Navigating the ADHD Landscape: Key Terms You Should Know

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects individuals across the lifespan. As we strive to better understand and support those with ADHD, it’s essential to familiarize ourselves with key terms that shed light on the intricacies of this condition. Whether you are a parent, educator, or someone navigating ADHD firsthand, these terms will empower you to engage more effectively with the ADHD community.

ADHD: Is a neurobiological disorder characterized by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. It affects people of all ages, impacting their academic, professional, and personal lives.

Inattention: This is one of the core symptoms of ADHD, inattention involves difficulty sustaining focus, frequent careless mistakes, forgetfulness, and an overall struggle to organize tasks.

Hyperactivity: Hyperactivity in ADHD manifests as excessive restlessness, fidgeting, and an inability to stay seated in situations where it is expected. It’s a key component of the disorder, especially in the case of ADHD-Combined Type.

Impulsivity: Refers to acting without thinking, and making decisions on the spur of the moment without considering the consequences. It can lead to difficulties in social, academic, and professional settings.

Executive Function: These are cognitive processes that enable individuals to manage time, pay attention, change focus, plan, and organize, and regulate emotions. Challenges in executive function are common in individuals with ADHD.

Neurodiversity: The concept of neurodiversity recognizes and celebrates the diversity of the human brain and mind. ADHD is viewed as a natural neurological variation rather than a pathology within the neurodiversity paradigm.

Neurotypical: Refers to someone with the brain functions, behaviors, and processing considered by society and the general community as being standard or “expected”.

Co-occurring Conditions: Many individuals with ADHD experience co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety, depression, learning disabilities, and sleep disorders. Understanding and addressing these comorbidities is crucial for comprehensive ADHD management.

Stimulant Medications: Stimulant medications, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin), dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (Adderall), Methylphenidate Hydrochloride (Foquest), and lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse), are commonly prescribed to manage ADHD symptoms. They work by increasing the availability of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, improving focus and impulse control.

Non-Stimulant Medications: Non-stimulant medications, such as atomoxetine (Strattera) and guanfacine (Intuniv), are alternative options for ADHD treatment. They target different neurotransmitters and may be suitable for individuals who do not respond well to stimulants.

Non-medication Interventions: Including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychoeducation, play a crucial role in managing ADHD. These strategies focus on developing coping skills, improving organizational abilities, and addressing emotional regulation.

Neurotransmitters: Are chemicals in the brain that transmit signals between nerve cells. Imbalances in neurotransmitter levels, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, are associated with ADHD.

Dysregulation: ADHD is often linked to difficulties in self-regulation, affecting emotions, attention, and behavior. Dysregulation refers to challenges in maintaining a stable and appropriate level of arousal.

IEP (Individualized Education Program: Is a personalized educational plan designed to meet the specific needs of students with disabilities, including ADHD. It may include accommodations, modifications, and specialized services.

Neurofeedback: This is a type of biofeedback that aims to help individuals regulate brain function. It’s used as a complementary therapy for ADHD, focusing on enhancing self-regulation.

Twice-Exceptional (2e): Some individuals with ADHD may be “twice-exceptional,” meaning they have both ADHD and exceptional intellectual abilities. Identifying and supporting these individuals is crucial for optimizing their potential.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD): Involves challenges in processing and responding to sensory information from the environment. Some individuals with ADHD may also experience sensory sensitivities or seek sensory stimulation.

ADHD Coaching: ADHD coaches work with individuals to develop strategies for managing challenges associated with ADHD. They provide support in areas like time management, organization, and goal setting.

ADHD Counselling: ADHD counselling involves therapeutic support to address emotional and psychological aspects of living with ADHD. It can help individuals manage stress, develop coping strategies, and improve self-esteem.

CADDRA (Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance): CADDRA is an organization that provides evidence-based guidelines and resources for healthcare professionals involved in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in Canada.

CADDAC (Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada): CADDAC is a Canadian advocacy organization that works to raise awareness about ADHD and provide support for individuals and families affected by the disorder.

Functional Impairment: Refers to the difficulties a person encounters in everyday activities due to a physical or mental health condition. People with ADHD will experience functional impairment at school, work, and home.

DSM / DSM-5: Is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which provides clinicians guidance on the standardized criteria for the classification and diagnosis of mental disorders. DSM-5 is the fifth edition that was published in 2013.

Nurse Practitioner / NP: A nurse with additional training to provide additional healthcare services, such as diagnosis and management of various health conditions. In Canada, Nurse Practitioners may diagnose ADHD and prescribe ADHD medications.

Psychiatrist: A medical doctor who has additional training specialized in the diagnosis treatment, and prevention of mental illnesses. They may diagnose ADHD and prescribe ADHD medications.

Psychologist: A professional trained in the study of behaviour and mental processes. They may provide counselling, conduct psychological assessments, and offer other intervention strategies. They can diagnose ADHD but not able to prescribe medications.

Physician: Also referred to as a GP, doctor, family physician, or MD. A Physician is a medical doctor trained to diagnose and treat a wide range of health conditions which includes ADHD. They may diagnose ADHD and prescribe ADHD medications.

Occupational Therapists: These are healthcare professionals who help individuals improve their ability to perform daily activities and tasks, particularly those affected by a physical, mental, or developmental condition.

ADHD Assessment: ADHD assessment involves a comprehensive evaluation through questionnaires and a clinical interview. ADHD assessments may be completed by a Nurse Practitioner, Physician, Psychologist, or Psychiatrist.

ADHD Online Test: This may serve as a web-based screening tool, but a formal ADHD diagnosis must be made through a comprehensive evaluation and a clinical interview by a qualified healthcare provider.

ASRS (Adult ADHD Self Report Scale): This is a common adult screening tool that healthcare providers use. The ASRS is not meant to be used to make an ADHD diagnosis.

Psychoeducational Assessment: A comprehensive assessment to assess an individual’s cognitive ability, academic skills, and socio-emotional functioning. As part of the assessment, an ADHD assessment may or may not be included.

Multimodal Treatment: Use multiple therapeutic approaches or interventions to address a specific condition. For example, ADHD medication, an ADHD coach, and a fitness coach.

Prefrontal Cortex: This is the front part of the brain responsible for executive functions such as decision-making, planning, problem-solving, and self-control. These are all areas affected by ADHD.

Dopamine: Is a neurotransmitter, that plays a role in functions such as mood regulation, motivation, and attention.

Norepinephrine: This is a neurotransmitter, that is involved in the regulation of various cognitive functions, including attention and focus. It plays a role in regulating attention, alertness, and arousal.

Self-Regulation: Ability to manage and control one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviours to achieve goals and respond effectively to different situations.

Working Memory: A system in the brain responsible for temporarily holding and manipulating information needed for cognitive tasks, such as problem-solving and decision-making.

Rejection Sensitivity Disorder (RSD): An extreme sensitivity to perceived rejection, often leading to intense emotional reactions and difficulty in social interactions. People with ADHD often experience this.

Justice Sensitivity: Heightened awareness and reactions to perceived injustices, fairness, and ethical considerations in social interactions. People with ADHD often experience this.

Time Blindness: Refers to difficulties in accurately perceiving and managing time, a common challenge for individuals with ADHD.

Understanding these terms, including medications and organizations, contributes to a more comprehensive grasp of the multifaceted nature of ADHD, fostering a supportive and informed approach for individuals, families, and communities.