Frustrations, Expectations and Perceptions

Hey, folks!

I wanted to talk today about ADHD, what the clinical definition of ADHD is, and how it all relates to actually living with ADHD. The information in this week’s blog is pretty accessible, just visit the ADHD Institute’s website at if you’d like to find out even more. Today, we’re just doing the basic run down.


The Clinical Symptoms of ADHD

Let’s start with the symptoms listed in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM 5. The DSM has been used by doctors to diagnose psychological disorders for over 50 years.

The DSM 5 details Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as a “persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.” There are also three subtypes of ADHD which are:

  • The Predominantly Inattentive subtype

  • The Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive subtype

  • The Combined subtype

To distinguish these three, the DSM separates the symptoms into two categories, Inattentive symptoms and Hyperactive/Impulsive symptoms. These are listed in the table below.

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The category of which an individual has more symptoms in, determines which subtype they’re diagnosed with. If an individual has more than 6 symptoms in each category, they’d be diagnosed with the Combined subtype. Along with that, the majority of an individual’s symptoms must present before the age of 12 in more than one environment (ie. at school, home or with friends or family).

The aspect of clinical ADHD I’d like to focus on is a condition the DSM 5 states in its definition. It says that the symptoms should not be solely attributed to “oppositional behavior, hostility or a failure to understand tasks or instructions”. For someone with ADHD, this small stipulation gives me a huge sense of validation and hope.


Growing Up Frustrated

Growing up, I was a frustrated kid. I’ll admit to that, but upon further reflection, it was all in response to my own frustrations with symptoms I didn’t understand. You can see how this pattern can quickly create a negative behavioral feedback loop between the child with ADHD and whoever they’re interacting with.

Let’s break that down a bit. The child has all of these extra ADHD symptoms to deal with and start to feel frustrated, which usually ends up with them acting out. In response to that behaviour, a teacher, a parent, another kid or whoever reacts in a similar way to the child with ADHD, because let’s face it, no one enjoys being frustrated by something or someone. The kid with ADHD now has people pointing at them as the cause of everyone’s frustration. And the cycle continues. The child with ADHD gets more frustrated with themselves and the people around them get more frustrated with the disruptive behaviors, creating that negative feedback loop I mentioned  earlier.

How is a child supposed to handle that? How would you? If you couldn’t stop tapping, couldn’t control your impulses, and didn’t know you were the only one struggling with those tendencies.


Using Empathy and Understanding to Create Bridges

My motive with this post isn’t to point fingers, we have enough of that going on in the world. This is a call for empathy and understanding, from everyone; not just teachers, parents or the unlucky kid who had to sit beside me in the third grade. Because at the end of the day, none of us are perfect, and it only adds to that negative feedback loop if we don’t know what to do with those frustrations.

After years of internalizing all the criticisms and my own frustrations, I was finally able to really convert them into positive change. If I could read for 5 minutes without losing focus, maybe I could do five minutes and thirty seconds. If I could do that, six is just right around the corner. I kept that up for a while and the next thing I knew, I talked myself into biking across Canada.

But what about when we’re working with others? I think we can all agree that it’s not as easy. Let's take a look at the child with ADHD again.

You’re trying to help this kid but they keep pushing you away, never really seem on task and they keep making this annoying tapping noise on their desk. That’ll make anyone a little frustrated but let’s take a step back. Whatever frustration we feel in that moment, imagine feeling that all the time. Every time you picked up a book, every time you tried to do your taxes (the deadline to file your taxes this year is April 30/2018, friendly reminder from one procrastinator to another), every time you were expected to sit still, every time you WANTED to lay still and try to fall asleep. If you found yourself struggling in all of those moments, I bet you wouldn’t even want to get out of bed some days. I know I don’t.

Maybe there’s another way to react to people that make us feel that way, ADHD or not.

This circles back to that small sentence in the DSM 5; “Not solely a manifestation of oppositional behavior, hostility or a failure to understand the task or instructions.” Because one of my biggest fears are’t bears, death or taxes. It’s that I am those things.

It gives me validation because it means when I get frustrated, I can remind myself that I’m not just oppositional, hostile or incapable, like everyone said. It gives me hope for the world because maybe those people aren’t just oppositional, hostile or incapable of understanding me either.

I’d like to finish up today by thanking everyone that I frustrated. You can’t get frustrated without first caring about whatever is frustrating you. That’s what my teachers, parents and the kid that sat next to me in the third grade showed me. When other’s gave up at the first sign of struggle, you stuck around, longer than you could bare. You held me to a higher standard than I held myself. You believed in me and pushed me to that standard the only way you knew how. So thank you, truly, deeply and sincerely.

I’ll leave you with a song about frustrations, expectations and perceptions called Pedestrian At Best by Australian musician, Courtney Barnett.


Until next time,

Stay mindful, and stay frustrated.