10 Powerful New ADHD Insights I Learned When Dr Barkley Came To Town
It's often said that you should never meet your heroes, either because you'll embarrass yourself or because the person you so admire may fail to live up to the unrealistically lofty expectations you have of them.
Well, while I certainly can't promise that I didn't embarrass myself when I thrust my phone into the hand of a stranger and asked her to take the photo below, I can say that my image of Dr Russell Barkley as one of the kindest, humblest and wisest people on earth is still firmly intact!
To give an idea of the kind of person he is, when I thanked him for the profound impact his work had had on my life, he replied "Well thank you. That has just made my day". The man is a total rock star - literally the Bruce Springsteen of his field - and yet a more down-to-earth person you'd be hard-pressed to find.
Dr Barkley was in Israel earlier this month for the 7th annual conference of The Israeli Organisation For ADHD. As THE world leading expert on ADHD, the opportunity to hear him speak in Israel was a privilege that I never thought I'd experience. Over the two days of the conference, he gave FIVE different lectures in which he imparted a huge amount of information, including the most up-to-date research on ADHD, that I am already sharing with my clients.
Summarising everything I learned in those five lectures would make for an exceedingly long blog post so, instead, here are the top ten gems that I took away from my brief encounter with my hero! WARNING: Some of these insights give quite harsh depictions of life with ADHD and may be tough to read. But these depictions are true to reality and must be confronted head on if we are to tackle the challenges of ADHD effectively. So here goes...
1. ADHD is the wrong name for ADHD!
There is far more to ADHD than issues with Attention and Hyperactivity. Furthermore, in certain circumstances, people with ADHD are not only free from problems with inattention, but can actually hyperfocus. And many display no outward symptoms of hyperactivity at all. Dr Barkley argues that a better name for the disorder would be EFDD - Executive Functioning Deficit Disorder - because it is the executive functions such as Working Memory, Self-Awareness and Self-Motivation that are most impaired by the disorder.
2. ADHD has to be treated in the NOW
Whilst long-term strategies can be developed and taught, so many of the challenges of ADHD result from a difficulty to motivate oneself to act, or in many cases NOT to react, in response to the immediate set of circumstances in which we find ourselves. Parents, coaches and doctors will not always be by our sides when we're 'in the moment' so it is important that we surround ourselves with as many support structures, including visual cues and reminders, as possible, to help to keep us on track throughout the day. And this is why, for a child with ADHD, it is absolutely vital that the school staff are entirely on board with the treatment plan. There is nowhere that a child spends more of their waking hours than in school and without their co-operation, we are fighting a losing battle...
3. ADHD is a disorder of attention to the future
Dr Barkley describes people with ADHD as 'time-blind' or 'near-sighted to the future'. Their inability to judge how long an activity will take leads to low persistence towards long-term goals and the capability only to deal with issues that are imminent. It's especially tough for them to perform tasks that result in a delayed outcome, such as revising for exams, saving money or sticking to a diet plan, because of their strong preference for immediate gratification. We can best help them by using artificial rewards to reduce or eradicate the time gaps between the performance of a task and its outcome.
4. The significance of emotion in ADHD is being ignored
It is Emotional Dysregulation, not the better known symptoms of Inattention, Impulsivity and Hyperactivity, that is the biggest predictor of social exclusion among people with ADHD. Quickness to anger, low frustration tolerance, stubbornness and resistance to authority are all common symptoms among people with ADHD that, when left untreated, will lead to increased levels of social rejection, interpersonal hostility, marital conflict and job losses. With alarming regularity, these symptoms are being routinely dismissed or treated as something other than ADHD.
5. There's groundbreaking news on ADHD meds!
As an ADHD coach, I am neither qualified to diagnose the disorder, nor to prescribe medication. My personal decision has also been to refrain even from giving my clients advice on the topic as I believe that it is an individual decision to be made by the patient (or their parents in the case of a child) and their doctor. However, when asked, I will happily share factual information about medications and some new research findings that Dr Barkley reported to us are quite mind-blowing.
