ADHD is an abbreviation for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain, located right behind the forehead. This part of the brain starts to develop during adolescence and manages the mental processes called executive functioning. These include our ability to plan, focus, multitask, and remember instructions. ADHD is normally diagnosed during childhood. It affects 5% of Canadian students, which makes up approximately 1 to 3 students per classroom.
This disorder continues well into adulthood. Consequently, early intervention is advantageous to ensure schooling does not become such a frustrating and negative experience for the child that it limits their learning potential. With the help of trained and qualified behavioural therapists, individuals with ADHD can learn strategies to compensate and regulate their lives to succeed in any career they choose.
Common Symptoms of ADHD
ADHD symptoms usually become apparent between the ages of seven to nine. However, they can also begin during the early teenage years. The disorder can present itself in various forms. Children on the Autism Spectrum can sometimes exhibit similar symptoms, however, these are distinctly different conditions. Some children can have both.
Individuals with the inattentive type of ADHD may have difficulty paying attention to details. Teachers may notice the child making careless mistakes and report that he/ she is having trouble focusing in class. You may also notice your child daydreaming excessively, getting easily distracted while listening and have difficulty following instructions and completing tasks.
Those with hyperactive or impulsive ADHD may fidget, tap their hands or feet and have difficulty sitting in one place. Some may talk excessively or act impulsively without considering the consequences of their words and actions. Children with ADHD sometimes have trouble getting along with others because the concept of sharing or taking turns is difficult for them to grasp.
Almost every child will exhibit ADHD-type symptoms from time to time as their brains develop. However, health care professionals would only confirm the diagnosis after months of testing and observations. The symptoms could be a combination of those described above, and they would be continuous and persistent.
What Causes ADHD?
Research shows a strong connection between ADHD and genes. If a parent or sibling has ADHD, other children are also likely to have the disorder. Scientists are still uncovering the significance of an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brains of people with ADHD and of the size differentials of some parts of the brain, compared to those without ADHD. Other causes of ADHD include low birth weight and premature deliveries, alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy, brain injuries and lead exposure during pregnancy or at a young age.
However, research definitely does not support some of the common rumours about ADHD causes, such as vaccines, high consumption of sugary food, excessive exposure to television, parenting styles, poverty or family chaos.
Adults with ADHD
The term ADHD only became official in 2013, when it got added to the DSM-5, a manual that the medical profession uses to diagnose mental health conditions. Consequently, some individuals could receive a diagnosis of ADHD in adulthood. Many will have experienced a lifetime of struggle. They might have been pegged “difficult children” in school and punished unnecessarily. Their true potential may not have been nurtured or recognized. Many suffer from low self-esteem caused by unsuccessful relationships that have impacted them personally and professionally. Along the way they may have learned behaviours, both helpful and negative, to cope. Consequently, their symptoms may present differently from those in children.
When evaluating adults for ADHD, a physician’s goal is to determine the extent of the existing symptoms and whether they were present in childhood. People with ADHD often have holes in their memory. Consequently, it is not unusual for physicians to interview other family members to obtain a full picture of the patient’s past and present behaviour patterns.
Almost always, a diagnosis of ADHD in adults brings a huge sense of relief. They can finally understand the course of their lives. Many welcome the opportunity to regain control of what seemed unmanageable before. Therapy, medications and/ or lifestyle changes can greatly help them improve the quality of their lives.
Psychotherapy for ADHD
One of the most effective treatments for ADHD is psychotherapy. Depending on the age of the patient, therapists trained in the following modalities can help individuals improve their behaviour, self-control and self-esteem.
- Behavioural Therapy (for children)
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (For adults)
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (For adults)
- ADHD coaching
- Play therapy
- Art therapy
Psychotherapy sessions will generally focus on three key areas: organization and planning, distractibility, and cognitive restructuring. Children under 8 years old are often too young to attend their own therapy sessions. Consequently, the parents often receive ADHD therapy to help them guide the child’s behaviour. Older children will receive a combination of their own behaviour therapy, along with training for their parents.
When screening therapists, you should look for one that can meet with you and/or your child regularly, monitor progress and provide ongoing support. This continuity is a very important aspect of the therapeutic relationship. Familiarity with your child will enable the therapist to re-evaluated and tailor treatment according to your child’s development and maturity.
The Ontario government offers some assistance for children with special needs, particularly if the condition is severe, including tax benefits for parents.
As described above, a child with an ADHD diagnosis can benefit from psychotherapy to enhance their self-regulation. Therapy fees are one reason why people avoid seeking help, and we understand this, completely. Here is how we charge for our time and we are happy to have a frank and open conversation with you about this. We can discuss affordable options, like discounted rates with qualified interns, who are graduates from accredited Master’s programs. They receive extensive training on our processes and work closely under the guidance of a clinical supervisor. As this remains a popular option at our practice, these therapy sessions are dependent on availability and caseloads.
To accommodate varying schedules we offer online and in-person therapy sessions during office hours, evenings and weekends. Here is how you can contact us.
About The Authors
Aaliyah Mehboob, MSW Candidate, Masters of Social Work, University of Toronto. Intern at Beaches Therapy Group.