Certainly, the majority of adolescents and adults have heard the term ADHD and most have at least a basic understanding of the meaning of this acronym, which means Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Yet ADHD, which is a neurodevelopmental disorder, is often mischaracterized as a simple problem with one’s ability to pay attention or stay in one’s lane.
While this can be correct, it is oversimplifying a rather complex disorder. Individuals with ADHD often will share just how their struggles penetrate almost every area of their life. ADHD affects approximately 10% of school-age children and often persists into adulthood for 75% of those individuals (although hyperactivity may lessen as one matures). So how does ADHD result in a multi-faceted impact on an individual’s life? Let’s take a look.
Academics/Vocation: It is no surprise to consider how one’s challenges with inattention, impulse control, or activity level could impact learning and work performance. Examples include:
- Learning new information by paying attention- If one cannot sustain attention to the teacher or supervisor, he/she is at a significant disadvantage to make progress either in school or vocationally.
- Putting on the brakes (e.g., impulse control)- This allows one to double-check work such as math computation or a work project for errors.
- Inability to sit still or feeling of restlessness- It will be difficult to sit and learn/complete work.
Statistics indicate those with ADHD are more likely to have inconsistent work performance throughout their educational and work history.
Social: Interacting with others taxes one’s executive functioning skills. To hold a conversation, we must simultaneously attend to the other person – what they are saying and their nonverbal social cues (e.g., body language, tone of voice, etc.) while processing our own response and waiting our turn to answer. If impulse control is difficult, a person may become known for interrupting others. If attention is the issue, the person with ADHD may miss what someone says and provide an off-topic response or walk away while the person is mid-sentence.
Emotional: There are substantial negative impacts of ADHD, especially untreated ADHD, on an individual’s emotional well-being. For instance, a child diagnosed with ADHD will hear 20,000 more negative responses than positive by age 10 due to the nature of how their symptoms impact their everyday life. Often this results in deep shame, feelings of rejection, and low self-worth.
Controlling one’s emotions and reactions to different situations is often a challenging aspect of ADHD. Thirty percent of individuals diagnosed with ADHD experience anxiety and twenty percent are diagnosed with depression. There are higher rates of substance abuse as well, particularly when ADHD is left untreated.
Despite what some may say or allude to, ADHD is a “real” diagnosis and as detailed above can result in lifelong challenges, especially when treatments are not implemented. Early and accurate diagnosis is important to ensure each person receives appropriate treatments and reduces the likelihood of academic failure, social isolation, and affective distress.
Neuropsychological testing is a comprehensive approach to obtaining objective information about an individual’s executive functioning to ascertain if there are in fact deviations from the expected developmental trajectory. If that is the case, then the neuropsychologist guides the individual with finding resources to implement an appropriate treatment plan. The most effective treatment approach is medication, behavior modification/support within the environment, and executive function training.
Dr. Lisa Hahn is a clinical neuropsychologist, board-certified in both neuropsychology and pediatric neuropsychology. She is a member of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology, International Neuropsychological Society, New Jersey Psychological Association, and Morris County Psychological Association.
 Jelinek, M. 2010. Don’t Let ADHD Crush Children’s Self-Esteem. Clinical Psychiatry News. Memphis, TN.