Shiny Science

Lillian Steenblik Hwang – Blog & Journalism Portfolio

My brain is not the same…

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When seeking accommodations at my university as an undergrad, I had to get re-diagnosed or re-assesed again as an adult. The Disability Services Office only accepted testing paperwork that was less than five years old.

Then, when I needed accommodations to take the GRE to get into graduate school last year, I had to get tested *again* to satisfy their paperwork requirements.

It’s frustrating and expensive to have to go through testing again and again. It’s also exhausting, since the tests force you to try to concentrate and pay attention for long periods of time.

Diagnosing ADHD

Diagnosing ADHD is still rather complicated. It’s not enough to just meet the criteria that the DSM-IV-TR sets for ADHD. Before ADHD can be identified as a problem other condition have to be ruled out, through differential diagnostic testing.  Once other conditions are ruled out, ADHD can be considered as a diagnosis.

In adults, the symptoms must affect the ability to function in daily life and persist from childhood. ADHD can be confused with a number of other conditions such as emotional and adjustment problems, behavioral problems, depression, bipolar  anxiety,  obsessive-compulsive disorder, tic disorders, abuse, other medical problems, or learning disorders. Sometimes it is also co-morbid with one or more of these conditions.

ADHD diagnostic testing depends on a battery of psychological, intelligence, cognitive and performance tests. These are backed up by self-surveys of the person and their friends or family, to show how the patient is impaired functionally at home, school and work.

People do not get their brains scanned to diagnose ADHD.

From time to time everyone gets distracted, has problems concentrating or paying attention, or exhibits other “classic ADHD” symptoms.  Modern lifestyles contribute to these problems. Dr. Edward Hallowell, an established expert on ADHD, calls this “pseudo-ADHD”.

I think that this, along with the lack of a “hard biological test” for ADHD is a big part of the reason why there is still so much controversy about ADHD.

Some people still don’t think it exists. A lot of people still don’t understand that it can affect adults, and think ADHD is something that people grow out of. Just as a sidenote – the CDC page on AD doesn’t mention adult ADHD at all.

There have been many neurological studies that show differences in the ADHD brain. These show functional differences in how the brain operates, as well as structural differences. There is biological evidence of the existence of ADHD – and strong evidence of heredity of ADHD.

What is it like to have ADHD?

This is always hard for me to explain to people. There are some simulations – but they don’t really capture the full essence…

– Some Sensory Simulators –

Reading with Distractions: PBS

Auditory Activity – Listening with Distractions: PBS (this one feels very accurate to me)

A nice set of analogies about what it is like to have ADHD  – How the brain with ADHD relates to behavioral symptoms

Dr. Hallowell’s description of the experience of ADHD

Kind of long, but a cute description by a young girl about having ADHD.

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