Attention Deficit Disorder - Truth or Fiction?
There seems to be a fair amount of controversy concerning Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. From my personal point of view, my experience and research, I will do my best to define this disorder; what it is and what it isn’t; its symptoms and side affects; educational recommendations and Individualized Educational Program (IEP; along with treatment, traditional and holistic. The following is my summary of Attention Deficit Disorder. I will be constructing additional pages for more in depth details.
What is ADD?
Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD and ADHD) are classified Mental Disorders. It has been determined from Brain Spect (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) Scans that there is generally less activity in the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) area of the brain of someone who has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), particularly when that individual is performing tasks requiring concentration.
What is a Disorder?
If ADD is a disorder, you may wonder as I did, what exactly is a disorder? Statistics indicate that we are seeing increasing numbers of mental illness in epidemic proportions. Drug companies are trying their best to convince us, through television commercials and our Doctors, that there is literally a disorder for everything.
I felt it was interesting to note that the basis of a disorder is founded by a psychiatric panel which finds enough people with similar traits to be labeled a disorder. The criteria for inclusion in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) involves whether or not the disorder responds to a category of drugs. (1) Could this be construed to mean that if we have a drug for it, we’ll go find a disorder to treat?
So what's the problem?
Even though the above definition would appear to diminish the psychiatric and medical basis for Attention Deficit Disorder, nonetheless, it has been estimated that as few as one in ten and as many as one in three people exhibit traits common to those described as Attention Deficit. Considering the number of people that I know personally who have not been officially diagnosed, I would not be surprised to learn that the latter is most accurate.
Disorder or not, I believe that the symptoms described as Attention Deficit Disorder are real and experienced more than ever in adults and children. For children, I believe it makes competing and excelling in our school systems very challenging. I believe there are predictable consequences for this imbalance if left untreated. Lastly, I believe that these symptoms can be greatly mitigated in an appropriate learning environment with reasonable expectations, classroom concessions, creative and physical outlets and positive feedback coupled with awareness concerning diet and supplementation.
The ripple effect of those who are affected will become more significant. When an individual seems unable to operate functionally in family, marriage and work relationships, oftentimes burdening judicial and medical systems with their bad choices; there will be profound consequences to not only family and friends but classmates and society at large.
What is the function of the PFC?
So, what happens when there is less activity in the Prefrontal Cortex? The PFC is the section of the brain that controls bodily functions relating to power, intelligence, organization, abstract thought, goal setting, long term planning and personality. It is responsible for energy, excitement about new ideas, and motivation. It is your ‘Pleasure Center’ and allows you the experience of simple pleasures such as the joy of seeing a baby smile or a rainbow. If you know someone who has
Attention Deficit Disorder or ADHD, you may have noticed that they struggle in many of these areas.
What can go wrong?
Approximately thirty trillion
synapses or neuron linkages
in the human brain allow for plenty of strong connections, disconnections and misconnections. These misconnections may cause depression, ADD and other mental challenges. If this network is a team, you can only imagine what happens to performance when some of the members don’t show up. Performance failure results in emotional and motivational complications in a very short time. The good news is that these circuits can be modified and refined with the right help and time. (3)
The PFC is managed by the Dopamine Neuronal pathway, with Dopamine the Neurotransmitter responsible for this area of the brain. Noropinephrine and adrenaline are also associated with the PFC and all three of these bio-chemicals work like a natural amphetamine. Whether lower activity in the PFC is caused by low levels of Dopamine or problems with the neuro-pathways is unclear, to me at least. Further, it may be hereditary and/or related to substances or circumstances which diminish these Neurotransmitter levels.
Why is there an increased likelihood of Addiction when ADD is present?
Someone with Attention Deficit Disorder may be more likely to crave an amphetamine
as their drug of choice, a substitute that simulates Dopamine, making their brain feel more normal. If their ADD is untreated, they will probably be attracted to any number of substances which act as stimulants. Because each person processes substances differently according to their particular chemistry, alcohol or marijuana may act as a stimulant for someone who is ADD while it relaxes someone else. For example, Chad could fall asleep minutes after finishing an espresso because the stimulant, acting like Dopamine, slowed his brain down.
Uncontrolled abuse of substances acting like amphetamines such as speed, cocaine, crack, meth, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, for example, can take away simple pleasures, sometimes forever, by irreparably damaging the receptors in your brain. Again, when the brain is low in Dopamine to begin with and then becomes unable to manufacture its own Dopamine due to extenuating circumstances, including substance abuse, it will crave these substances in order to feel normal.
