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Recognizing, understanding ADHD
Nov 10, 2012 | 1685 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Q. Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer with the most Olympic medals in history, was diagnosed at age 9 with what neurobehavioral disorder?

A.  ADHD, (short for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

Michael, and his mother Debbie Phelps, have spoken openly about Michael’s diagnosis.  This makes Michael possibly the most famous person in the world who has been open publicly about having ADHD.

Michael showed a lot of courage by talking  about his ADHD Р many otherwise well-informed people do not understand that virtually all the major disorders termed mental disorders, behavioral disorders, mental illnesses, etc., despite unassailable scientific evidence,  are  real medical problems, not simply “weaknesses” that can be overcome by “trying harder.”  ADHD is a disorder that impairs a persons’ ability to control many behaviors, thoughts and feelings, due to decreased control of:

1.Cognition.  In particular, some or all of the following: difficulty sustaining attention, distractibility,  inability to  persist  at difficult tasks, poor memory, losing things, poor organizational skills, not listening when spoken to, failing to finish tasks, avoiding tasks requiring sustained effort or concentration, etc.

2.Hyperactivity or Impulsivity.  Physically overactive, fidgety,  difficulty staying seated in school, church or other situations requiring long periods of staying still (particularly in activities that they do not like), running or climbing excessively when younger, difficulty in playing quietly when older, seems “driven by a motor,” talking excessively, etc.

A person with ADHD may have both types of symptoms (1 and 2 above).   Not uncommonly, especially when the disorder is relatively mild, only cognitive symptoms may be present.  This type was for many years called ADD (no H for hyperactivity), and some professionals still use this term.  A relatively small number of persons may have only hyperactive-impulsive symptoms, usually when in their pre-school years.  These youngsters will often develop symptoms of the combined type as they move into their school years.

Persons with ADHD often have other symptoms that are not part of the diagnostic criterion, but are signs that it is prudent to consider the possibility of ADHD.   These include extreme emotional reactivity (especially negative emotions) when frustrated, or given instructions, or are told “no,” not working up to their potential in class in the absence of learning disabilities, difficulty falling asleep at night (often because they cannot “turn their mind off”).   When persons with ADHD are engaging in activities that are personally rewarding, they often do not show symptoms.  In fact, it has been noted for years that if they are highly motivated, they can often “hyperfocus”Сwork or play at those activities even more so than persons without ADHD.  In Michael Phelps situation, it is likely that by having his high energy and restlessness (hyperactivity) channeled into a constructive activity, his symptoms actually helped him excel in his sport.  

A major source of conflict between parents and children with ADHD, is that a significant number of children with ADHD also have oppositional disorder, which includes irritability, refusal to follow most or all parental instructions (despite often behaving appropriately at school many times), and struggling with making and keeping friends, because of not cooperating with peers during play, often because they are bossy with peers, or will not wait their turn. 

Another group of children with ADHD, who are often the inattentive type, are anxious temperamentally, eager to please their parents, and feel shame or guilt, when they are unable to complete academic work consistent with their apparent academic potential.  Because the popular depiction of youngsters with ADHD has focused on the “Dennis the Menace” stereotype, this group of children are still often overlooked for far too long, or don’t get identified at all.

Much has been learned about ADHD in the past few years.  If you are interested in having a speaker address your community group on a mental health or substance abuse topic, please contact Davis Behavioral Health by sending an email to

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