If you’ve spent enough time with someone energetic, or someone who couldn’t sit still, chances are they’ve referred to themselves or have been referred to as ‘ADHD’ at some point. This acronym, of course, refers to the neurodevelopmental condition, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. As language continues to evolve, terms such as ‘ADHD’ have somehow veered away from their clinical roots to become an adjective in the everyday language of the modern Filipino.
The term is often used loosely, and has come to describe anyone with high levels of energy. However, what people may not realize is that the overuse of the term and those similar to it can come off as insensitive or even mean. Since mental disorders are often not immediately apparent, terms such as ‘ADHD’ should be used cautiously. The Menagerie attempts to shed some light into the true nature of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), from the perspectives of an expert in the field as well as from those with the condition itself.
Looking at the signs and symptoms
ADHD is characterized by three main features: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. With hyperactivity as the commonly-known symptom of ADHD, it is important to take note of the difference between hyperactivity due to ADHD and simply high energy.
Mr. Ron Resurreccion, a professor from the Psychology Department, sets the record straight. “Ang ADHD kasi is high in energy and they have difficulty controlling their impulse. If they think of it, they will most likely do it,” he clarifies. People with ADHD may have the same energy levels as the average person, but their extremely impulsive nature makes it difficult for them to control their behavior. Sometimes, they make remarks that others would consider inappropriate—like an ill-timed “I like you,” for example.
Contrary to popular belief
People with ADHD have been stereotyped as being makulit, weird, and ‘all over the place’, and some people even associate the disorder with mental retardation and autism. In reality, it is very far from it. “It’s not hopeless. Actually, there are a lot of ADHD people who are successful, so it’s not a hopeless case,” says Resurrection. He tells us that with counseling and the utilization of coping strategies, ADHD can be managed. However, it is not something that can be simply outgrown. ADHD is manageable but necessitates an active response to it. One famous example of an ADHD success story is Michael Phelps, one of the greatest Olympians of all time.
“ADHD is a condition. We aren’t like this on purpose. We are trying our best to do well in school, control our behavior patterns, behave in a socially acceptable manner, etc.,” James*, who was diagnosed with ADHD when he was four, explains. Moreover, Brian*, who was also diagnosed when he was a kid, shares that, “I think, one thing you [have to] understand is that… [we’re] really trying to control [ourselves], and the attention span, it’s really difficult.”
The reality of ADHD
While books and articles about ADHD may offer us ample knowledge about the disorder and its manifestations, we will never truly comprehend its entirety the same way that those who have and experience it do. Brian recalls that his family would call him the “Tasmanian Devil” because of his hyperactivity. “There’s even one time I got my parents into trouble. Like there’s this whole rack of alcohol, and I was so active I hit the rack, so everything fell,” he shares.
However, he only really found out about having ADHD when he was in high school. He explains, “One thing I’ve liked about when I knew [what] it was [was that] I could finally explain why. ‘Cause I don’t know why, when I was in high school, I was just super active.” Aside from being hyperactive, Brian also struggles with his short attention span. “You have to repeat it several times before I actually remember it,” he admits.
James also shares the same sentiments. “I have difficulty with paying attention and sustaining focus. I also tend to be very impulsive,” he says. He reveals about having to take medication for ADHD when he was young to help with his attention and impulsivity, although he eventually stopped in order to avoid being dependent on it.
Brian has figured out his own strategy to deal with his short attention span. “What I do is I really try to listen sa start. Like, I’ll make sure I understand it. I try to write it down—write down what I have to do, what the teachers says,” he says.
On the other hand, James has his own way of making sure that he doesn’t get distracted when he’s studying. “When I study I use two desks, and whatever task I’m doing has to be on the desk with nothing on it because I can get easily distracted by anything. I also take very short (one minute) breaks every 30 minutes or so, because my attention and focus cannot be sustained very long,” he adds.
Understand, help, and don’t make them feel different
“Always, the first step in dealing with people with any condition is understanding and tolerance. We have to understand what they’re going through. We have to tolerate whatever they’re doing because most of them, it’s not them, but it’s the disorder. It’s the condition that makes them do it,” Resurreccion explains.
Instead of jumping into conclusions or judging them, we should take the time to really understand their situation and where they’re coming from.
Moreover, Brian advises that it’s not enough to simply understand; we must also try to help them in any way that we can. He says, “I really appreciate [it] if sasabihin mo ‘sakin, ‘Bro, parang sobra na…naiintindihan ko naman na you have this, you have that, pero parang sobra na.’”
Lastly, he believes that we should try not to make them feel out of place or different. Regardless of their condition and circumstance, they are just like us—human beings who just want to belong and to be accepted.
On improper labels and romanticizing disorders
Resurreccion stresses that the problem with improper labeling and using the term loosely is that people tend to identify certain behaviors as signs of a disorder when, in fact, they aren’t. “Every behavior is pathologized. Mangulit lang ng konti, ADHD na,” he points out.
Thus, James believes that there is a need to educate people about ADHD. He says, “The term ADHD is now being used to describe almost any person with hyperactivity, but this is wrong. ADHD has a very specific set of symptoms for diagnosis.” With people using the term to refer to instances of inattention and hyperactivity, it is important to note that it takes more than just an instance or two for a person to really be considered as possibly having ADHD. “While some of these behavior patterns may be seen in these conditions, more is needed if we are to establish that these are part of a bigger diagnosis,” James states.
Meanwhile, Brian stresses that it is very important that we truly understand what the disorder really is before we use it to describe ourselves and others. He shared something that one of his professors said in class that he really liked. “You really have to understand a disorder, a disability, or whatever it is before you can actually label it. So they shouldn’t just use it loosely.”
While we have a tendency to generalize instances of inattention and hyperactivity with ADHD, we must understand that the people who do have the disorder itself, or any other disorder for that matter, have to deal with their condition on a daily basis. “You should be thankful that you don’t have these disorders and admire people who are successful in living with these disorders. Kasi ang galing nila eh. Na overcome nila yung symptoms,” Resurreccion says.
*Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms.