Thursday, May 19, 2011

Understanding ADHD: Truth & Myths

ADHD is a term that’s thrown around so frequently these days, we all assume we know what it means. Used to apply to everyone from a kid who misbehaves in school to an adult who has trouble focusing on a single TV or computer screen at a time, ADHD is actually a clinical diagnosis. Learning more about what ADHD is – and isn’t – can help you determine if you or someone you love warrants further testing. 

ADHD stands for “attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.” In common parlance, it’s used interchangeably with ADD, which stands for “attention deficit disorder.” However, this term refers to cases where there’s attention deficit, but no hyperactivity involved. 
From a layperson’s point of view, ADHD means the person – often a child -- has problems concentrating and paying attention. 

Of course, that can be applied to pretty much any child over the course of a typical day. What sets people with ADHD apart is that the area of the brain responsible for clarity, mental focus and activity is actually wired differently. What that means is that even when you try to “settle down,” your mind just doesn’t want to comply. You can tell yourself to relax, focus, and pay attention, but you just can’t make your mind and body comply.
So from an outsider’s perspective, how do you tell if your child is just suffering from normal “wigglies,” or really has ADHD? Let’s take a look more closely.
There are three main components of ADHD: hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. Each has similar symptoms but they can be distinguished enough to determine if your child has one, two or all of the components.
Signs of hyperactivity include: 
difficulty sitting still, frequent fidgeting and squirming uncontrollably
the inability to stay seated, even when they’re instructed to stay still
inappropriate behavior like climbing or playing at inappropriate times, or on inappropriate objects like chairs or desks
problems playing quietly when requested 
incessant talking even when instructed to be quiet

Signs of inattention include:
trouble staying on task for even short periods of time
lack of attention when you are speaking to them
issues with staying organized at school, work and home
forgetfulness regarding assignments, requests, chores, homework, etc. 
easy distractability when performing a task

Signs of impulsivity include:
difficulty waiting in line
blurting out of answers in class or in meetings even when not called on
constant interruption of conversations

Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition affecting as many as 10 percent of children in the United States. It is an often misunderstood disorder, with its associated “bad behavior” blamed on poor child-rearing, lack of discipline, or just plain orneriness. But ADHD is a clinical disorder – so what causes it?
ADHD affects the centers of the brain responsible for concentration and activity. 
Different pathways in the brain are controlled by neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that attach to specific sites on brain nerve cells to bring about a response. For instance, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that attaches to sites in the brain that are responsible for attention. When enough dopamine attaches properly, then the brain can receive and react to instructions to pay attention to what is going on. In a child showing signs of ADHD, the levels of dopamine are lower, leading researchers to determine that low levels of certain neurotransmitters are present in children with ADHD. 

A child without ADHD can be taught to sit still during test time or to play quietly, while a child with ADHD can hear the same instructions but be unable to comply. This apparent misbehavior is not a result of naughtiness. The child may want to sit quietly and may know he needs to do so, but simply cannot. As a result, the child feels frustrated, angry at himself, and shame and sadness, particularly if he’s scolded or punished for his behavior. 

Now on to the question that most parents have: What causes ADHD to appear in some people but not others? Unfortunately, that’s a question researchers are still struggling to determine. 
What researchers do know is that there is a marked difference between genders. Boys are more than twice as likely to become affected by ADHD as girls. And, of the 10 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD, about half of them will continue to show signs as adults.
Another factor researchers have discovered involves ADHD and twins. If one identical twin is diagnosed with the condition, there is almost 100 percent likelihood that the other identical twin will develop ADHD as well. For non-identical twins, the probability drops to one-third., still significantly higher than the 10 percent occurrence in the general population. 
Scientists are researching many different avenues. For instance, is premature birth associated with higher occurrences of ADHD? If so, then the brain development in later stages of pregnancy might have some bearing on ADHD. 

The fact that there is no definitive cause for ADHD can be frustrating to parents and children alike. Even so, there are treatments that are designed to improve the quality of life for those diagnosed with ADHD. 
Like many other conditions, ADHD involves a variety of symptoms and attributes, making it impossible to diagnose with a simple blood test. Instead, diagnosis requires a group of trained professionals, a variety of criteria, and the observations of parents or other adults. 
Before a child is diagnosed with ADHD, he or she will likely meet with more than one professional. There are psychologists, counselors, medical doctors and other specialists in behavioral disorders involved. The process can sometimes be a tough or extensive one, but have patience.

Since all children are known to act out, one challenge with ADHD children is knowing when they are being affected by their condition and when they are simply being an adolescent or a teenager with angst. Both parent and child will learn how to:

Set goals for home environment
Set specific rewards and also consequences for certain behaviors
Follow through with those rewards and consequences consistently

Counseling is always a help to families with children who have been diagnosed with ADHD. Behavior modification works best when a child is first diagnosed so that both parent and child learn from the beginning how to cope and live with ADHD.

