The lowdown on ADHD

As parents, we are exposed to a constant influx of information and it can be hard to separate the facts from fiction. This month is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) awareness month and we asked Durban North’s Dr Richard Matthis for some clarity on this sometimes-misunderstood disorder.

Being told your child has ADHD can be overwhelming. It’s important to remember, however, that it is a treatable disorder if correctly diagnosed and managed. According to Dr Matthis, ADHD is the name we now collectively give to this disorder, which was initially called ADD or ADHD depending on the level of activity seen. So, what exactly is it? “ADHD is a neuro-developmental disorder of the brain which is largely inherited. It effects six percent of school-going children and persists in five percent of adults.”

Dr Matthis shares important ADHD facts with us:
* The main area of the brain involved is the pre-frontal cortex, which helps regulate or control what we think, do and feel. The development of this area lags behind the rest of the brain by a third, explaining the relative immaturity of how those with the disorder impulsively behave. Those with inattention can’t control their thoughts and are easily distracted. Those with hyperactivity can’t keep still or quiet for long and react impulsively to things around them. Failure to control their feelings is an important part of this disorder and explains shifts in mood and argumentative behaviour seen in so many.

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* ADHD can be thought of as a ‘doing disorder’. They know what to do and why they need to do it yet, even when motivated, don’t seem to be able to get it done. This is because part of the regulation function mentioned above involves ‘The Executive Function’ which is a term we use to explain the series of cognitive functions used to get something done. It allows us to prioritise what we need to do, remember what we are doing, inhibits distraction and gives us a sense of the time we are taking to do it. Without this function those with ADHD depend exclusively on interest to get something done.

* The three fundamental ways those who have ADHD differ from those who don’t are their inability to concentrate while being hypersensitive and hyperreactive to what is going on. These deficits affect their ability to complete basic tasks, interfering with their productivity at work and ability to run their lives responsibly, resulting in poor decision making and missed opportunities. It especially affects the way they listen and appropriately respond to others. This causes misunderstandings and arguments as the person with ADHD, having often not concentrated properly on what was said, is hurt easier and responds quicker than those without. This causes communication issues and affects relationships poorly. In childhood, ADHD affects the child’s ability to learn, but more damaging is the negative effect it has on relationships, leaving the person with it misunderstanding what is happening while often being misunderstood.

* Diagnosis is pivotal as with this degree of regulation dysfunction, a person with ADHD is bound to develop a mood disorder like anxiety or depression and dependence on illicit drugs might become a form of self-medication.

* Treatment entails understanding the pitfalls of how the deficits in executive function prevent your child from learning and accommodate for them while being aware of their hypersensitivity and reactiveness, so that you manage them better as people.

* Medication improves the executive function and self-control by eighty percent, giving those with the disorder (children and adults alike) the ability to experience the world one step at a time and in so doing enables them to thrive.

Details: 110 Adelaide Tambo Drive, Durban North, 031 566 4520, [email protected]

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