The Fight to Focus

by Carolyn Moriarty, LCPC

What is Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

ADHD is a common language problem. However, the variations in the way the disorder manifests can make it difficult to identify and diagnose. For instance, some children with the condition are forgetful, disorganized and have difficulty completing assignments.  As a result, they often struggle with ADHD silently in order to please teacher and get their work done.

An important factor in accurate diagnosis is eliminating biases and stereotyped ideas about ADHD. Parents, teachers and clinicians must acknowledge that children who are described as being soft-spoken, well-behaved and hard workers are just as much “at risk” for ADHD then students with more overt behavioral issues. Until then, these children who are struggling to overcome limitations will continually find themselves without emotional support or academic assistance.  This unsurprisingly leads to a population of undiagnosed adults with ADHD.

Listed below are examples of behaviors someone with ADHD might display during different stages of their life:


The unique personality of children with ADHD begins from roughly three to five years of age. For many, these years mark a time when a child develops a sense of self and begins the process of venturing out on their own and mastering the basic principles and skills inherent in the world around them. The positive outcomes of this stage are taking pleasure in accomplishments and developing a sense of direction and purpose. The negative outcome is feeling a sense of guilt when the goals contemplated and achievements initiated do not produce desired results.

  • Young children with ADHD have specific temperamental traits that will cause completion of this stage to be difficult. Typical behaviors in preschool-aged children with ADHD include intense emotional displays, difficulty starting an activity or refusing to finish when time is up.
  • Others present as more shy and withdrawn, isolating themselves from other children. They easily distracted, have difficulty transitioning from one task to the next and are described as being frequently one step behind everybody else.


Elementary school:

Children at this age are finding themselves having to cope with new social and academic demands. Success in triumphing over these demands leads a child to develop a healthy sense of competence.

Children who have difficulty keeping up with these demands (as seen in those with ADHD) may internalize feelings of inferiority and work increasingly harder to please parents and teachers.

  • By the time children with ADHD reaches elementary school, their disorganization the inability to complete tasks will begin to cause greater interference both at school and at home.
  • Even students who sit in the back of the classroom and cause no disturbance usually have trouble understanding what is going on due to their inattentiveness and distractibility.
High school:

At this stage in life, adolescents are establishing their sense of self and identity. Individuals who develop a strong self-concept are confident that the way they view themselves is matched by the perception of others.

  • A risk factor for teenagers with ADHD lies in this concept of social compassion—they might compare their own efforts to that of their peers, only to find themselves lacking. They may blame shortcomings on their own personal character (for instance, their level of ability), which causes them to feel more powerless over their situation than if their behavior (for instance, their level of effort) was the focus of blame.
  • Teenagers with ADHD may experience lower self-esteem than that of their peers. Social withdrawal or engagement in risky activities is also common.



One individuals reach adulthood, their identity and sense of self is relatively well-established. While this is meant to be a positive thing, it can cause adults with undiagnosed ADHD to assume that all the struggles they experienced growing up must “just be who they are” and resign themselves to this fact. Here are some novel ways ADHD can manifest in adulthood:

  • unstable relationships (i.e. due to forgetting plans, inability to maintain contact with friends)
  • poor work performance (missed deadlines, forgetting meetings, inability to focus on important tasks).
  • low self-esteem
  • difficulty planning ahead for the future


Get Support

While core symptoms of ADHD are rooted in genetics and cannot be altered by therapy alone, specialized types of treatment will go a long way in helping children, adolescents and adults cope with their emotions and reframe their self-construct. In addition to learning strategic skills that will help them academically and professionally, many individuals with ADHD find it helpful to talk about their feelings and concerns. If you feel that you need extra support, seeking mental health treatment can be immensely helpful in providing lasting relief.


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