On my personal blog, I write a lot about my experiences with learning issues and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD. While learning disabilities or learning-related issues are in their own way very misunderstood, simply through people just not knowing what they are (for instance: I am able to learn—I learn differently!), ADHD has its own myths and misconceptions that are very prevalent in society.
How can you have ADHD? You’re not hyper/did well in school/didn’t get in trouble.
The big misconception around ADHD is the picture in people’s heads. The mental image of a seven-ish-year-old boy who jumps out of his desk every three minutes, yells things impulsively, has a messy room, and never does his homework without chiding from his parents (and even then, he can’t find it!) can be completely true. While it’s more common for boys to be identified early as having ADHD, many men are diagnosed later in life, too. This issue of being undiagnosed is more prevalent in girls and women with ADHD—especially if we don’t have the hyperactive-impulsive subtype. We usually present more as inattentive ADHDers, which means that we’re more likely to be distracted easily, lose things, space out, and forget stuff…and to a far greater extent than our non-ADHD peers! But, for kids, it’s easy to overlook these things, or just tell us to be more responsible.
I was diagnosed with learning issues and probable ADHD in my fourth year of university (of five). My ADHD diagnosis was confirmed less than six months later by a psychiatrist. My assessment included not just hours but days of testing by a psychologist—and I fully believe that ADHD should never be diagnosed in a fifteen-minute office visit with your family doctor—a referral should always be made to a psychologist or psychiatrist with experience in ADHD if a diagnosis is suspected. Insist on it!
Misconception: Kids being kids is now being called ADHD. It’s not a disorder, it’s childhood.
All kids—and adults!—will exhibit ADHD-like symptoms from time to time. It’s the frequency/pervasiveness of the symptoms that make Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder what it is. Symptoms of ADHD must be exhibited in more than one area of life—such as work, home, school, leisure activities—they must be exhibited in childhood, to a point if diagnosed as an adult, and symptoms must be present for at least six months. They must also be severe enough to impact your life significantly in at least two of the above areas.
Kids with ADHD, for example, might get easily bored, even when playing with friends. They’ll understand that they should take turns choosing activities and they try, but when they get bored quickly during their friend’s choice, they will leave to play with someone else—and they might struggle to understand why friends are upset with them. If you want another adults with ADHD example, in the middle of writing that example, I realized I should run the dishwasher. Instead of finishing the sentence and then getting up, I immediately got up to load the last few items and start the dishwasher. Yes, I take ADHD medication—which is the difference between that I returned immediately to this post, instead of going to check my texts and Twitter and Facebook first like I might have before being on medication!
Similar misconception: ADHD was created by pharma.
On the topic of medication… I would still have ADHD even if no drug existed to treat it. Not everybody with ADHD chooses to add medication to their treatment plan. I was reluctant at first, but the positive impact a long-acting stimulant medication has been immeasurable. I am not just more productive while on meds, I FEEL better inside—my mind is calmer and I am more relaxed. Medication isn’t for everybody—there are other treatment methods, including organizational strategies, therapy, and, the best treatment of all, exercise, which may work well without meds for some people. The most important thing regarding ADHD treatment? We’re all doing the best we can—don’t judge anybody or argue with them about how they choose to treat their own or their child’s ADHD.
But you can sustain attention for a long time when you’re interested in something, or have a deadline to hit?
Sometimes, and for some ADHDers, YES. This is called hyperfocus and it’s the reason I’m writing this post two days before my deadline. I am able to hyperfocus on things when I am very interested or engaged, or if I have enough stress to force me to get something done. Hyperfocus is a blessing and a curse: I might get stuff done, but that could be at risk of not completing other necessary tasks—for instance, I can get so caught up in redesigning my blog, or writing a paper that’s due, that I’ll forget to eat all day—which isn’t good for my productivity. I might also not have any idea you’re talking to me, or that someone has entered the room. ADHD is the reason I thrive in short-term stressful situations when many people might fall apart.
How can you have a learning disability? You can read and write well. You did well in school.
Learning disabilities, like ADHD, look different for everybody. My learning issues affect my visual memory and visual working memory–ability to manipulate visual information in my head. ie. Those IKEA instructions that are all pictures ending in the guy calling the store? I might be the guy calling the store very quickly.
Types of specific learning disabilities include:
Dyslexia: Affects reading and writing. May reverse letters (ie. b and d), and struggle with spelling or when sounding out words when reading aloud. Learn more about dyslexia.
Dyscalculia: Affects math and spatial skills. Some people with dyscalculia can easily memorize and understand basic math facts, while others cannot. Essentially, dyscalculia affects “number sense”. Learn more about dyscalculia.
Dyspraxia: Dyspraxia is a slightly different type of learning issue, but it still is one! Dyspraxia affects a person’s ability to execute different motor skills, such as coordination. Learn more about dyspraxia.
Dysgraphia: Dysgraphia affects fine motor skill coordination, specifically with regard to writing. Dysgraphia isn’t just messy handwriting though—it affects understanding of grammar use when writing, understanding instructions, colouring, and much more. Learn more about dysgraphia.
Non-verbal Learning Disability: NVLD affects a person’s ability to understand non-verbal communication, such as tone of voice, facial expression, or body language. Kids may also use advanced language for their age. All of these things can cause social issues for kids. Learn more about nonverbal learning disabilities.
Other learning issues include visual and auditory processing abilities, though like ADHD, they are not considered specific learning disabilities.
Living with ADHD or learning issues can require a person to change the way they do things—but those of us with these issues can still do anything we want to accomplish, including accomplishing academic milestones. The links to resources above are from Understood.org, a great source of information on all things related to learning and attention issues. To engage with Understood.org and others living with or teaching/parenting those with learning and attention issues, you can check out the #LDchat hashtag on Twitter.
Disclosure: On a personal level, I am in the early stages of working as a blogger with ADHD/learning issues with Understood.org. I was not in any way asked, required, or compensated by Understood to write this post—I included their resources because they are easy to read and understand. There is no relationship between My Identity Doctor and Understood (except for that I’m engaged with both :].)