By Annette Min (COL ’17)
I remember having at least one kid in my elementary school class who was constantly called out by my teacher and who sometimes annoyed other students in the classroom. I simply thought that the kid must not like studying and saw him/her as a troublemaker. Later in life I learned about a disorder called Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Approximately 11% of children between the ages of 4 and 17 had been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011 (4). Among those, %40-%60 of them are likely to have the disorder as adults (3). If such a large population has been affected by ADHD, I think we should actively find ways to reduce the disadvantages of having ADHD and help them thrive more. If our society strives harder to accommodate them, it will be beneficial not only for the people with ADHD but also for the society itself.
ADHD is a condition “characterized by developmentally inappropriate levels of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior” (1). However, it seems to me that this condition is more complex than what can be described in a single sentence. It has various psychological, social and economic effects in a personal scale as well as in a larger societal scale. This complexity can also cause the symptoms to be overlooked; symptoms of ADHD can be mistaken for the symptoms of their comorbidities such as anxiety and depression (2).
It dawned upon me that people with ADHD must have a harder time as they age because when they become older, they would be expected to have more responsibilities and act according to the societal expectations. Moreover, if they are unable to meet those expectations, they would receive reprimands that are harsher than those that children would receive.
One of the domains affected by ADHD is the economic domain. A study states that people with ADHD miss more days of work, are more likely to be fired, and have worse job performance than those without ADHD (1). In fact, the survey results from the WHO World Mental Health Survey Initiative showed that across the 10 countries that were surveyed, ADHD is associated with high work impairment (5). The survey projected that 143.8 million lost days of productivity would occur each year in these countries due to ADHD (5). The full time employment rate of individuals with ADHD is significantly lower than those without ADHD (1). The study done in 2008 said that the association between ADHD and low employment rate and low income projected an annual workforce productivity loss of $67 billion to $116 billion in U.S. (1). This may even be an underestimate because ADHD is often an underdiagnosed and undertreated condition in adults (2).
How can ADHD cause such a big amount of loss in work productivity? As Richard A. Friedman says, the problem may be “simple boredom” (6). Recent research has shown that people with ADHD are “hard-wired for novelty seeking” (6). This means that everyday life that people without ADHD experience can feel understimulating to those with ADHD. Because they are so drawn to “novel” experiences, they can be seen as impatient and restless in contemporary society, which is very systematized (6). If this is the case, then I agree with Friedman that ADHD may not be a disorder but just a set of behavioral traits that are not regarded as standards in our society.
This could mean that if the society tries harder to accommodate people with ADHD, then the disadvantages of having ADHD would be significantly reduced. For example, people with ADHD could perform better at their work and feel happier about themselves as well as reduce the productivity loss in the country. Adults with ADHD should be encouraged to choose their working environment in which they are more likely to be successful. For a person with ADHD, an environment that is varied and unpredictable would better match his/her cognitive style than an environment that is routine (6). In one case, a 28-year-old man quit his job at an advertising firm, and since he joined a start-up company he has put himself in constantly changing environments. And now, he has lost his symptoms of ADHD (6). If people with ADHD inevitably end up working at regimented companies, companies could reduce the productivity loss associated with ADHD by providing more variety of tasks, increasing stimulation, and offering more flexible work hours (7). Unfortunately, it is harder for the younger people to choose what they want because they have less freedom. It is not the best idea to quit schooling at once. Schools can also provide more stimulating environment by integrating more hands-on-learning and self-paced assignments to the curriculum in smaller class size (6).
The suggestions above are some of the non-medical aids that help people with ADHD. I know that the stimulant medications for ADHD have proven to be very effective. If the non-medical aids are provided in addition to the medications, the disadvantages that people with ADHD experience could exponentially decrease. Of course, it will be hard to implement significant changes to educational institutions and systematic companies in order to accommodate people with ADHD. However, if more people become aware of how those traits like impatience and restlessness can transform into assets, it would be possible to construct a world where both ADHD and non-ADHD feel happy. It is a worthwhile reform and investment for a lot of people.
1) Biederman, J., & Faraone, S. V. (2006). The effects of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder on employment and household income. Medscape General Medicine, 8(3), 12.
2) Ginsberg, Y., Quintero, J., Anand, E., Casillas, M., & Upadhyaya, H. (2014). Underdiagnosis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in adult patients: A review of the literature. The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, 16(3), PCC.13r01600.
3) Konopka, L. M. (2014). Understanding attention deficit disorder: a neuroscience prospective. Croatian Medical Journal, 55(2), 174-176.
4) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html
5) de Graaf, R., Kessler, R. C., Fayyad, J., ten Have, M., Alonso, J., Angermeyer, M., … Posada-Villa, J. (2009). The prevalence and effects of Adult Attention-Deficit/hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) on the performance of workers: Results from the WHO World Mental Health Survey Initiative. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, 65(12), 835-842.
6) Friedman, R. A. (2014, Oct. 31). A natural fix for A.D.H.D. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/opinion/sunday/a-natural-fix-for-adhd.html
(7) Pentz, D. (2011, Nov.) ADHD in the workplace. Indian Hill Living. Retrieved from http://www.theaffinitycenter.com/updates/adhd-workplace/