As a student with the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), I wanted to write a piece about it. I felt it was important to make people aware of the unseen struggles of ADHD, explain what it is, and how to help.
First, let’s get the technical stuff out of the way.
ADHD shows itself as a chronic difficulty with focus/regulating attention, impulsivity, self-regulation, and executive functions that can be managed with a range of different approaches, the most common being stimulant and non-stimulant medications, a range of therapies, and school and work accommodations.
As of now, the cause of ADHD is still unknown; but it has been linked to genetics — meaning that if one of your parents has ADHD, you’re more likely to have it as well.
As far as symptoms, they vary from person to person, but here are some of the most common:
- Having a hard time organizing life and school
- Forgetting/losing your stuff
- Losing track of things due to inattention to detail or forgetfulness
- Short attention span
- A hard time shutting out distractions
- An inability to sit still/too much energy
- Acting/interrupting without thinking
- Impulse control/trouble waiting for your turn to talk
Obviously symptoms extend beyond this list, and are dependent on the type of Attention Deficit Disorder you have. For example, child and adult psychiatrist, Daniel G. Amen, MD, has identified seven different types of ADD*, along with treatment options for each.
*Note the difference between ADHD and ADD. While ADHD used to signify that a person was “hyperactive” in addition to having an “Attention Deficit,” ADHD is now the official, clinically-recognized word for the disorder.
Some Advice for your Parents
Since this is advice for the adults in your life, you could skip this part and just have them read it. However, I recommend you follow along as well, so you can join in or start a conversation.
The number one piece of advice is to do your research. Here’s a list of some of the best/most popular books on ADHD in order to become more familiar with the symptoms, the process of diagnosis, and treatment options. It can be overwhelming at first, but by familiarizing yourself with the language and the disorder, you allow for better, more understanding communication with your child or student.
Below is a list of suggestions for topics that should be researched/talked about. It contains the most significant things that come to mind when I think about ADHD:
- Emotional dysregulation
- Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (being more sensitive to rejection)
- Safe spaces
- Stimming (repetitive or unusual movements or noises)
- Masking (presenting in a way that makes it seem like you don’t have the disorder)
- Sleep deprivation/insomnia, or other sleep problems
- Executive dysfunction
- Time blindness (unaware of time)
- Memory issues
- Under stimulation
- Dopamine depletion
I will not explain most of the items on this list because that would make for too long of an article, but I will touch on the lesser-known symptoms and problems. That being said, I will put links to resources for most items on the list at the end of the article.
It is important that parents know how to spot ADHD symptoms in their children’s behavior so that they can get a diagnosis early on. For parents who have kids with diagnosed ADHD, it is key that they research the list above and look for other symptoms. Because children heavily rely on their parents for emotional support, it is extremely important to not punish the children for something they have no control over. Parents should help them as much as they can and set them up for success, not for failure.
Why is it important for parents to research these things in particular?
ADHD looks different in everybody, and it is critical to your teen’s concerns because ADHD comes with co-morbidity (the presence of one or more additional conditions often co-occurring) like anxiety or depression.
Every family is different, but it is always essential that you have a place where you can stop masking and be your true inattentive, hyperactive ADHD self. If your child does not feel comfortable dropping the mask around you, they could act out at school, hide away from you, or any number of things to be able to process the day and calm themselves down.
“It is important that students are honest with their parents about what they are experiencing and feeling. Ideally, parents and students can work together to make a plan to support the student with ADHD,” says G10-12 Counselor, Josiah Laposky.
He continues: “Recognizing that both the parents and the student have the same end goal of wanting what is best for the student can go a long way in ensuring that all family members feel safe and included at home.”
Laposky also suggests bringing in a counselor early on to create a plan for success—especially since they can refer you to an outside therapist and/or psychiatrist. “Working with experts that can provide resources and guidance as well as medication plans if appropriate can have a positive impact on the student as they learn to navigate living with ADHD.”
A little about Masking and Stimming
Two terms that have been used a lot so far are masking and stimming. I will start off explaining masking, and I don’t mean the one we have to wear due to Covid-19.
Masking is most commonly associated with autism, and is a word used to describe the act of hiding one’s true self, traits, and personality for a number of reasons. This could be done to prevent bullying, to try to fit in and make friends, or to try to seem neurotypica. Outside of school, masking is used in many situations as well, such as job interviews. While this is a useful method of coping, it is not necessarily a healthy one.
