Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a diagnosis that most people have heard of and are a bit familiar with. It is broken down into 3 different subtypes that a person can switch between during their lifetime. These subtypes include inattentive subtype, hyperactive subtype, or a combined subtype. The surface level symptoms should sound familiar: difficulty attending to tasks and very active. ADHD spans much more than attention and activity levels and is often described as an iceberg label where there is much more under the surface than outwardly shown. In fact, ADHD is a bit of a misnomer. Rather than struggling with attention, those with ADHD demonstrate difficulty with regulating their attention and other executive functioning skills. Regulating attention is much different than no attention. A person with difficulty regulating attention can attend to a specific task for hours if they are able to initiate that attention. This might sound familiar for those children who can play video games for hours but cannot complete a seated coloring task for more than two minutes. Without understanding the mechanism behind the attention difficulty, this difference can easily frustrate caregivers and educators. Those with ADHD also struggle with other types of executive functioning skills including working memory, time management, emotional regulation, planning, and organization.
It is important to realize and understand that ADHD is not a behavior disorder. There are neurological differences in children with ADHD that create differences in how they interpret information around them and engage with their environments. These children are not intentionally ignoring directions and refusing to pay attention when asked. For children and adults with ADHD, to tap into their attention and focus they need to find what motivates them individually. This can be a challenging process when motivation is not clear to the individual or to those who work with them. Supports can be implemented to help with time management and organization to allow for increased success across environments, even when attention cannot be easily directed. When we ask children with ADHD to “just pay attention” or “sit still” we are asking them to do something that their brain is not inherently designed to do. It is critical for those supporting children and adults with ADHD to highlight their strengths and focus on how their nervous systems process information to best support this incredible population. Those with ADHD have incredible strengths because of their differences.