ADHD – Is it still a 4 letter word?

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The minute you say ‘ADHD’, someone will have an opinion on it!

I find that the people with the strongest opinions of ADHD are usually those that have never lived with a child or immediate family member with ADHD or ever worked with children with ADHD on a daily basis! They have read bits and pieces in the paper or Googled and found any old site on the topic and now regard themselves as ‘experts’ in this area of child development. They are quick to give opinions and pass judgements, which makes it really difficult for the families with this diagnosis to just ‘get on with it’. ADHD is not a disease and it certainly does not define the person. It is just part of who they are and it is definitely not an easy one-size-fits-all term.

Some famous and very successful people with ADHD are: Michael Phleps (16x Olympic medalist), Michael Jordan (basket ball player), Charlize Theron (actress), Steven Spielberg (Director)

The Blame Game

Outsiders love to blame or give ‘helpful’ advice regarding:

The parents

  • Just let that (hyperactive) child live with me for a week and he will be sorted out.
  • He just needs a strong hand!
  • She watches too much TV at home, that is why she is so vague

The diet

  • She gives him far too much sugar
  • How about taking out the red-colouring in all his food groups?
  • Put her on all organic products

The Temperament

  • Oh, he is just a ‘strong personality’
  • She is a quiet unfussed child
  • He is a difficult child
  • She is just very sensitive

The school

  • Those teachers just don’t know how to handle him
  • She is actually a genius – um – very bright and is just bored. If the school did more…
  • The other kids are just mean/scary/too loud
  • The school is placing too much pressure on him.

Obviously there are times when this is the case, but for the child (and parents) with ADHD this is not helpful at all. I still meet scores of parents who have received an ADHD diagnosis for their child and they are too afraid to tell the school or other parents, for fear of a ‘bad’ label, a stigma or having their child being treated differently.

Or, I meet parents who try and ignore the signs of ADHD in case a ‘label’ will cause a self-fulfilling prophecy.


The truth is, we all have labels anyway (funny, outgoing, fiery, caring, diabetic) and we treat everyone differently too. A child with glasses is not banned from doing so because she may ‘feel different’. A principal said to me recently that by parents refusing a ‘label’ for fear of a self-fulfilling prophecy, a child ends up with a different self-fulfilling prophecy anyway. That child becomes ‘the trouble maker’, ‘the scatter-brain’, ‘the ants-in-his-pants one’ etc.

More and more over the years I have come to witness that a ‘label’ is just a term for a person’s ‘way of being’. Some labels can be really helpful and almost freeing, to some students and parents, when they realise there are many others like their child. He is not weird or odd. With the ‘label’ comes access to great information and resources, on how that child may relate to others best or learn according to their strengths.

Although, I strongly advise parents never to just jump into a diagnosis. Perhaps wait a while, especially with a young child, to see if it just immaturity and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. Very often parents have a gut feel anyway, and know their child best!

Some parents feel that not telling a school may be better for their family, and that is each family’s choice. By just the parents being more aware of their child’s way of learning and relating, they can assist the child accordingly. However, most schools will get on-board with parents and everyone ends up working to make school or home life smoother, for the good of the child.

Some may choose to tell just a select few supportive people. As telling everyone and getting lots of unhelpful opinions is unproductive (let’s face it, I wish it were not true, but other parents can be cruel). Choose carefully who you tell and who you think will support your family, so that your child does not come to view their ADHD as something negative.

I love how one teacher said of a Year 2 boy, “He is just the way he was meant to be. I can’t wait to meet him as an adult one day, as he has the energy to go longer, faster and harder than anyone else. He is going to do so well in his life.”

A Few Facts

Dr Edward Halowell says that the core symptoms of ADHD are: distractibility, impulsivity and restlessness. There are broadly 3 types of ADHD (although some are sharpening these categories into 5 or 6 types):

  • ADHD with hyperactivity
  • Inattentive
  • Combined type

Boys are diagnosed more often than girls. It was previously thought that ADHD occurred more in boys than girls, but girls are often found in the inattentive category. More boys fall into the hyperactive category. Girls can also be misdiagnosed as depressed, or get completely overlooked.adhd adults

ADHD types are not the sum total of a child’s nature or temperament. A child will still be outgoing, kind, funny, loud, fiery and compassionate within all of these types. ADHD just describes how a child does certain things.

