Stuart Jacob: ADHD awareness month aims to end misconceptions

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October marks ADHD awareness month as campaigners globally try to raise awareness and understanding about this commonly misunderstood condition which affects so many people.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – or ADHD – is thought to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that affects attention, concentration and impulsivity. Someone with ADHD might have significant attention problems, appear restless, fidgety, overactive and impulsive. They can act before thinking and often speak before thinking by blurting out and interrupting others. Studies show that ADHD may affect certain areas of the brain that allow us to solve problems, plan ahead, understand other people’s actions, and control our impulses.

The exact causes of ADHD are still not fully known. It is believed to be caused by poor transmission of messages in the brain, and in particular by low levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, which carry messages from one neuron to another. These neurotransmitters are particularly associated with attention, organisation and managing emotions.

Public perceptions of ADHD are often made up of misinformation about the disorder. A popular misconception is that ADHD is not a disorder or at least, is a benign one that is over-diagnosed. However, studies over the past 100 years show ADHD is a chronic disorder which has a negative impact on virtually every aspect of daily social, emotional, academic and work functions.

Another myth is that most sufferers will grow out of the condition, however it is now acknowledged that between 1.5 and two per cent of the adult population will continue to display symptoms. Approximately two out of five children with ADHD continue to have difficulties at age 18. The main symptoms, such as attention difficulties, may improve as children get older, but behavioural problems such as disobedience or aggression may become worse. In particular, boys who are hyperactive and aggressive tend to become unpopular with other children. It is therefore very important for children to receive help as early as possible, to prevent them from getting socially isolated and from developing other emotional and behaviour problems.

So while work is being done to raise awareness of the disorder there is still a lot of uncertainty and misinformation. That is why the awareness raising events taking place this month are such an important resource for anybody who is affected by ADHD and their families and friends. So, please take advantage of the events on offer.

Stuart Jacob is director of Falkland House School in Fife, one of Scotland’s top providers of education for children with additional support needs