35 recent studies have unanimously demonstrated that ADHD meds are not only highly effective in treating the symptoms of ADHD but, if used in the long-term, can actually result in positive changes to the structure of the brain. This concept, known as, neuro-protection, could be an absolute game changer in the way that people relate to ADHD medications.
6. Our role as parents is to be 'shepherds' not 'engineers'
Whilst we all try to be the best parents we can possibly be, Dr Barkley explained that parenting styles have been shown to be one of the least significant determinants of life outcomes for children with ADHD. A child's personality traits and talents are largely decided at birth (or before) and the way we interact them makes little difference to the adult they'll become. Our role is therefore not to try to shape them, but rather to act as their shepherd. Whilst there is little we can do to alter their fabric, there is a great deal we can do to alter their environment and to expose them to the finest 'pasture' that we possibly can. The choices we make around schools (including teachers, resources and accommodations), social groups and even the neighbourhood we live in are substantially more likely to impact on our children's life outcomes than any parenting strategy ever could.
7. As hard as it may be to accept, we must view ADHD as a disability
Personally, I had always seen ADHD as more of a difference than a disability but Barkley's arguments are compelling. The fact that people with ADHD look 'normal' and sound 'normal', often fools people into thinking that their socially unacceptable behaviors are within their control, when often, this is simply not the case. Especially when dealing with children, we HAVE to remind ourselves that they are doing the best they can. We HAVE to remove the blame. We HAVE to forgive their mistakes. And here's one of the reasons why...
8. Children with ADHD receive 4 to 6 times more punishments than their peers
There is no evidence that these extra punishments are having any positive effect on their behaviour whatsoever, and just think what it is doing to their self-esteem. The crazy thing is that it is the exact opposite of punishments - rewards - that have been proven to get the best out of kids with ADHD. When we stop looking for opportunities to punish and start seeking opportunities to give praise and rewards, we finally start to see the true potential of these amazing young people.
9. When left untreated, the outcomes of people with ADHD can be pretty grim
As a person with ADHD and the father of a child with ADHD myself, some of the statistics shared by Dr Barkley were shocking, upsetting and quite frightening. But we can't stick our heads in the sand and pretend they don't exist. The uncomfortable truth is that people with ADHD are significantly more likely to be expelled from school, spend time in prison and even suffer premature death. Incredibly, ADHD shortens more lives than any of the following: reckless driving, smoking, drinking, obesity or lack of fitness. In fact, it is often the root cause of any or all of the above.
But it is far from a lost cause... These awful statistics apply predominantly to untreated ADHD and, not only can ADHD be treated, it is literally the most treatable of all psychiatric conditions. And the earlier a treatment plan is in place, the better the outcome.
10. We HAVE to stop referring to ADHD as a gift
Once again, Dr Barkley pulled no punches with this one. So many of us, me included, have talked about ADHD as having both pros and cons, while some even go as far as calling ADHD a gift. Not only is that not true, argues Barkley, but in insisting that ADHD is a gift, we actually end up shooting ourselves in the foot. Why should the government invest in services for people who have a 'gift'? Why should schools direct their limited resources to children whose parents describe them as 'gifted'? Relative to numbers of sufferers, ADHD receives disproportionately low levels of governmental funding and this, Barkley argues, is entirely down to this phenomenon of people with ADHD being labeled as gifted. This HAS to stop.
But again, it is not all doom and gloom. ADHD is something we have but it does not define who we are. Whilst ADHD may not be a gift, there are indeed many people with ADHD who are extremely gifted in many areas, who go on to reach the very top of their field. Furthermore, life's greatest successes are often born out of adversity and our daily struggles with ADHD can undoubtedly help us to develop extraordinary skills in the areas of problem solving and creativity, as well as increased resilience and resourcefulness.
Well known leaders, pioneers and innovators, across all fields and all backgrounds, have proven that with the right treatment and support in place, there is literally no limit to what a person with ADHD can achieve. Just ask these guys...
So that was just a small taste of what I took from Dr Barkley's incredible lectures. Please leave any comments below - I'd love to hear your thoughts... And if you want to learn more about Dr Barkley, his research or the incredible contribution he is making to public understanding and awareness of ADHD, check out his website...