The validation that comes with being diagnosed is not something that is easy to describe. It is finally putting a definition to something you may have been feeling your whole life. Upon being diagnosed with Attention Deficit/ Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) in university, I was consumed by a tsunami of relief. I was so happy to know that there was a reason for my struggles besides what has always been considered my own lack of intelligence.
Diagnosis tells someone with depression that it is not their fault that they lack interest, or motivation. It tells someone with Post-traumatic stress disorder that their fears, though valid, do not need to be so troubling. It tells someone with Obsessive-compulsive disorder that they do not have to be slaves to their compulsions.
The label of having a disorder was something like a badge of honour to me when I first got diagnosed. I was ecstatic, thinking that I might be praised for getting to where I am with no assistance, that I might get a pat on the back for the uphill battle the schooling system had been for me.
Then, reality set in. The stigma surrounding mental health can be intense, especially when the reality of the disorder you are diagnosed with is still in question.
According to the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario, 5-12% of children suffer from ADHD. The disorder is life-long, with 80% of people’s symptom’s persisting into adulthood, though it is expected to change as the person grows. The number of people being diagnosed has risen slightly over the last decade, and this has led many people to question it. Parents claim their children are being overmedicated. Some think it is simply the product of our culture, what with Twitter’s 140 character limit and Vine’s 6 second videos.
ADHD is a relatively new disorder, only getting correctly identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980. Since then, it has gone through many changes in the specifics and subtleties of the disorder, narrowing the window of symptoms for diagnosis.
As more research is being done, it is become clearer to the masses that disorders such as depression and schizophrenia are simply chemical imbalances in the brain. Learning disorders come about because some people’s brains are built differently than others.
So why is it that a behavior disorder has come under such fire?
One of the biggest problems is that almost any student has experienced what they think are symptoms of the disorder. Whether it is being bored in class, struggling to read a textbook, or feeling like you cannot sit still, most students are willing to chalk it up to “ADHD.” Children’s hyperactivity and disinterest in school is also largely misinterpreted.
On the flip side, this socialization of thinking that being bored in class equals having this joke of a disorder is causing the disorder itself to seem less serious, and less legitimate.
ADHD means that a person has trouble regulating their attention. They have less control over their executive functions. According to CHADD, a nationally recognized authority on ADHD, this means that a person with ADHD would struggle with:
- working memory and recall (holding facts in mind while manipulating information; accessing facts stored in long-term memory)
- activation, arousal and effort (getting started; paying attention; completing work)
- emotion control (tolerating frustration; thinking before acting or speaking)
- internalizing language (using self-talk to control one’s behavior and direct future actions)
- complex problem solving (taking an issue apart, analyzing the pieces, reconstituting and organizing them into new ideas)
Ignorance about the factual side of the disorder is the consummate cause for the stigma surrounding it. Not to mention that the prescription drugs that are used to treat it (Ritalin, Adderall) are coveted by many students as study aids. This is not to say that students are faking ADHD, but they are unfortunately taking advantage of drugs in a highly demanding and stressful society.
It took me until university to get tested for this disorder. I suffered needlessly through all the years of schooling, and knowingly subjected myself to more in university. The legitimacy of many disorders is still in question, but if you think that you have a disability or a disorder, talk to a doctor or contact accessibility and allow yourself to be helped.
By: Samantha Seon
Edited by: Allyssa Fernandez
Image by: Adley Lobo