ADHD a Lifelong Journey Full of Challenges

by Andrea Wackerle

Originally Published in the Asheville Citizen Times
Contributed by John Willson and Rudy Rodriquez

John and RudyADHD is not a new concept to the American public. For most people the thought of ADHD may conjure up an overactive busy child who is disruptive in the classroom or at home. You also may think about the child who is not paying attention and instead daydreaming, staring aimlessly outside the classroom window. However, it is now clear that ADHD can impact the lives of both children and adults.

Here are a few facts: ADHD is a real condition affecting the lives of real, everyday people — children and adults. It is frequently a lifelong condition. Experts agree that ADHD is a neuropsychiatric condition (with distinct evidence in the brain) that affects the lives of millions of people. ADHD is no longer considered just a childhood condition. Adult ADHD was first recognized in 1991, and research estimates that 4.4 percent of the adult population has ADHD. Research further indicates that in 85 percent of these adults, ADHD is unrecognized, undiagnosed and untreated. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 9 percent of children 4-17 years of age (6.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011. That is a staggering statistic, but any school teacher will tell you that figure is not surprising.

Treatment itself begins with an accurate diagnosis and further treatment options may include medication, exercise, neuro-feedback, dietary considerations, ADHD coaching and cognitive behavioral therapy. Additionally, developing strategies to promote organizational skills, social skills and problem solving can be an excellent addition to a treatment continuum when used consistently.

John Willson is an adult living with ADHD, raising two children diagnosed with ADHD, and is now the executive director of SOAR (a summer adventure camp in WNC serving children diagnosed with ADHD). At SOAR, the focus is on children’s gifts and abilities, using strategies to help develop success oriented outcomes.

Along with understanding are a few more critical components to helping raise a healthy child with ADHD. Never lower your expectations because of ADHD. Children growing up with the disorder can learn compensatory strategies to achieve success. Your focus should be on developing those strategies. Be consistent and fair. When children begin to realize you will do what you say and maintain accountability, it begins to act as an external locus of control. As you work with your child to develop important self-regulatory skills, these boundaries are critical. Finally, celebrate the success and accomplishments of children.

Rudy Rodriguez began working with pediatric ADHD in 1981, but it was a decade later when ADHD was first recognized as an adult condition as well. It was not until last year that the diagnostic criteria for adults was first published in the DSM-5. Rudy was diagnosed as an adult with ADHD in 1994.

“Suddenly my life to date made sense. I began to understand certain lifelong struggles, a comment from my third grade teacher, academic struggles, and why I struggled in some areas of work and excelled in others. I did not see ADHD as a label as some people do. Instead my ADHD diagnosis gave me a context with which to understand my strengths and the areas that needed more attention, and why I have to work harder in some areas than others.’’

Many people dealing with ADHD are sensitive, caring, nurturing souls who hate disappointing or causing hurt. However, we are plagued by a little thing called impulse control. This important component of executive function tends to have a lag or a hiccup in the system. It is not as if we have two competing characters on either shoulder offering competitive approaches to handle any given situation. One little mischievous character whispering in our ear, “Do it. Say it. Go ahead and jump in.” The other wise little character whispering “Don’t! Think about what you’re doing. That might not be safe.” Unfortunately, those voices of reason versus our impulses are strangely silent. The lightning speed between thinking and saying or doing occurs before discernment can kick in. If you can surround your child or yourself with people who truly understand that “Impulsivity Happens,” then that is half the battle.

ADHD is a lifelong condition. Embrace your gifts, recognize your talents and help educate others about the challenges ADHD can bring, along with the opportunities for successful outcomes.

John Willson is an adult living with ADHD, raising two children diagnosed with ADHD, and is the executive director of SOAR (a summer adventure camp here in WNC serving children diagnosed with ADHD. Rudy Rodriguez began working with pediatric ADHD in 1981, but it was a decade later when ADHD was first recognized as an adult condition as well.