Recently I heard a well known talk show host criticize a woman because she was considering medication for her son who had ADD. Apparently, the host's opinion was that medicating a child with hyperactivity was part of a societal effort to feminize boys.
I couldn't help but feel sorry for the caller as she tried unsuccessfully to convince the host that there really were serious problems with her son. This sad scenario is unfortunately replayed over and over in the lives of people with ADD. I have treated many children and adults with ADD over the years and I have never met anyone who was interested in conspiring to make boys more like girls, and I have met plenty of girls who were hyperactive.
What I have heard are the heartbreaking stories from my clients about how untreated ADD knocked their self-esteem down and ruined their marriages. How they were constant underachievers at school and work because they couldn't focus on the teacher or task, sustain that focus and remember what was said. I have heard how depressed and hopeless they have felt when no matter how hard they tried they just couldn't get it.
ADD is a medical problem. Trying harder to pay attention doesn't help and in fact may make it worse. In part it is caused by the improper functioning of the prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain that controls our executive functions. This part of the brain must work in concert with the other brain systems that control mood, memory, socialization, temper control, learning, and pleasure.
Our ability to watch, supervise, direct and focus are controlled by the prefrontal cortex. Time management, impulse control, planning and the ability to communicate with others is managed by this part of the brain. It controls our ability to focus on material while filtering out less important stimuli. It allows us to select behaviors and think through their consequences based on our experience in social situations and at work.
The prefrontal cortex plays a large part in our ability to feel and express emotions. Sometimes a person might inaccurately perceive their spouse to be unfeeling and cold which would obviously cause hurt feelings and possibly withdrawal.
The part of the brain called the basal ganglia helps integrate movement with feelings and thoughts. It is involved in regulating the body's idle speed and anxiety level. Sometimes this part of the brain is underactive and causes problems with motor behavior.
ADD is real. I think we have progressed to the point where we can acknowledge that it exists and that it is a problem. Still there are those who add to the negative stigma by making comments like the talk show host's. There is clearly a difference between age appropriate activity and hyperactivity and it has nothing to do with masculinity. It has to do with a brain disorder that needs medical treatment. A thorough evaluation by a doctor who specializes in treating children or adults with ADD is a critical first step. A board certified psychiatrist is recommended.
Dr. Daniel Amen has done some remarkable work using SPECT brain scans. He has identified six subtypes of ADD. Each requires a different treatment protocol. His book "Healing ADD" is a great resource. Dr. Amen recommends a holistic approach which may include the use of medication, therapy, nutrition, exercise and self-hypnosis.
Medications have side effects and they need to be carefully considered. However, untreated ADD also has side effects. Relationships erode when one or both people have trouble with tact, say the first thing that comes to mind, or constantly focuses on the negative. Self-esteem suffers from constant rejection and failure. The likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse is higher as a person tries to self- medicate than when he or she receives proper treatment. School and work failure may lead to depression and self-loathing.
ADD has its origin in the brain, not behavior or discipline. Tightening up the discipline plan will not change a thing because it does nothing for the brain. When a person's brain is not functioning properly, treatment is required. We encourage people who have problems with any other organ in the body to get medical treatment, but we are skeptical and critical when it comes to the brain. The brain is the most important organ in the body. Without proper brain functioning the other systems in the body cannot work the way they should. Therefore the ADD sufferer cannot be the best person they are capable of being without proper treatment.