What do Will.i.am, Winston Churchill and Jim Carrey have in common?
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What do Will.i.am, Winston Churchill and Jim Carrey have in common?

Let’s play word association. What’s the first word that comes to mind when you read ‘ADHD’?

Perhaps you came up with one of the following: Ritalin, badly-behaved, non-stop, energetic, active, Dora from Finding Nemo, or Dug from Up. Unless someone close to you has the condition, you could be forgiven for not knowing much more about it than that! The purpose of this article is to give an introduction to ADHD – what it is, how it’s dealt with, and how people have put it to good use in their lives.

ADHD – or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – is a behavioural disorder which tends to manifest from early childhood. Together with other terms such as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), hyperactivity and hyperkinetic disorder, it refers to problems in three main areas: poor attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Not all children with ADHD have symptoms in all three areas. Children with attention problems might appear forgetful or distracted, or seem not to listen. They might be disorganised, and take a long time to start (and finish) things. Children with hyperactivity are typically restless, fidgety, noisy and full of energy. Children with impulsivity tend to act without thinking, and often have difficulty waiting their turn in games, queues or conversation. There are often associated problems such as learning difficulties, autism, poor coordination and a lack of social skills.

Now don’t panic – many children are inattentive, restless and impulsive! That’s all part of growing up. Merely displaying these traits is not enough to merit a diagnosis of ADHD; this requires specialist assessment from a child psychiatrist who will make the judgement based on observed patterns of behaviour, reported behaviour, and specialised tests. The percentage of school-aged whose inattention and hyperactivity is exaggerated enough to be called ‘ADHD’ is estimated to be between 2% - 5%, most of whom are boys.

About 1 in 3 children with ADHD will grow out of the condition. Of the other two thirds, the majority will find that specialist treatment makes a big difference. A range of medical interventions is available if required, but there are lots of behavioural management techniques to try first! Top tips include:

  • give simple instructions, slowly and calmly and at close range
  • be generous with your praise
  • put a list of things to do in a prominent place, such as on a bedroom door
  • break tasks into small chunks
  • provide outlets for excess energy – like going swimming or playing a musical instrument
  • avoid additives and food colourings

A few weeks ago on this blog we talked about dyslexia – how it’s a frequently misunderstood condition, often regarded as an obstacle rather than an opportunity, but that in fact many people with the condition regard it as a gift which enables them to think differently. We concluded that dyslexia certainly didn’t have to be an obstacle to success! ADHD is similar. A quick internet search of celebrities with ADHD reveals a huge list of some of the most successful, creative people of the last few decades. Actors like Jim Carrey and Robin Williams, athletes like Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan, politicians including Winston Churchill and John F Kennedy and musicians including Elvis Presley and Stevie Wonder. A few weeks ago music producer and The Voice judge Will.i.am revealed that he suffers from the condition, but that an inability to keep still and attentive actually served him well in the studio and in creative meetings. In his own words, “I’ve figured out a place for it.” ADHD doesn’t need to be a disability – effectively managed and channelled, it can be an ingredient of great success!

Have you or your child struggled with ADHD? What ways did you find to deal with it?

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