The Research Road

My goodness, over the past 20 years, (since even being a student at Uni) this topic has been thrown around and debated at length. I have been through the diet phase, the bio feedback phase, the pro-Ritalin phase, the Ritalin ban phase, the over-diagnosis phase, the under-diagnosis phase and the fish-oil phase.

I think I have been on seminars on every single one of these areas! What I am loving at the moment, with the relatively new field of neuroscience, is that there are now scans that can be done on the brain. These are beginning to show that the ADHD brain is structured differently to the so-called neuro-typical brain (please note: I did not say ‘normal brain’ – Is there such a thing?) Also, certain parts of the ADHD brain are slightly different in size.


What works?

I find that a combination of good parenting, boundaries, structure, assistance at school (sometimes socially, sometimes physically, sometimes with school work), possible diet and yes, even medication (when necessary), will make a world of difference to a child with ADHD. Their self-esteem and confidence improve as their true abilities become noticed for what they are, instead of some of the symptoms of ADHD being the first thing others see and define them by.

Young people with ADHD often fail to weigh up the risks of behaviour, even more so than neuro-typical teens. Their brains are up to 2 years behind the development of their peers in some areas, so medication can be helpful in assisting with focus and clear thinking.

Boundaries and structure at this age are  vital.


Adults and ADHD

ADHD in adults is still a new area of study. Many who were among the first children to be diagnosed are now in their young adult or adult years. Also, parents who have a child with a diagnosis are suddenly realising that they too have ADHD and couldn’t understand why they were always in trouble, restless or struggled to make decisions growing up. (ADHD has a strong hereditary component).

Children usually see their paediatrician for a diagnosis, while adults will see a psychiatrist that specialises in ADHD.  Teens may have used Ritalin (Dexamphetamine, Strattera etc) while they were young and find as they get older they do not use it for a while. But it appears that one does not generally ‘out grow’ ADHD. Adults with hyperactivity may no longer ‘swing from the chandeliers’ as such, but they are often restless, tapping pencils in meetings, can’t keep their knees still while sitting and can be distracted at work.

The more responsibility a career person begins to take on, the more some of the symptoms begin to show up again, due to the need for added structure. Adults find that they may begin taking Ritalin again in their late 30′s or 40′s, to assist them in their careers for critical decision making tasks. ADDults is a fantastic group that assists adults and older children with ADHD as well as providing family support if necessary.

So yes, labels can be good and bad. I think it just depends on what you do with the label that will make all the difference!

“Probably the most important factor that will determine your child’s future success is his view of himself. That view is moulded by you. If you support your child, build his self-esteem, and teach him to value his talents and uniqueness, then his ADHD can be to his advantage. Ultimately, it is how you teach your child to value his uniqueness that will make the difference for your child.” Anthony Kaine MD

Some other great sites include: ADDers in the USA and Hi2U in the UK. Do you know of any you would recommend?

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  1. Wow. Hope this wipes out some ignorance out there.

  2. Wow. Hope this wipes out some ignorance out there.

  3. RT @collettsmart: Talking #ADHD on the @DailyEdition7 today. Here is my article –

  4. @collettsmart: Talking #ADHD on the @DailyEdition7 today.

  5. @collettsmart: Talking #ADHD on the @DailyEdition7 today.

  6. Thanks for sharing this. I do know families dealing with ADHD, but as I don’t know much, I never dared say anything. I’ll still keep my mouth shut, but I definitely have a better understanding. I think the Winnie the Pooh types also helps.

    Thanks so much for posting this article up.

  7. Tammy – your comment is incredibly touching, my heart was full after reading it! Thank you for your courage in sharing with us!

