ADHD Awareness Month: how a diagnosis can change a life

"ADHD Awareness Month" is written over a white background. the ADHD appears in a large black font, and the awareness month underneath it in white within an orange arrow pointing to the right.

Did you know that male children are diagnosed with ADHD as much as two to three times more often than female children? 

In the last few years, that gap has been slowly closing as young women who were missed in childhood have been driving a recent surge in ADHD diagnoses. 

Monash Health Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Associate Professor Soumya Basu said an increase in better awareness and detection of ADHD had been a large driving force in rectifying these missed diagnoses. 

“The manifestation of ADHD is slightly different between males and females,” he said. 

“Females often present with the inattentive variety where there are stronger problems with executive functioning, like time management and distractibility, which isn’t often picked up at school because the traditional presentation in boys is hyperactivity and is more easily detectable.” 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder which impacts some of the hardwiring of the brain, and manifests as three main symptoms – hyperactivity, impulsivity and problems with concentration or distractibility. 

“Often times we see a combined variety, but there are purely inattentive varieties and hyperactive varieties too,” A/Prof Basu said. 

The consultant psychiatrist said receiving a diagnosis was very important for people with undiagnosed ADHD so they can better understand and help themselves and know they aren’t alone. 

“A diagnosis in and of itself can be extremely validating, as those with undiagnosed ADHD are often highly criticised and labelled as lazy and undisciplined which is not true,” he said. 

Those with ADHD also possess a variety of positive and unique traits. 

“They’ve got high energy, they’re quick thinkers, they’re fun to be around, many can be highly intelligent, they can be extremely creative and offer out of the box thinking which is often fundamental for scientific breakthroughs, so it’s absolutely not all doom and gloom,” A/Prof Basu said. 

The neurodevelopmental disorder is also predominantly caused by genetic factors, with some environmental, and is not the result of “bad parenting”. 

“There is a terrible assumption that it does result from bad parenting and these people are disruptive and destructive, which is the furthest thing from the truth,” A/Prof Basu said. 

The best way to support someone in your life with ADHD is to try to understand the condition – and to do so by utilising authentic sources of information, which is especially important this October during ADHD Awareness Month.  

“There is a lack of the chemical dopamine in the brains of people with ADHD, so they’re much more reward seeking,” he said. 

“They need tasks to be shortened, they need a reward at the end, they need predictability and routine, a structured environment with breaks and they will just thrive.” 

“The most important thing is understanding and radical acceptance.”