Prescribed drugs - Pros and Cons
Does it stand to reason that Ritalin and Adderall, also of the amphetamine family, may cause similar damage to these fragile brain receptors? I have no doubt. With the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, I do believe that undiagnosed and untreated ADD and ADHD may be like an accident waiting to happen, however. Sometimes it’s important to look at the bigger picture and weigh the odds. I wish I had. While I worried about the side effects of Ritalin, I didn't take into consideration the seriousness of the side effects of not treating Chad's ADD. Time released medications, prescribed by a competent physician, certainly are a far better option than self medication. (For statistics regarding the relationship between 'ADD and Addiction', please visit that page on this site). Having said that, I don’t believe that prescription drugs are the only answer.
Dr. Daniel Amen, author of Healing ADD, has identified six different types of ADD, four of which are made worse when Ritalin or Adderall type drugs are prescribed. (2) I’m sure that each of these ‘types’ of ADD also have varying degrees of dysfunction associated with them. Dr. Amen treats ADD with Amino Acid Supplements, diet and lifestyle changes. (2) When necessary, a competent Doctor may prescribe pharmaceutical drugs temporarily or in conjunction with a more holistic treatment plan. The goal should be to help ADD individuals function optimally without ‘dumbing them down’ in order to make them more compliant and easy to manage.
Those who are wired differently oftentimes fall through the cracks of our education system and society
Each of us is wired differently to excel in different arenas.
The formative years are when brains give off signals that reveal what they are and are not wired for. Are parents and teachers paying attention? Kids live into the expectations placed on them by adults, good or bad. Unfortunately, too often an ADD or ADHD child will hear the negative comments, “you’re not applying yourself, you’re just lazy, and you never pay attention.” These comments frequently out number any positive comments, especially with the impact of raising an ADD child with our current busy lifestyles.
As Mel Levine, M.D., author of One Mind at a Time, so eloquently states, “The brain of each human is unique. Some minds are wired to create symphonies and sonnets, while others are fitted out to build bridges, highways, and computers; design airplanes and road systems; drive trucks and taxicabs; or seek cures for breast cancer and hypertension.” (3) Dr. Levine tells of sad tales of children who come to equate education with humiliation, accepting labels of dysfunction such as ADD or LD. Others are placed on drugs to soothe their kinds of minds. Their intellectual identity has been reduced to a list of exam scores; exams wherein they are most likely to score poorly. These academic records and the child’s performance will sadly determine their destinies while shedding little light on their true strengths, weaknesses and educational needs. (3)
The challenges of raising an ADD child
Dr. Amen, the founder of Amen Clinics, developed the Spect Scan as a means of diagnosis for many brain disorders and imbalances and is the father of ADD children of his own. (2) In his books he speaks of many of the same frustrations I felt while raising Chad. You may notice similarities with your child:
- Chad would take four hours to do twenty minutes of homework, only to forget to turn it in the next day, resulting in a bad grade;
- You couldn’t list more than one thing at a time for him to focus on;
- Chaos became a part of our daily routines as Chad became very good at telling lies. He actually craved the adrenaline that became a part of the drama of our household (adrenaline acts like dopamine to make the brain feel normal);
- I couldn’t get Chad out of bed in the morning and inevitably he wanted to call in sick because he thought school was stupid and he was embarrassed to be seen going to the ‘dumb’ study hall or special classes;
- Resulting from bad test scores, Chad concluded and often said, “ I guess I’m just not the brightest apple on the tree”;
- When I asked Chad’s teacher how Chad could have scored so poorly on the Iowa Basics, the teacher’s reply was that my son was obviously ‘lower intelligence’. She equated his test scores, increasing gaps in his education and lack of participation in class as an indication of his intelligence. This is more symptomatic of our educational system than it is our teachers, per se. The teacher didn't have the time or motivation to know Chad otherwise;
- Holding Chad back in Sixth Grade, in retrospect, affected his self esteem so negatively that I would highly recommend that you think very seriously before exercising this as an option;
- The High school counselor told Chad, “College isn’t for everyone.” While this may be true, we must remember that kids live into our expectations of them;
- Lack of judgment caused Chad to be involved in many risk taking adventures, requiring frequent medical attention and sometimes involvement with the law;
Is ADD just another word for right-brained?
