October is ADHD Awareness month! And in a move that is very on brand for my personal experience of ADHD, I am just a teensy bit late in submitting this article. Now, before you roll your eyes and bemoan, “everyone is a little ADHD”, I’m going to remind you that these subtle forms of ableism are precisely why ADHD awareness month exists. And in light of cultivating more awareness, let’s take a deeper look at this diagnosis and the myriad of ways it may (or may not) present. Now, I could wax lyrical about ADHD for hours. But I’m going to try and condense the runaway thought train that is my brain into a somewhat concise overview into this form of neurodiversity. So, read on! And please hold all applause, questions and biases until the end.
Despite thousands of published studies on ADHD and its correlations, certain misconceptions about the condition have continued to permeate mental health circles & broader society alike. Some of these misconceptions include statements that ADHD is:
- present only in boys/individuals assigned male at birth (AMAB)
- something made up by pharmaceutical companies that is vastly over diagnosed and overmedicated
- exhibited solely as an inability to sit still (insert “ooh, a squirrel!” joke here)
The only things these myths have accomplished is reinforcing a barrier that prevents a disproportionate number of individuals living with ADHD from accessing support for it. But if ADHD isn’t accurately represented by the aforementioned statements, then what on earth is it?!
The label Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is defined as a condition that predominantly effects the prefrontal cortex of the brain. It is marked by symptoms such as executive function challenges, forgetfulness, impulsivity, overactive motor output, emotional regulation challenges and a reduced ability to focus. And while it’s true that everyone experiences these traits some of the time, consider the following: ADHD isn’t really a disorder or deficit of attention at all. The ‘deficit’ part is related specifically to the reduced levels of dopamine & norepinephrine that regulate functionality of the prefrontal cortex of the brain. The prefrontal cortex acts as a filtration system for sensory information. It processes stimuli and then plays an important role in deciding how to respond to that stimuli. Individuals with ADHD have a loose and wide filter that lets in a lot of sensory information all the time. Trouble begins with knowing which information to respond to, and which to ignore. And that’s really exhausting, because this filter is always switched on.