking counselors are ready to help and we’ll always respect your privacy. Call 973-667-1884 extension 1.

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