The immediate effects of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are challenging enough for any child and family. The lack of attention, impulsivity, constant movement and other mental illness sign and symptoms can wreak havoc on a child’s life at home and at school, and make everyday activities escalate out of control.
Are you surprised by the question in the title? Maybe you’ve thought ADHD was only a behavioral disorder.
However, many children living with ADHD have difficulty focusing their attention on necessary tasks and using working memory effectively, making ADHD a cognitive disorder as well. ADHD is a developmental condition of inattention and distractibility, with or without hyperactivity.
Take, for instance, Thomas, a middle school student. Thomas has difficulty staying on task and completing his schoolwork. He also has problems keeping his backpack and papers organized and remembering what to bring home or take to school. He might read a chapter but not retain what he has read. He might know the material but be unable to write an answer or start a paper because he cannot organize his thoughts. He might be able to write out math equations, but makes careless errors along the way. He also has problems keeping track of his personal items and keeping his bedroom organized.
Growing up, I saw firsthand what labeling a child can do. In elementary school, my brother was having trouble staying focused both at home and at school, took 3 times as long to do his homework than his classmates, and struggled to keep anything organized. Not surprisingly, he was diagnosed with ADHD and put on medication.
Even before the meds started, there was a noticeable difference in him as soon as he was informed that “he was ADHD.” He wasn’t the little brother I knew anymore. He became much more negative when talking about himself and he stopped fighting against some of the behaviors associated with ADHD. It seemed like he had given up. He lost hope. All of a sudden he would say that he “couldn’t” do things because he was ADHD. It defined him. I noticed that not only did my brother expect the “typical” ADHD behaviors and characteristics from himself, but my parents began expecting them from him too. If he had a better day, the credit was given to the medication. But bad days were the expectation, and accepted as if it was the new “normal.”
As a Masters student in Individual, Couple and Family Therapy, I am learning about a lot of theories and ideas, but one that has changed my entire way of thinking comes from Narrative Therapy.