Sean Whitney, Secondary Learning Support teacher at AISB, says, “Masking students find themselves on a cycle of either quiet or obvious disengagement, usually because they’re lost in their own distracting thoughts, then are fearful of self advocating or seeking clarification because they don’t want to appear distracted.”
He explains that the cycle continues as a lesson becomes more challenging. “My job is frequently about recognizing when extremely capable students get lost due to days of masking behavior. I help them to recalibrate with the class content and with their expert teachers before it’s too late to catch up on tasks.” For more information on masking and ADHD, you can read this article.
Stimming is short for Self-Stimulating Behaviors, and is also used for emotional regulation. It can use any of the five senses, but the ones you will see most are touch, sound, sight, or oral.
Examples of stimming can be, but are not limited to: hand flapping, rocking, excessive blinking, pen clicking, hand clapping, or doing things that make noises, chewing, nibbling, or sucking. For more information, you can watch this video.
Beyond regulating emotions, stimming helps with controlling dopamine deficiencies, calming those with ADHD down in situations in which we are overwhelmed. Stimming is also common in people with autism.
It is important that you let yourself stim because it aids you, and suppressing your stims will only make the emotions you are feeling seem bigger.That can then transform into frustration and anger. If it annoys you or those around you, try using fidget/stim toys, slightly changing the behavior. Additionally, if your stims cause you physical harm, such as hitting your head against a hard surface, try having a safety precaution in place, like putting a pillow or something soft between you and the surface.
Emotional Dysregulation, Self-confidence/Esteem, and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria
Now, I am no doctor or therapist, but I have had experience with, and researched, all of these issues.
Emotional dysregulation, as explained here, is the inability to properly regulate your emotions. This can take many forms, but in short, it makes you feel emotions ten times stronger than how neurotypical people would feel them. For example, if something excites you, you could well feel like you are bursting with it, while when you are frustrated with a school concept you just can’t completely grasp, you could end up in tears. Stimming helps calm these emotions down, but sometimes, you just have to feel them and let them leave on their own no matter how unpleasant it is.
It is important to remember that if you ask someone with ADHD about this topic of emotional dysregulation, you could get a variety of responses; however, teenagers are typically defensive or in denial—especially if they don’t understand ADHD and its symptoms.
Personally, I have struggled with emotion management quite a lot. This has ranged from sobbing over not being able to figure out a new computer, to jumping up and down, feeling like I’m going to explode while seeing my grandparents.
There is much more to emotional dysregulation, and I could write a whole article on it, but I need to keep it short, so just know that this is common and to not beat yourself up too much or think you’re being “over sensitive.”
The next topic I’d like to address is low self-confidence/esteem. People with ADHD get so much more negative attention than most people, and so little positive attention, that a lot of them start to internalize it. This results in low self-confidence and low self-esteem. Because of that, a lot of us will downplay our hard work and find it hard to fully accept a compliment on our achievements.
And with this negative self-image often comes RSD, short for Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria.
More briefly, people with ADHD take rejection or perceived rejection a lot harder and more personal than those without ADHD. This can be one of the hardest things to deal with when it comes to ADHD, considering that many of us also struggle with depression.
A medically-reviewed article states that “people who have [RSD] sometimes work hard to make everyone like or admire them.” The author goes on to explain that this might result in giving up or staying away from situations where they might get hurt. This could lead to social withdrawal and strained relationships.
When it comes to ADHD, know that you are not alone, and people want to help you. You can ask for ADHD-friendly accommodations at school, as well as support in managing your ADHD.
A good place to start is to see if you can get an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), which involves talking to your teachers about what you struggle with, so they can accommodate you. That includes being allowed to use a fidget toy in class, to listen to music/white noise during classes, extended time on projects, and providing a quiet space for tests.
Whitney explains in further detail that, if students are eligible for an IEP, they could receive the following accommodations:
- Extended Time on tests and assignments
- Separate Setting for test-taking
- Preferential seating (including standing desks and ADHD-friendly chairs)
- Having a nurse present
- Having a prompter present
- Modified papers (IB)
- Using a computer when the assignment is to hand-write
- Having a scribe
- Speech to text
- Graphic organizers
- Four function calculator
- Direct translation dictionary
It is also important to know that you don’t have to struggle through ADHD on your own, no matter how much it may seem that way sometimes. You are worthy of help, no matter what someone else, social pressure, or the status quo says you deserve.
There are so many people out there who are ready and willing to help you, and you can and will succeed with ADHD. You just have to understand your brain and accept that you will have bad days, but you will also have days which it seems like you are standing on top of the world.