A blog post by a local science teacher, Janco Olivier.
About two years ago, I was diagnosed with ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. Initially, I thought this diagnosis was laughable. I am reasonably intelligent, I do well academically, and have never had behavioural or concentration problems in my life. Then I started doing some research, and the profile and symptoms became more noticeable in my everyday life. The diagnosis explained why I have always preferred a dark environment, without posters or decorations on my walls, especially while studying. It explains why, even though I am highly logical, I can be extremely and even recklessly impulsive. It explains why my academic performance dropped from an average of 90% to 60% in my second year of study. It even explains why I have been in two car accidents since I started driving. The reason is that ADHD is not as simple as it seems, and the stigma and misconceptions surrounding the topic obscure the truth. I hope to explain my understanding of the matter and hope that it may be informative.
What is ADHD?
What one needs to understand about ADHD is that it is a neurological disorder. While it is one that can be manageable and lived with, it is still a physical and chemical problem, just as poor eyesight or weak joints are physical problems. I say this with confidence, having studied the chemistry behind ADHD using my background as a B.Sc Biochemistry major, and not because some article on Buzzfeed says so. I will not go into the biochemical aspect of the disorder, but I feel that this is an important starting point.
Now, ADHD is a sensory processing disorder. Allow me to explain. Imagine you are in a crowded room, and everyone is engaged in conversation. You, however, only register the voice of the person to whom you are talking. The misconception is that you are not listening to every conversation around you. In truth, your brain receives all of this information and then selects which information is important and which is not. That which is important, such as the words of the person to whom you are speaking, is brought to your conscious attention, while the rest is “filtered out” and disregarded. This is why you can be focused on a conversation, but the moment someone from the other side of the room says your name, you hear that. It is because your brain hears everything but only lets a few things through, that which it regards important, and it regards your name as important to you.
What this means
This is where the problem lies for individuals with ADHD, and the result can be one of two things. The brain can regard too much irrelevant information as important, and the individual becomes consciously aware of every little thing around them. The individual then is forced to pay attention to every small thing as much as they are to the important thing because their brain regards everything as important. They then become overwhelmed by the sensory input, and cannot focus on that which is really important. This is true in my case, which is why I prefer minimalistic, quiet and darker environments, as to reduce the visual and auditory stimuli. The other way ADHD can present is by not allowing the important information through, and filtering out important information as irrelevant background information. These individuals often appear inattentive rather than easily distracted, as important information is not brought to their attention as their brains disregard the information as irrelevant. These conditions often manifest in either inattentive, hyperactive or highly impulsive behaviour, as the individual subconsciously tries to compensate for the over or under-stimulation of their environment. Many also learn coping mechanisms such as chewing, fiddling and fidgeting, moving around, biting nails and so forth.
Should we medicate ADHD?
Many people do not regard ADHD as a real condition. To say this is ignorant. People say things such as ADHD is over-diagnosed, and 50 years ago no one had ADHD and they were fine. The problem here is that the medical aspect of ADHD is not recognised or validated, despite numerous studies showing the truth thereof. As such, people become wary of medication as a treatment for ADHD. To this, I say that many years ago, people didn’t wear glasses, and they are too dependent on prescription lenses. Just because it wasn’t recognised in the past, does not mean it did not happen, it was just dealt with poorly. Now, as a teacher, I fully agree that ADHD is over-diagnosed, and that medication is not the right answer for everyone. It definitely should not be a doctor’s first response.
Often, an individual can learn to cope by dealing with unresolved anxiety issues as well as an appropriate sensory diet before having to resort to medicine. I teach several children who have been medicated to the point where they are zombies, lacking their personality. In these cases, medication is often the response of frustrated parents looking for an immediate solution. On the other hand, medication has allowed other children I teach to flourish, and achieve things they would never have been capable of before, and for these individuals, medication absolutely is the right answer. In either case, the situation needs to be carefully examined but ADHD must be seen for what it is, a real, physical disorder that can be treated.
In closing, I would like to mention that numerous highly successful people have been diagnosed with ADHD, including Emma Watson, Michael Phelps, Sir Richard Branson, Jamie Oliver, and of course, myself. It is not a death sentence, it is merely a condition that can make life more challenging, but can be easily dealt with. I have had to learn how to cope with ADHD as a teacher, which has several challenges. A learner whispers to another learner in the back of a class drops a pencil or shuffles in his chair, and immediately my focus is out the window. I even had to remove posters from my wall as I find myself drawn to them while explaining the work to the class, and having to refocus myself several times during the lesson. But I can cope, it definitely does not impact my life significantly, and, if anything, has given me an advantage by teaching me how to handle several things at the same time. The most important thing is learning how to use anything in life to your advantage. Thanks for reading.
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