We didn’t find out I had ADHD until I was in 4th grade. Up until then my parents and teachers just thought I was lazy. I was unmotivated, they thought. I purposefully forgot things just because I didn’t care enough to try to remember. Getting diagnosed with ADHD, although a tiring and troublesome process (yaaaay hours and hours of neuropsychological testing!), helped explain a lot of my behaviors that had formerly been dubbed “bad habits” or “attitude”. My parents, therapist, and I were able to start coming up with strategies to help me remember things, and I began taking medication to stay focused in class. Still, I was blamed for slipping up. If I forgot to write my homework assignments in my planner, it was because I “wasn’t trying” to overcome my disorder. When I was younger and hadn’t received a diagnosis, any display of symptoms was considered an example of me not applying myself or not being motivated. Now that I have received a diagnosis, any display of symptoms is still considered an example of me not trying. No matter what I do, I can’t win.
I find it kind of funny that I forgot to write this post until now, 12:35 PM on the day it’s going to be published. I can be incredibly forgetful sometimes, which would make sense, seeing as to the fact that it’s one of the major symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Other symptoms of ADHD and ADD (the same disorder in someone that is not hyperactive) are things like fidgeting, slower processing time (i.e., it make take people with ADHD longer to process information), impatience, and an inability to focus.
Whenever I say I have ADHD, people love to explain to me how my disorder is a hoax. So many neurotypical (people whose brains are considered “normal”) and/or non-ADHD people think of ADHD in the way that Dathan Paterno outlines: “[It] is a social construct… Sometimes, [ADHD-like behaviors] are normal variants in temperament, sometimes they are behavior skills that have not been sufficiently trained and sometimes there are underlying learning, emotional, medical or relational problems which manifest in ADHD-like symptoms.” They think it’s a mixture of other “more legitimate” disorders, or not a disorder at all– just bad parenting. Articles like this one, proclaiming that ADHD is a “false paradigm projected onto the minds of a generation” that has fueled the “pill-popping craze [of] the 21st century,” are all over the news. I do think a fair number of the social struggles faced people with ADHD are indeed a result of constructs. If society wasn’t structured the way it is, ADHD wouldn’t set those who have it back. But does that make the disorder itself a construct? Not a chance.
There are actual structural differences in the brains of ADHD people. Structures that allow communication between the right and left brain show abnormal growth in people with ADHD, and our overall brain maturation occurs an average 3 years later than that of neurotypical people. To say that ADHD is a social construct is something that completely disregards piles and piles of evidence to the contrary. The phenomenon of ADHD over-diagnosis is also debated, and research shows that it is actually under diagnosed. There is also evidence that ADHD may be very related to ASD, or autism spectrum disorder. All of this is indeed unfortunate news for people who would like to believe that ADHD is something made up by psychiatrists so they can drug our children into a stupor.
The medical industry is something that hurts neuroatypical people, without a doubt. It treats us like a moneymaking scheme, and the way that medication is seen as the only “cure” (not to mention the fact that we’re supposed to want to be “cured”) is messed up on so many levels. I myself have a very complicated relationship with medication, but the way neurotypical people treat that as an excuse to lecture me is absurd. The choice to take medication (or not take medication) for a mental disorder is not for others to police, especially not neurotypical people. Is medication the only route? No, if course not. There are alternative ways of managing ADHD’s symptoms that are very valid and useful. There are too many psychiatrists who are willing to write up a prescription for meds without considering other options, and without making it clear to their clients that there are other ways to manage their disorder. But at the same time, this does not mean that medication is any less valid a treatment for people who feel that it is useful.
When you have ADHD (or really any other disorder or disability), it’s not that the system doesn’t work for you, it’s that it actively works against you. Claiming that it is made up or that it’s invented by psychiatrists to trick us into drugging ourselves is harmful on so many levels, and invalidates the experiences many people with ADHD have in navigating this system. I don’t love the term mental disorder, instead I would prefer it to be called a mental difference or something in that realm. But whatever it is, it’s a real structural brain difference, not just some moneymaking scheme fed to us by the medical industry, and there is no excuse for treating it as such.
[Featured image source: http://ebodhitree.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/ADHD-and-Brain-Scan.jpg]