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Canadian ADHD Awareness Week: Let's Clear Up Some Misconceptions!

You may have noticed in the calendar that this week is Canadian ADHD Awareness Week! This year’s theme is “Learn. Understand. Inspire.”

According to the CADDAC, ADHD remains highly misunderstood by the general population. Their goal is to better educate Canadians and ADHD patients about the disorder by sharing up‐to‐date medical information and real‐life stories. You can find these stories on their facebook page and website.

It is estimated that 1 – 3 children in every class and 4 adults out of every 100 people in a company are affected by ADHD.... that is about 1  Million Canadians. You may or may not know someone with ADHD personally. However, in my mind, even if we ourselves are not directly affected by ADHD, I believe we should educate ourselves on it. As with other unseen diagnoses (such as Asperger's, Anxiety, Depression, etc), a lack of understanding can lead to stigma, shame, misunderstanding and mistreatment of those affected. So, I thought, let's try to learn something new about ADHD and clear up some misconceptions!

First of all, we have to know what we are talking about: ADHD is a neurobiological disorder linked to issues with the neurotransmitters in the brain that impedes the regulation of attention and inattention - there is a lack of prioritization of focus. So, a person affected by ADHD may be completely distracted, act impulsively, be unable to remember routines and yet may become “hyperfocused” on a highly stimulating task (like a video game) or on something that they are particularly interested in or "obsessed" about.

.... Which brings us to misconception #1: that the person doesn't have a disorder, they just lack will power.... after all, everyone has difficulty paying attention and being restless sometimes, right? But this is not the case! Diagnosis for ADHD is a complex process (for example, for children it can involve medical tests to rule out hearing problems, poor eyesight, etc, IQ tests, speech pathology examinations and parent/teacher behaviour reports), and for a diagnosis to occur the symptoms must be considered an impairment to daily functioning and be recognized in more than one setting (i.e.: a diagnosis would not occur under "normal" distractions, occasional restlessness, or if the child just doesn't pay attention in class).

Another misconception  is that if a person is not hyper, then the diagnosis of ADHD is incorrect. However, not all patients exhibit hyperactivity. In fact, this is considered to be one of the possible reasons why ADHD is diagnosed more in boys than in girls: perhaps parents and professionals miss girls affected with ADHD because they can be less hyperactive as children ... 4% of adults worldwide have ADHD and the incident rates are almost equal between men and women so it is not just a "boy thing".

Now, some people assume that ADHD diagnosis and treatments have been tacked onto a child to make him or her easier for their teachers and parents to manage (misconception #3 for those of you keeping track ;-). As I said above, diagnosis is multi-layered and many parents have struggled for years, encouraging their children, working with teachers and doctors - it would not be an easy conclusion to come to. As for treatments, well,  patients may or may not need medication (it helps by aiding the neurotransmitters in the brain to function more normally), but rest assured that with or without this aid many learning accommodations are still put in place: parents and teachers are coached in ways to help children and provide them with management strategies and counselling may even be required.

Maybe you don't think ADHD is a big deal... "who cares if some people have a harder time focusing than others, big whoop". But, that would be our last misconception - untreated ADHD impacts lives directly and indirectly. Without diagnosis and treatment, children with untreated ADHD are 3 times more likely to drop out of high school, 2 times more likely to suffer injuries (particularly head injuries), and 2 to 4 times more likely to have motor vehicle accidents as a driver! Undiagnosed ADHD can also lead to poor self-esteem; substance abuse (as an attempt to self-medicate); the development of other mental health problems (i.e. depression, anxiety); family dysfunction; and decreased likelihood of full-time employment and lower household income in adulthood.

As you can see, ADHD itself is complex! Want to learn more? The stories on the facebook page (here) are fascinating and there is a wealth of information on the following sites (sources for this post): Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada Canadian Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Resource Alliance, and Mental Health Canada.

Happy ADHD Week, my friends :-)

PS: Help spread the word & encourage others to learn about ADHD: share this post on your facebook page!

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