ADD / ADHD is a neurobehavioral disorder characterized by difficulty sustaining attention and remaining focused. Other symptoms include hyperactivity and difficulty controlling and moderating behavior. It occurs most commonly in children, but can continue through adolescence and adulthood.
When diagnosed and treated early, the prognosis is generally good; however there are many who do not receive a diagnosis until their late teens, and even adulthood. For those individuals, ADD/ADHD can cause a variety of problems due to the effects the disorder has on behavior.
Why ADD/ADHD Goes Undiagnosed
ADD/ADHD often goes undiagnosed because parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals do not recognize the early signs of the disorder. Although ADD/ADHD has distinct symptoms, it was only comparatively recently that the symptoms were recognized as being part of a neurobehavioral disorder, and not the merely willful bad behavior on the parts of the children involved.
Therefore, children with the disorder often progressed through adolescence and into adulthood, suffering the effects of ADD/ADHD with no treatment.
Today, because there is greater awareness of ADD/ADHD, children with the disorder are getting the diagnoses and treatments they need much earlier. However, it is still possible for a child to fall through the cracks, or for parents to decide not to pursue treatment.
Why Parents Decide not to Pursue Treatment
Some of the treatments for ADD/ADHD are controversial because they involve using amphetamine-based drugs to control the symptoms. These drugs can have side effects, and there are parents who have serious reservations about giving their children such strong medications at an early age.
Parents who are against medication might pursue cognitive behavioral therapy and alternative education settings as alternatives, or they may opt for no formal treatment at all.
There are parents who believe that their children will naturally grow out of the ADD/ADHD and prefer a wait and see approach. There are also those who do not believe ADD/ADHD exists, and believe that the diagnosis is just an excuse to dampen their child’s natural exuberance and creativity.
The Behavioral Effects of ADD/ADHD
ADD/ADHD has three distinct subtypes: predominant hyperactive-impulsive, predominant inattentive, and combined.
Individuals with the predominant hyperactive-impulsive subtype primarily have difficulty staying still and are prone to impulsive behavior. They may fidget a lot, have trouble being quiet, and have a tendency to act without thoroughly thinking things through.
Individuals with the predominant inattentive primarily have difficulty focusing on tasks and might be inclined to jump from one project to another without ever finishing anything. Individuals with the combined subtype have difficulty in all three areas.
While the disorder is usually characterized by inattentiveness and hyperactivity, there are times when people with this disorder have something called hyper focus and can sit absorbed in a single task that captures his attention. For example, a child with ADD/ADHD who has difficulty concentrating on school work can easily play a video game for hours.
If these symptoms go untreated, it can lead to future difficulties with school and work, such as failing grades and difficulty getting and keeping a job. Individuals can also have trouble with impulse control, leading to financial problems, and drug and alcohol issues.
In fact, adults with ADD/ADHD are five to 10 times more likely to have substance abuse issues than those without, and it is also more common for teens with ADD/ADHD to abuse alcohol.
Although ADD/ADHD causes behavioral issues that can lead to difficulties later in life, getting diagnosed with the disorder does not have to be tragic, or even particularly debilitating. When treated properly, children with the disorder can grow up to become productive and successful adults.
Even adults who did not get treatment in childhood can learn to manage and work around their condition, often choosing careers that allow them to work within the framework of their disorder instead of against it.
However, adults and children who are diagnosed with the disorder are encouraged to seek treatment, simply because treatment can ultimately make it easier to cope with the symptoms. While medication is the most common route, patients have also had success with cognitive therapy and counseling.
ADD/ADHD is not something that kids grow out of, and if left untreated can cause problems well into adulthood. However, when treated properly, individuals with this disorder can live normal lives.
- CHADD: ADHD and the Decision to Medicate
- Black Bear Lodge: ADD/ADHD
- WebMD: ADHD and Substance Abuse