Perhaps your child or spouse or you have been diagnosed with or suspected to have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. I want to take a moment to explore this set of challenges. ADHD has one of three presentations: 1) Inattention, or an inability to sustain focus particularly on matters that are not highly stimulating (like video games), 2) Hyperactivity, or an inability to be still, or 3) a Combination of Inattention and Hyperactivity.

It was once thought that people outgrew ADHD. We now know that is not the case. When I first began my work as a psychologist, I was struck by how many adults, never before diagnosed, were struggling with one or more types of ADHD. On his website, Dr. Daniel Amen discusses 7 types of this disorder and can offer online testing for you to see if you may fall into one of these categories. His SPECT-imaging illustrates the various parts of the brain either over- or under-stimulated in those with this diagnosis. Frequently, I hear people state that the entire idea of ADHD is absurd, that what is needed is simply more understanding or more discipline – that ADHD is nothing more than a “cop out” for some moral or character failing of an individual. That is NOT what the brain scans definitively show. ADHD is real – too real, often painfully real.

As I have worked with children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD, it is clear to me that this is not just a cognitive disorder (how someone processes information) or a behavioral disorder (that someone fidgets or is restless), but this is a disorder that impacts the very self of a person, leaving them feeling different, inferior, unintelligent, incompetent, or bad. Often, this starts in school where someone realizes the other students are grasping a concept but he or she is not; or other students are sitting still and focusing on their work, but he or she is not. The conclusion is: something is wrong with me. The teachers seem perpetually disappointed in or frustrated by this student, leaving this person to conclude that people in authority do not like me (and maybe I don’t like them!).

This is why the path of many with ADHD is so painful for so many: they feel like outsiders, trouble-makers, or like something is wrong with them. Some, then, tend to externalize their pain by causing trouble, disobeying parents and teachers and others in authority, often breaking the law and hurting others. Sadly, our prisons are filled with people with undiagnosed ADHD – who have externalized their sense of frustration. Others internalize their pain from feeling so different: they suffer with depression, anxiety disorders, and other types of psychological anguish. Both externalizers and internalizers may tend to abuse substances more than the general population.

Because of the many of the symptoms of ADHD (not remembering, being distracted, not following through on a task, etc.), many find relationships difficult. It is not unusual for the partner with ADHD to feel as though the other is accusing him or her of being THE PROBLEM, something anyone with ADHD absolutely despises. They often defend themselves against feeling this way and may dig in their heels and insist the other partner is just as much THE PROBLEM. With fingers pointing back and forth, the relationship quickly deteriorates. The only hope is for both to see the ADHD (not the person with it) as something that they as a couple must manage (just as they would if one of them was diabetic, for example).

If you or someone you love is struggling with this challenge, or if you find yourself struggling in a relationship where ADHD is an issue, I invite you to have hope! Therapy, nutritional counsel, meditation, practical tools, and even medication can significantly minimize the symptoms of ADHD and tremendously improve someone’s quality of life.