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ADHD Part One: About ADHD


This is the first in a three part series about ADHD. Part one will talk about the basics of ADHD-- What it is, how it works. Part two, coming out sometime next week, will talk about how music therapy can be used to help individuals who have ADHD. Finally we'll wrap up with Part 3, about various resources for ADHD here in Utah and online.

It's a little late, but Happy 2018! Seems like the year has already been going by way too fast, but maybe that's just me. But we're back, and talking a bit about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

ADHD is one of those disorders that everyone kind of knows something about. After all, a study in 2015 estimates that roughly 50 million people have it-- chances are that if you are reading this, you know at least one person who has it. (Or have it yourself!) Still, we actually know very little about what causes it. In some cases it's genetic, in some cases the symptoms are caused by some kind of brain injury-- but most of the time we don't really know. There are some things we do know, however; let's start with what's going on in the brain.

ADHD and the Brain

First here's a helpful infographic by the amazing folks at Understood:

(Click on the image to access a bigger version)

To summarize: for people with ADHD, some parts of the brain are underdeveloped--particularly parts of the brain dealing with attention, organization, and self regulation. ADHD can also affect certain neurotransmitters, or the chemicals that are part of your nervous system, such as dopamine and norepinephrine. All of this combined results in the symptoms of ADHD.

Symptoms of ADHD

As I said before, this is a pretty well-known disorder, so you probably know the symptoms already. Inattention (struggling to sustain focus and stay on task), Hyperactivity (constant need to move), and Impulsivity (making decisions before considering the consequences).

Now, everyone in the world has these three things to some degree, especially children. Every child has times that they don't pay attention in class, that they make a poor decision without thinking it through, that they wiggle constantly and can't keep still. For that matter, most adults struggle with those things too. But for a person to be diagnosed as having ADHD, they need to have more severe issues in these areas, and have it significantly impeding their day to day life.

I should mention that these attributes are not always negative; there are times when having lots of energy, being aware of every little thing that happens around you, and making snap decisions when there isn't time to consider the consequences can be helpful.

It is completely possible to have a successful life with ADHD. ADHD tends to come with creativity and unique ways of seeing the world, which are decidedly good things. At the same time, untreated ADHD can lead to a lot of problems such as depression, substance abuse, struggles with relationships, accidental injuries, and underperformance in school and work. While some kids with ADHD grow out of it, most people have it their entire lives. So helping people learn how to manage the symptoms of ADHD early on makes a huge difference.

Different Kinds of ADHD

There are a few different ways of qualifying subsets of ADHD. For right now, I'm going to use some of the categories proposed by Dr Daniel G. Amen, but keep in mind that there are other theories.

Normally when people think about ADHD they think of Classic ADHD, which is characterized by extreme hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Inattentive Type ADHD, on the other hand, is not usually associated with hyperactivity. Many people (and some professionals) refer to this as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Generally with people who have Inattentive Type ADHD, they are very distractible and prone to daydreaming. This gets diagnosed much less often than other types of ADHD because it comes with less obvious problem behaviors (but still impedes day to day functioning). Frequently girls are more likely to have inattentive type ADHD than Classic ADHD, which is one reason why girls are diagnosed with the disorder much less often then boys are. (Fun fact: I have Inattentive Type ADHD, and like many girls I was not diagnosed until High School)

Overfocused ADHD is a little bit different; instead of struggling to concentrate on a given task, individuals with this type of ADHD tend to struggle with switching attention between tasks. They struggle a lot with transitions and multitasking.

Treatment for ADHD

One of the main treatments for ADHD right now are stimulant drugs, such as Ritalin. A lot of people find this confusing-- if a kid is hyperactive, a stimulant seems like the worst thing you could give them, right? But ADHD medications work to create more of those neurotransmitters (such as dopamine) that are missing in the brain. Another way of saying this is that "problem behaviors" in people with ADHD (hyperactivity, picking fights, dangerous behaviors) are a sort of self regulation, a way of getting the brain to produce the chemicals that aren't there naturally. Get a stimulant in there to trigger those same chemicals, and the problem behaviors are no longer needed.

In addition to medication, there are some herbal supplements that are frequently used. But talk to a doctor before starting a new medication or herbal supplement-- as a music therapist I'm really not qualified to give advice on that subject.

Other therapies involve strengthening the parts of the brain that are underdeveloped and slower to develop in individuals with ADHD. Practicing attention to task, joint and switching attention, impulse control, and other skills can help children and adults with ADHD learn how to manage their unique brains-- how to work with their brains instead of against them.

Next time we'll talk about specifically how music therapy can address some of these challenges. If you have any questions or comments, don't be shy! Feel free to leave a comment below or to contact us. And we'll see you again soon!

#ADHD #socialskills

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South Jordan, UT, USA

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