- ADHD is the #1 psychological disorder in young people.
- 11% of children are diagnosed in the US.
- 7% of children are diagnosed worldwide.
- 30% of those kids have ADHD into adulthood.
I thought I knew all I needed to know about ADHD. I wasn’t one of those doubters who didn’t “believe in it.” But it turns out I had a lot of misconceptions about ADHD and how profoundly and seriously it can affect a person’s life. And it also turns out that I have it too.
Watch ADHD: Not Just for Kids
For decades, ADHD was misunderstood and misdiagnosed as a moral problem. The ADHD child was “lazy, inattentive or just plain bad.” Or the parents were not raising them properly. Ritalin and other stimulant drugs were shown to help, but skeptics pointed to a lack of evidence in linking biological causes to the condition. And other skeptics have long believed that children with ADHD are over-medicated, and medicated far too young.
The fact is that ADHD is the number one psychological disorder in young people. Eleven percent of children in the USA are diagnosed with it (seven per cent worldwide). And here is something I didn’t know — 30 per cent of those kids continue to have ADHD into adulthood.
It turns out we all know someone who has it. In my case, it was a man I’ve known and worked with on and off for over 20 years — Chris Gudgeon. We were working together on a documentary called The Trick with The Gun when he revealed to me that he had been recently diagnosed.
Fifty-six years old, a widower and single father of three sons — two of whom had been diagnosed early with ADHD — he eventually recognized their symptoms as his own and was formally diagnosed. It explained a lot about his behavior – a smart, charming and funny man, but he always came off as a bit eccentric, careless, forgetful, constantly late… all ADHD symptoms, I later learned.
Like many others with ADHD, Chris was misdiagnosed with dyslexia as a child and had teachers routinely tell him he was stupid, even though in many areas he was higher functioning than his peers. If he had been correctly diagnosed and treated, he may have led a completely different life.
I was fascinated and decided to research ADHD further. I found that Chris’ life has been a constantly unfolding story in coping and adapting. And he is not alone — every year there are thousands of mid-life diagnoses of ADHD.
But I was troubled.
Many of his symptoms and many of his stories of his youth rang familiar. They sounded a lot like my own story. Underachieving in school. Distractable, but able to hyper-focus on things that intensely interest me, to the detriment of everything else. Poor time management. And a champion procrastinator. I chose a good career making documentaries — I tend to only choose subjects that intensely interest me!
Once diagnosed, some people go through something akin to the seven stages of grief: denial, sorrow for what could have been, anger for not knowing sooner, etc.
Chris directed me to a set of diagnostic tests that he had taken on a Canadian ADHD information website. My partner Judy Holm and I took them for fun and research. It was a list of how often you experienced the main symptoms of ADHD — restlessness, inattentiveness and hyperactivity and impulsivity. Judy ticked mostly the “some of the time” boxes. My responses were almost exclusively in the “very often” column. I was onto something.
As I went forward doing more research and meeting with scientists, physicians and psychiatrists, I learned more about the inner workings of the disorder and the effects it can have on a person who doesn’t know they have it. Once diagnosed, some people go through something akin to the seven stages of grief: denial, sorrow for what could have been, anger for not knowing sooner, etc.
I went to see a specialist and after more tests, I was diagnosed — I have ADHD. I've likely had it all my life and didn't know it. I’m now being treated with a slow release amphetamine. In stimulating my dopamine receptors it gets me on an “even keel”, and allows me to control my focus. So, over the past year, my interest in telling this story has evolved to become both personal and professional. I’ve learned that I have other acquaintances and friends with ADHD who have never come forward to speak about it – until now.
In my case, thankfully, the medication doesn't seem to adversely affect my creative edge as a writer or director. In fact, my first writing assignment after beginning treatment was the script and production plan for this film. For the first time in years, I was able to complete the task on time, with no procrastination or stalling. No writer’s block (much to Judy’s shock). It seems I’m now able to function the way I was always meant to function. I still have hyper-focus and creative energy, which I attribute in part to my now diagnosed ADHD. But really, I’d prefer not to lose all of the symptoms.
I’ve found that no matter what side of the debate you’re on, everyone agrees that ADHD is undergoing a massive re-thinking. It’s become my personal mission to take our audience to the frontlines – from neuro-behaviourists, researchers and doctors, to the patients, their friends and their families. We looked at barriers, stigmas and coping mechanisms, and the kind of relief one can find once you are diagnosed.
Watch ADHD: Not Just for Kids.