Nutritionists and doctors have been exploring the relationship between food and ADHD. Before you adopt any of these dietary suggestions for yourself or your child, please check in with your medical professional. 
Our understanding of how food affects every organ in our bodies has grown more sophisticated over the past decade. The affect of our diet on our brain is no exception. 
Blood flows through each organ, tissue, bone and bodily organ. Since the brain is the center of the ADHD’s challenge, any nutrients that promote brain health are the ones that you want to get into your body. The brain is made up of nerve cells that pass electrical signals from one to the other, creating learning pathways. The cells are insulated by myelin sheath. 

Here are some foods that can be included in the diet to help improve the health of the brain. Know this: There is no miracle cure for ADHD. Increasing proper nutrition not only helps the brain to function better but also the rest of the body. And, a healthy body is better equipped to deal with anything.

One of the main nutrients you can focus on is omega-3 fatty acids, and cold water fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines are filled with omega-3s. These acids have been shown to increase immunity, heart health, brain development and hormone balance in the body. 

In the brain, omega-3 fatty acids help to nourish the myelin sheath. This can potentially help electrical impulses pass quicker from neuron to neuron. Other sources of these fatty acids include nuts, flaxseed oil, flax seeds and linseed oil.

Protein builds muscle tissue. Consuming protein with as little fat as possible is best. Try eating eggs, beans, meat and nuts. 

Complex Carbohydrates
Simple carbs contain more sugar and can contain more fat. Eating too much fat can block the absorption of the good nutrients that the brain needs. Lower your fat content with complex carbohydrates: green leafy vegetables, whole grains and fruits like apples, pears and grapefruit.

Certain foods may make the condition worse for sufferers of ADHD. For instance the body of an ADHD child seems to lack the enzyme to properly break down the protein casein found in milk, which can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
High fat and processed foods are not good for anyone, but as mentioned above, they can block important nutrients from being absorbed and used by the body. Limit or eliminate trans fats, saturated fat foods, processed sweets and fatty meats.
Diet is not the entire picture but it does help in many ways. If a child has been diagnosed with ADHD, choosing the proper foods is an important first step. 

Due to popular media and lack of accurate information, misconceptions about ADHD are widespread. Misconceptions can bring about heartache and make it harder for the child to adjust to their condition. Here are some common myths and the truth behind them.

Myth #1 – ADHD is not real
ADHD is a condition that affects how the brain works, especially in the center that controls concentration, focus and activity. Scientists don’t know what causes ADHD, but they are gaining insights into how the brain works and conditions that can interfere with its proper functioning. But they do know that ADHD is a true disorder that begins in early childhood (ages 5-8) and can last into adulthood.

Myth #2 – ADHD gives kids unfair advantage in school
ADHD is a classified disability according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Because the brain functions differently in individuals with ADHD, it is hard for them to concentrate, stay organized, comply with classroom rules and participate in group activities. Classroom modifications make it easier for the child to take advantage of the same opportunities that other kids have. Without such modifications, it is harder for children with ADHD to learn successfully in the school environment.

Myth #3 – ADHD is caused by bad parenting
ADHD begins in the brain. Parenting is not an exact science but it doesn’t lower the level of neurotransmitters in the brain. Your parenting skills will need to move up a notch when it comes to facing the challenges of ADHD, but you didn’t cause the condition to affect your child in the first place.

Myth #4 – ADHD medication is over-prescribed
In fact, medication might be under-prescribed. Medications are not cheap and some groups based on socio-economic status are underrepresented in the diagnostic statistics. For example, minority children are less likely to seek treatment options due to cost, language barriers, availability and lack of perceived need (stigma that may surround the condition).

Myth #5 – ADHD is a childhood condition 
Many adults who have concentration issues and trouble holding down a job may be the outcome of a lack of diagnosis as a child. Children with severe ADHD symptoms will more than likely have to deal with the condition as an adult. Changes in their behavior and medication in childhood can translate into an easier transition into adulthood.

Myth #6 – ADHD children are disabled for life
A disability is a part of you, but not who you are totally. ADHD doesn’t define your future when you use all the resources at your disposal to fight back. Several famous people who were diagnosed with ADHD were able to make their “disability” work for them, including George Bernard Shaw, Benjamin Franklin, Mozart and Abraham Lincoln. But you don’t have to be famous to make a success of your life with ADHD.

It is true that ADHD is a challenging condition, but one that can be managed with empathy and hard work. And as researchers learn more and more about how the brain works, new treatments and options will emerge over time. 

** Please note every effort has been made to include accurate information, but further research and the advice of a physician is highly recommended before starting any of the workout plans/stress management ideas listed in the articles

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