What do you picture when you hear attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? A young boy who struggles to sit still? A coworker who often misses details at the weekly office meetings? While people with ADHD may find themselves in these situations, they hardly give a full picture of what this neurodevelopmental condition actually entails. Today, I’d like to take some time to provide you with that full panoramic view.
Although popular media might have you thinking that ADHD is simply a deficit in focus and attention, it is much deeper than that. In reality, ADHD is actually a general dysfunction of the frontal lobe circuits. So why does this specification matter? Well, the frontal lobes are responsible for a lot of different things. I often think of them as the brain’s filter and executive planner. It is the responsibility of the frontal lobe to regulate emotions, exercise self-control, decide what information moves from short-term to long-term memory, in addition to coordinating attention (Diamond, 2013; Retz et al., 2012). In ADHD, there is aberrant development of circuits in the prefrontal cortex and premotor areas of the frontal lobes, resulting in dysregulation of some or all of the aforementioned functions (Hirsch et al., 2018). I believe that this is important to touch on, especially considering that ADHD is very heterogeneous (no two cases look exactly alike). Some people with ADHD struggle to focus on assigned tasks while others may have more trouble with properly expressing their emotions.
In all honesty, I believe that the name of the condition is an unsettling misnomer. Rather than focussing on the experience of the individual, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, places the focus on how the individual disrupts others. In fact, some scientists are suggesting that we do away with the name in favor of a more accurate one. Personally I am partial to novelist and ADHD advocate Sarah Marie Graye’s suggested name change, Executive Function Deficit Disorder (2018). Regardless of what we choose to call it, the important thing to remember is that there is an individual behind the diagnosis, and that there is no catchall term that can truly capture the human experience!