A Theory on ADHD

ADHD/ADD (the Attention Deficit Disorders) are, as the name implies, a inability to properly attend to relevant things. This has been observed to manifest as either a dysfunctional distractibility or an over-activity. Here, I will outline a useful theory for the reason for this disorder and its manifestation, which will naturally inform treatment.

The human Attentional System is functionally comprised of two systems: an Attention Shifting System and a Stimulus Processing System. This theory maintains that in ADHD, the Attention Shifting System cannot accurately identify relevant stimuli and/or the Stimulus Processing System cannot extract enough stimuli from an identified stimulus to maintain attention.

The Stimulus Processing System is only able to process a very small number of aspects of a single stimulus at a time. Because of this limited capacity, it must be controlled by the Attention Shifting System which identifies the most relevant stimulus in the environment and focuses the processing system on it. The shifting system constantly monitors the environment and as more relevant stimuli are identified, switches the Stimulus Processing System to those stimuli. Sometimes this process must be done rapidly and frequently, such as when playing a sport or driving a car. In ADHD, the Attention Shifting System is characterized by both the inability to accurately identify the relevant stimuli, and to switch to and from stimuli as they vary in relevancy.

The Stimulus Processing System system can be related to the human digestive system. The digestive system seeks to take in the right foods at the right time and extract the necessary nutrients and elements as efficiently as possible to deliver to the body in a timely manner, or the body will suffer a decrease in functionality. If the person does not get adequate food or, in the case of a diseased digestive system, is unable to process the food that is acquired, the person will be driven to desperate behaviors to deliver adequate nutrition to their body. The Stimulus Processing System is much the same way: it must extract engaging and relevant information from the raw stimuli found in the environment and provide it to the brain so that it can remain alert, entertained, and continually make functional decisions. As with the digestive system, if the amount of information and engaging stimuli is inadequate, or, in the case of a diseased or poorly developed system, relevant and engaging stimuli cannot be extracted from what is taken in, the functioning of the brain is compromised: attention is shifted rapidly or increasingly more potent stimuli is sought in attempts to meet the needs of the brain.

By this theory, then, hyperactivity can be explained as the person’s attempt to create more engaging stimuli because they cannot accurately identify the engaging stimuli in the environment or they cannot process the engaging stimuli they are able to attend to.

It is often observed that people with ADHD are able to attend to rapidly changing, highly stimulating activities, such as sports or video games. This is because these situations have many elements that are highly stimulating and all are relevant, thus compensating for the frailties of the ADHD-affected Attentional Systems: no matter what stimuli the Attention Shifting System directs the processing system to, the stimuli is relevant to processes. Since all of the stimuli are very intense, it is very likely to satisfy the needs of the brain even when processed by the inefficient Stimulus Processing System.

Unlike physical systems of the body, mental systems can often be rebuilt by the individual to be more functional. This is because the “software” and “hardware” of the brain are very much linked, changing one another as they are changed. This can be a disadvantage, such as in the case of physical brain damage, or can be an advantage, such as in the case of developing a useful skill or talent. Thus, if the person with ADHD activity works to develop better skills of attention, they can succeed in improving the functionality of their attentional systems.

The person attempting to overcome ADHD must find ways to properly identify the relevant stimuli in the environment and either find things about that stimulus that is engaging or augment them so they are adequately engaging. Often, stimuli in the environment, even stimuli relevant to an important task, is not naturally engaging. So, if a person attempting to overcome ADHD is having to prepare for a test in a subject they do not naturally find interesting, they must find things about the required information that is interesting to them (which may not be the facts that will be on the test) and relate that information to things they naturally find interesting to them. This may require that they study in non-standard ways… perhaps by reading historical fiction or watching videos on the subject, instead of studying lists of vocabulary words or flashcards with relevant dates.

A person wishing to overcome ADHD must also more throughly process all stimuli taken from their environment. Cursory processing cannot be tolerated. The texture, flavor, hue, timbre, shading, and etc. must be carefully studied, named, and related to other experiences. The person overcoming ADHD my fear that this will allow for very many unpleasant experiences, even painful ones, but it must be considered that by limiting the processing of stimuli in the environment in order to avoid discomfort has lead to the very uncomfortable global experience of not being able to finish projects, failing academic and work tasks, and loosing interest in potentially positive social relationships.

The person wishing to overcome ADHD must also consider that most products designed for mental stimulation such as movies, books, videos, and blogs are designed for the person of average to low average intelligence. To expect these to provide adequate stimuli for a person of above average or even average intelligence is unwise. Thus the person overcoming ADHD will likely need to develop rather sophisticated activities and pursuits for themselves that require a high level of both mental and physical engagement.

As the person overcoming ADHD consistently and fearlessly attends to these corrective tasks, they can develop increasing abilities to stay focused on tasks and situations and have a more rich and fulfilling experience in life.