  8. I loved reading your post.
    Mel: I also agree with what you have said. I have two boys with ADHD, sadly one is now an ANGEL in heaven – passed away in his sleep in 2005 aged 11.5yrs- and I have a son nearly 7 who also has ADHD – who I would describe as the Tigger Type mentioned in the post.
    So many people seem to turn their hearing off or try to talk you down when you mention ADHD.
    We cannot use medication for the youngest son as my ANGEL son was taking medications when he passed away and we do not know if these medications contributed to his passing.
    My eldest son was a different child when on his meds, but in saying that he only had limited benefits from the medication.
    I am not against the meds but am now more aware of things that can happen whilst children are on the medication – but I guess it is the same as all meds there can be risks.
    I have family members that dont believe in ADHD, so just dont talk about it in front of them.
    I have even once asked the Minister for Education to spend a day with my now ANGEL son when trying to get more funding in schools for these children…
    It is frustrating having to deal people and their opinions when it comes to ADHD – and many other conditions.


  9. Thank you for your valuable comments ladies! Parents spend so much time feeling guilty and really need positive press on this issue.

    Mel – I love your ‘ranting’. It is so heartfelt and honset! I am going to be doing a post on parents experiences and will be adding this one. Your child has the best mum possible!

  10. This is brilliant. Everything you’ve said spot on. Especially the first part about everyone *without* an adhd child having all the ‘answers’ on what do to about it. They offer all of these ‘helpful’ suggestions which are really veiled insults – ‘let me have him for a week i’ll sort him out’ = you’re a crap parent. ‘it’s all the additives in food’ = you feed your child rubbish. “He watches too much tv”, again = you’re a crap parent.’

    I take my child to someone who has studied for years and years on these conditions and has worked in the field for much longer than that,a psychiatrist, but no, other people think they know better! It is also very frustrating when someone decides to tell your child that adhd doesn’t really exist. I have had this happen and my child then stopped taking meds which was a disaster.

    As I read your post I was reminded of when I listened to a podcast a while back which was a lecture from an expert (an actual expert, not an armchair advisor) who said that rather than tv causing adhd, it is more accurate to say that kids with adhd might be more drawn to television than other kids. This same guy talked about the structure of an adhd brain being different. It was really interesting.

    When my son was diagnosed with adhd, i was initially resistent to the idea. I told the psychiatrist that it wouldn’t be adhd because my child wasn’t trashing our house (like what i had seen on a current affair)and yelling at me. I then learned more about what the condition is. Concerned about the suggestion of meds, I asked whether there was a connection between prescribing ritalin and subsequent illicit drug use (having heard ‘advice’ from others saying that instilling the idea that drugs solve problems leads to this). He said that it is the other way around, unmedicated adhd children can self medicate with other drugs as they get older, obviously detrimental on a number of levels.

    The thing that people need to realise, is that adhd can cause significant frustration for children. I watched my son’s self esteem plummet due to his inability to be like his peers. Everyone else could be organised, remain focussed, why couldn’t he? Seeking intervention was much better than allowing him to continue to struggle and feel worse and worse.

    The next time someone tells me they don’t ‘believe in’ adhd, i’m going to ask them whether they ‘believe’ in depression, schizophrenia and epilepsy. This condition is not a fairy tale, it is not ‘new’ and yes it was around ‘when you were a child’ but it was likely named something different. It has changed name several times over the last 100 years as researchers learn more about the condition, according to another article I read, it will likely change name again in the next few years to reflect new research.

    If I sound frustrated, it’s because i am! I’ve gone on a bit of a rant! But thank you so much for writing this, it is a gift for anyone who has an adhd child. I’m thrilled to bits with mine, he is growing into a lovely young man and I’m very glad to have received the help we did.

  11. I have seen so many kids benefit from medication over the years. Those kids who couldn’t settle to learn, finally being able to focus, and being grateful for it.


  1. Dr. Vincent Malfitano

    ADHD – Is it still a 4 letter word?

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