Dr. Russell Barkley in Edmonton

The Learning Disabilities Association of Alberta brought Dr. Russell Barkley to Edmonton for a powerful day of learning for parents and professionals. His talk was titled, “ADHD from A to Z: Advances in the Understanding of Attention Deficit Disorder.”

Our thanks to LDAA and executive director Kathryn Burke for bringing Dr. Barkley to town, and to all of the volunteers who made the workshop possible.

Someone once told Dr. Barkley that listening to this workshop felt like sitting in front of an open fire hydrant for six hours. Another description would be like watching one of those potent TED Talks for six hours! Dr. Barkley communicated important, up-to-date information accurately and passionately. His talk was research-based and yet specific about what it was like to live with ADHD.

One of his key points was that a diagnosis of ADHD was the start of a lifetime of management of the disorder, much like receiving a diagnosis of diabetes.

Another point was that children, youth, and young adults with ADHD operate much as though their actual age was 30% less than their chronological age, until they are 27 or so, at which point their brains have developed as fully as they are going to. For instance, sending an 18-year-old with ADHD to college is like sending a 12-year-old off to campus. Or, an adolescent driving at 16 years of age is like a 12-year-old behind the wheel (or worse, if they are doubly impaired by having had a drink). This is a critical piece of information when making decisions to help us keep our children and young adults safe from secondary harms.

Dr. Barkley’s key points for parents and people suspecting they are living with ADHD?

  • Go in for an evaluation and get a formal diagnosis.
  • Undertake education and counseling about the disorder.
  • Find a medication that works.
  • Look at ways to modify environments at home, at school, and  in the community to allow for success. Making time “visible” was just one of many ideas in this area, as people with ADHD are severely hampered by being “time blind.”
  • And for parents, looking into behaviour modification (behaviour) systems to help keep the wheels on at home can be very useful. Yes, this is the reward chart (etc.)!

The fact that 40% of young people with ADHD will have parented a child by the time they are 19 was sobering. This was just one of several outcomes of which parents and professionals need to be aware.

Parents took note of Dr. Barkley’s strong position as to the roots of ADHD. It is a neurobiological disorder (genetic or a result of brain damage). ADHD is not a result of poor parenting, children watching too much TV or eating sugar, or other such rot.

Dr. Barkley spoke of important upcoming changes to the DSM-IV. Unfortunately, it will not include a change of name from ADHD to the more appropriate  Executive Function Deficit Disorder.

And he finished on a high note. While ADHD is a serious and life-long condition that affects daily life, it is the most treatable of the psychiatric disorders, with safe and well-studied medications and delivery systems. The key is to find a medication that normalizes the condition, and to stay on it. There is no benefit to being treated for ADHD for three or four years in your youth. Treatment must be life-long.

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