Above, I have listed functions of the PFC and what happens when there is low activity in this center of the brain. I’ve noticed an extraordinary resemblance, characteristically, between ADD individuals and a person who would generally be described as ‘right brained’. I think it’s worth a moment to look at this. What if ADD is just a label for those who simply operate in life differently from the majority who are left brained?
It is my belief that right brained, more kinesthetic learners, have more challenges processing and retaining information in an auditory style classroom. With the right opportunities and support, many excel in their careers, the arts and society.
I’m not trying to imply that the brain imbalance which is present with ADD should be ignored. Most of us have varying degrees of imbalance which cause various degrees of dysfunction both mentally and physically. Those with the larger imbalances are the ones who could really benefit and excel from awareness and support with diet, supplements and education. This holistic approach provides natural ways to bring these ADD individuals into balance, promoting a better, more productive version of the person they were meant to be.
Right-brained versus left-brained
Did you know that 85 per cent of the U.S. population is left brain dominant, which is determined by which hemisphere is able to create and understand verbal language? Many times you will notice that right brained individuals are either left handed or ambidextrous. Even so, more than 60 percent of the left handed people are also left brained.
ADD children, like right brain dominant children, generally learn differently, more kinesthetically. We are trying to make them fit into a school curriculum which teaches to the majority. We as parents and as a society, pay a high price for this oversight that undermines the self esteem of our children. (See Myths versus Facts-coming)
What is it like to be Right Brain Dominant?
If you visit my page on
right brain versus left brain,
you will see that a right brained individual learns, creates and perceives in a totally different manner, a manner very similar to those who exhibit traits of ADD and ADHD. Upon becoming a stroke victim, Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D and Neuroscientist, describes what it is like to live totally in the right brain hemisphere.
According to Jill, this is where you experience joy and a perception and experience of connection with something that is greater than ourselves. The right mind thinks intuitively outside the box and explores creative possibilities. It is spontaneous, carefree, and allows artistic inspiration to flow free without inhibition or judgment. It perceives the big picture and allows us to be compassionate and empathetic. This is where we are cognizant of our mind, body and spirit connection. This describes most ADD people that I know. They experience a sense of peace in place of the constant chatter of details and more details that is the contribution of the left brain. (4)
Positive attributes of being ADD
Before I move on, I’d like to take pause for a moment to consider the beauty these individuals are capable of bringing into our lives. It may help to recall the essence of these ADD kids. Like any other child, they want to please and share their gifts. They are sensitive, oftentimes with protective personas that few people take the time to try to see through. They are creative; and given the support to use their creative gifts, they are inspiring. Most of them create from inspiration that is free flowing in the present moment. They are spontaneous, carefree, intuitive, compassionate and empathetic. They bring us art in the form of music, poems, design, paintings, books and sculptures. I envy these individuals for their talents, creativity, and connection to their inspirational source.
Challenges of being ADD
With all of their wonderful traits, come challenges that offset these assets. Because they don’t hear the constant chatter of the left brain going over details, schedules, judgments and criticisms which is why they are able to excel in the moment, they may not function in our left brained world efficiently. Oftentimes they feel like a failure in school compared to their peers. Usually, the gifts they have to offer go unexplored and seem to be of little value in our current school systems. Classes that stimulate their creativity and provide an outlet for them physically (music, art, P.E.) have now become electives or have been removed from the curriculum altogether.
Years of missing information, accounting for large educational gaps; and instances such as being called on in class when they are obviously not focused or don't have the answer, promotes feelings of embarrassment, inferiority and failure. Lack of judgment and bad choices leading to relationship difficulties, accidents, and financial challenges; further affect their self image.
Awareness is prevention
The good news is that with the right support from teachers and parents, we could train, and to some extent re-wire the brains of our ADD children for success, channeling their talents in a positive direction. There is enough information out there about ADD and ADHD that there really is no excuse for our current lack of awareness. Those who learn in a more kinesthetic way, touch everyone in significant ways in the work place, at home and in society. Can we afford to label them, stick them in a corner and hope they turn out all right one day?
Considering the problems of our left brain dominant society, some people believe that these gifted ADD, intuitive and right brained individuals are here to remind us of another way of life that has been forgotten; a time when the mind was the observer and we lived in our hearts.
(2) Dr. Daniel Amen, M.D., Amenclinics.com, Author of Healing ADD
(3) Dr. Mel Levine, M.D., Author of One Mind at a Time
(4) Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD. and Neuroscientist, Author of A Stroke of Insight