I recently heard that some CHADD grassroots leaders feel the public's understanding of AD/HD is worse than it has ever been. CHADD members all too frequently encounter people who doubt AD/HD is a real disorder, or think diagnosis and treatment are bad ideas. But research studies show we are holding our own in the world of public opinion, if not yet convincing the naysayers. CHADD has been actively promoting science-based information on AD/HD for many years, particularly through the National Resource Center on AD/HD, our education initiative with the media, and the increased number of CHADD support groups all over the country.
Statistically—in terms of national studies of public attitudes about AD/HD—we have been basically in the same position for the past seven years. Independent studies have consistently documented that roughly 60% of the American population understands that AD/HD is a legitimate and real disorder of the brain that can be treated, that roughly 20% of the American population rejects the existence of AD/HD, and that roughly 20% of the American public simply doesn't know. CHADD obviously has to do a better job of communicating the science of AD/HD and providing direct support to our community leaders. A number of our programs and services provide this information and support, including Parent to Parent: Family Training on AD/HD and our National AD/HD Education Initiative.
Our sister national organization—the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)—recently launched a blog, written by its executive director and guest contributors, to better communicate to the public and members of the organization. To understand activities and issues facing the larger field of serious mental illness, I encourage you to read Mike Fitzpatrick's blog.
Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) has announced her intention to again sponsor a Senate resolution recognizing September 19, 2007 as AD/HD Awareness Day. When the Senate acts, we will inform you on our Web site home page.
In preparing for AD/HD Awareness Day, I went back and listened to some of the world's leading authorities on AD/HD speak at CHADD's previous annual international conferences. I listened to keynote addresses of Robert Brooks, Ph.D., Tom Brown, Ph.D., Edward Hallowell, M.D., and Russell Barkley, Ph.D. These tapes are available from our Online Store.
Some of the important themes I recall:
Listening is central to learning about and coming to understand a person with AD/HD.
Shame and fear are what hold people back. We need to instill hope. Positive energy flows when focused on strengths. Positive energy is what drives treatment to success. The fundamental aspect of good mental health is the need to feel connected. Belonging is the most important aspect to success. It starts in our families. It expands into our churches and communities and schools.
The stories told discuss AD/HD as positive examples and as severe challenges for many people. AD/HD for many people is not a benign disorder and contributes to major life activity impairments. These can include distractibility, impulsiveness, difficulty stopping negative activities, not listening and not following directions, poor follow-through on promises, difficulty doing things in proper sequence, difficulty sustaining attention, and difficulty organizing tasks. This results in major challenges at school, work, home, and community. AD/HD is a "Dimensional Disorder," it is not an all-or-nothing disorder. Impairments come along on a wide continuum—small > medium > substantial > devastating. This reality makes public understanding of AD/HD difficult. Each of us views AD/HD through the lens of our family members.
By focusing on strengths, we teach resilience. Resilience is defined as focusing on strengths to overcome adversity. These are personal and community qualities that professionals, faith leaders, community leaders, family leaders, and many others can promote and reinforce. CHADD community leaders can help focus on strengths and promote resiliency. Each of us—telling our personal story—confronts negative public attitudes.
We all need to work together—collaborate—to deal with the stigma, discrimination, and ignorance in the public and in our own communities. The experts can help us. Stay connected through CHADD and other networks.