From time to time, we all forget where we left our keys. The responsibilities of life sometimes get so overwhelming that we show up late to work or school on rare occasion as well. Most of us procrastinate to some extent, and the vast majority of us wait until April 14 to do our taxes. Certainly, everyone has blurted out something inappropriate in class or at a meeting at one time or another. Are we all ADHD?
The truth is that the traits of ADHD are, by and large, extreme forms of behaviors that almost all of us exhibit from time to time. Spontaneity is called “impulsivity” when it prevents us from getting along with others, or gets us into trouble. Imagination is called “short attention span” or “distractibility” when we spend so much time in our own world that we do not fulfill what is expected of us as students or workers in the here and now. Energetic people are called “hyperactive” when their behaviors become extreme enough to make others around them uncomfortable, and thus cause disruptions. So, ADHD behaviors are extreme forms of traits that have great utility. However, the parts of the brain responsible for channeling and harnessing the strengths of ADHD people do not function optimally. So while the average person might struggle to remember appointments or the location of personal items, these are daily and constant struggles for a person with ADHD. Genetic and cerebral differences underlie this reality.
Evidence continues to mount that ADHD can be correlated with genetic variants. Yes, variations in DNA seem to underlie the symptoms of ADHD. Many of the gene variants, or polymorphisms, associated with the disorder relate to the operation of norepinephrine and dopamine, two neurotransmitters involved in learning, attention, and memory, among many other important functions. A recent study found that children with ADHD have nearly 50 percent less of a protein that is important for attention and memory. Another study from last month found specific genes that are related to important aspects of the brain’s signaling pathways, in which the above-mentioned neurotransmitters are involved. The science continues to support one very important supposition: ADHD behaviors are associated with distinct and meaningful differences in the brain.
I could list hundreds of studies, but my purpose is simply to get you to consider the neurobiological and genetic underpinnings of ADHD. It is not a choice. It is not an outgrowth of laziness. It is simply the product of changes in the brain. The good news is that this “different” brain often has unique strengths and aptitudes that, with proper mentoring and guidance, can be used to great effect. We need to first offer ADHD people compassion, and from that place, we have a good shot at helping them. I urge you to approach ADHD first and foremost from a place of understanding.