Today I would like to do a post on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Imagine this 6 year old child, who persistently punches your eardrums with months of the year; when instructed to tell the time. In an attempt to mention each month, she re-echoes your tympanic membrane by hitting the table. You might need a whole carpentry shop at home when she is 20.
What then is attention?
Attention is a complex cognitive function which is essential for human behavior. Most brain activities require a lot of attention, whether it is to memorize information, to understand a text, or to identify your big sister when she is singing in a choir.
Basically, Attention is not just about the things we focus on – it also concerns all the things we manage to tune out. It is known that the prefrontal cortex — a part of the brain appears to take charge of the brain’s attention; managing at the helm of affairs through the potent action of its messenger- Dopamine.
It’s amazing how a complex structure such as the brain works, basically controlling your fine movements of writing to your complex movements of dancing. It is through the cognitive mechanisms of attention that the growing child’s brain acquires, organizes and processes information.
But how exactly do we filter out irrelevant information and shine the spotlight of our attention on things that actually matter? How do we sufficiently sustain our concentration and discriminate between important and unimportant information?
I have known this boy for the past 23 years of my life. A brilliant boy he is, but then- he has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
ADHD is among the most prevalent chronic health conditions affecting school- age children. It is characterized by Inattention, Hyperactivity and Impulsivity.A lot of English words in there; but take a seat as I rock your boat through moments in his life.
Ever since he was little, he had trouble with reading; His friends would blurt out with laughter immediately anytime his name was tossed with the mandate to read aloud. He kept fidgeting, tapping his fingers and squirming in his seat like a worm. Besides that, He read slower than everyone else and took 3 days to finish a 30 minute comprehension test… Even though he was bright, creative, and had a good memory, consolidating things he studied, was always a problem.
He forgot to do projects and assignments until the night before they were due, leave a whole week’s homework untouched and wash only the spoons, leaving the bowls overnight. He would then coil himself like a cat and sleep; while his supper sat on his bed and stared at his mouth like a mouse.
Notwithstanding, his math was nothing to write home about. Even at the age of 10, he could not get simple arithmetic which involved telling the time, and calculating the costs of items purchased. At the age of 16, a paper showing a lot of simple math had to be handed to him anytime he held on to money. On several occasions, he got chased because he attempted to buy items with his papers instead of money. Even dogs happily joined the chase. Then he would forget the way to his house.
Everyone saw him as a failure. He was primed to focus on his shortcomings that, he spent his life obsessing the minor imperfections he wielded and ignored the immense talent he had.
Gradually He developed a sense of inferiority, that He was somehow less deserving than other kids. The jeers, taunts, repetitions and lashes had threatened the miniature confidence he had; shrinking him into a defensive state of “I don’t know but I don’t care”, “I am good for nothing”. Sadly, He spent 3 years in the same classroom; learning the same things being taught by the same teacher using the same timetable.
Also, His social skills suffered. He could get nervous and forget what he was saying when he was talking to people. Sometimes, He had to repeat in his head what He was going to say or write it down before talking. To make this worse, He couldn’t spell unless spinning in an office chair at the age of 9.
However, he seemed to have a strange, inapt relationship with grasshoppers. His brain sensed the connection because He (Brain) liked to hop just like the knight move of thinking and talking.
Admittedly, He was always daydreaming and seemed to be lost in his own world of flying spaceships, bouncing planets and dancing fishes. You had to be worried anytime you saw a smile on his face at age 15. Curiously, you had to double check any expensive thing you had acquired in the last 24 hours. “Wasei ho kraa”
So, he was sent to the hospital when he hit 18, because his parents were tired of him, and had almost given hope on him. The attending doctor took a comprehensive history and examined him, making a diagnosis of ADHD. The rhyming nature of AD-HD impulsively triggered his hands to dig into his pockets for his phone.
He wasn’t psychotic but just impulsive. Then, he decided not to lose hope and fix himself. He got to understand a lot about ADHD, realizing it didn’t matter whether ADHD was responsible for his quirkiness, he was who he said he was.
He saw a speech therapist who helped him with speech. His confidence improved so well that he got to the point of even laughing at himself when he spilled an answer even before a question was asked.
Next, He tried exercise; Signing up for a backyard basketball team. His first 100 shots were terrible; He found himself throwing the ball into his own net sometimes but his team mates helped him get it through.
What also helped him was daily meditation and the fidget toys he used. The depression that was such a constant part of his life vanished.
Guess what, He is currently enrolled in the university, getting most A’s and a few Bs, and living the balanced lifestyle he wants. He still considers himself a work in progress, and keeps discovering new strategies of optimizing his life. He has dreams of being a chartered accountant and a stand-up comedian one day – I have told him to sit down though.
It is said that family stressors including poverty, under nutrition and exposure to violence can contribute to the symptoms of ADHD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is usually thought of as a childhood condition. However, doctors are discovering that’s not the case. This means many men, and women, carry ADHD along into adulthood but without carrying on their treatment.
There is life after ADHD!
The human cost of undiagnosed ADHD is incalculable – the broken families, suicides, careers lost, unhappy lives and unmet potentials. This alone should be sufficient for society and our government to start treating ADHD with the priority it deserves.
Eliezer Bernard Owusu Ntim.