ADHD/A-Brain What???

In case you were wondering why you are seeing the term A-Brain on this blog (and in my practice), I thought it best to start at the beginning, with a quick note about the term ADHD.

About the ADHD label:

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  Technically, it is a term that highlights a collection of symptoms – mainly involving difficulties with inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity – that are first observed in childhood (before age 12) and may continue throughout adulthood.  The term ADHD is a label with medical, psychological, educational, social, and legal meanings – and there are numerous conceptualizations, approaches, interventions, and treatments that are being used by professionals within each of these arenas for people diagnosed with this particular term.

The term ADHD is also highly controversial.  It seems that everyone has their own opinion about what ADHD really is – and the range of opinions are vast and often fervently presented.  The perspectives include (but certainly are not limited to) that ADHD is a pathology or illness creating global problems in functioning;  a pathology only effecting executive functioning skills; a ruse created by greedy drug companies to expand their profits; and a non-entity – a fake label made up by others to excuse bad behavior or bad parenting, to name a few.  And yet, there are also those who champion ADHD as a form of ultimate creativity and openness – synonymous with gifted-ness and artistic expression; or a personality type that lends itself to greater ingenuity and innovation, entrepreneurship, and advocacy.

I think this is important to note because if you feel compelled to know more about ADHD, you will no doubt encounter some of the debate in public discourse or read contradictory information on the web.  In all of my years practicing as a psychologist, I have yet to encounter another diagnosis that is as controversial or is met with such scrutiny.  So, if you delve into the vast array of information out there – be prepared. While some of what you will find may be wonderfully supportive and useful – some of it may be down-right hostile.

What is this term A-Brain?

As I began specializing in Adult ADHD, I found that the term ADHD had so many associations for people, and so many of them negative – sparking feelings of shame, anger, denial, and/or avoidance – that I needed a new way to talk about what was occurring.  Also, the more I expanded my knowledge base by reading current research (particularly advances in neuroscience) which began to identify more specific differences in structures and functions within the ADHD brain with a high probability for genetic transmission, and the more time I spent integrating this knowledge into my professional and personal life experiences, the more conflict I experienced with the origins of the ADHD term rooted in pathology.  The more work I did, the more I began to view ADHD as a different brain that functions best under certain circumstances and has the potential to tank in others.  It no longer felt accurate to only identify the negative aspects of ADHD without also giving credit for the undeniably positive aspects I was also seeing.  And I began to be concerned that, while there was surely something different occurring, the pathology reference point may actually have been creating conditions that could be harmful to people with this brain – and could actually be inadvertently preventing access to full experiences with health and well-being.

As a result, and through much discernment, I developed a new term, A-Brain, to try to address these concerns.  A-Brain is synonymous to ADHD in my writings – but it embodies this difference-not-disorder perspective.

Here is how it breaks down:

  • A – think ADHD, Artist, Author, Actor, Astronaut, Autonomous, Aspiring, first in the alphabet (I thought ADHDers deserved to be first for once as most of our life systems are designed to meet B-Brainers’ – aka non-ADHDers’ – needs/abilities/strengths first. )
  • Brain – think neurological system.  The brain in this respect includes not only the “brain proper” – that large mass contained within your skull – but also the full neurological system that extends into every area of the body – with information being transmitted top-down, bottom-up, left-to-right, and right-to-left.  Brain “data” moves in many directions and interacts with different structures – sometimes engaging it to act, or stop acting, to feel, stop feeling, or modify data by giving it a priority, or to up or down-regulate the data, or by trashing it as unnecessary for our attention.  Sometimes we are aware of what the neurology is doing, and other times, we are not.  In other words, the brain is a dynamic, ever-evolving, interactional system that initiates, responds to, processes, and regulates every aspect of human experience – some within consciousness (awareness that it is happening) and some without (no awareness – but it happens anyway – like your heartbeat or the influence of how you first learned how to love from your childhood.)

Translated:  ADHD is in the neurology (A-Brain).  It is your brain’s hardware.  If everyone else is PC, you are a MAC.  It is not completely YOU (as you have such things as your soul, beliefs, intentions, subjectivity, and unique personality – things that cannot yet be measured or specifically identified in the brain but aspects we know are vitally important) and it is not inherently bad.  But if you are having to interface with only PC’s, it might be more straining for you to achieve success than it will be for others because their software was designed to work on a PC system by a PC specialist and runs smoothly – while you got the after-market software translation for MAC which the PC world tried to put together with their team of specialists but without fully “getting” how the MAC hardware works and thus, it can freeze or a key code might be different.  However, when you run iTunes or Safari, your system sings like a bird and flies like an eagle!  While miscommunications and mis-firings can happen, it is not your fault.  It is just the strain of going PC to MAC, MAC to PC.  It can be helpful to know that you have a user-friendly interface that is far more complex behind the scenes than the minimalist aesthetics betray, with engaging multi-media abilities, and far fewer viruses –  but they will always run Excel more smoothly.

In summary, the term A-Brain can be used as an ADHD substitute when one is referencing the neurological differences seen in the ADHD research resulting in particular ways of processing life’s data under certain circumstances but without judging these differences as inherently bad, ill, or pathological.  A-Brain terminology implies the likelihood that such neurological differences exist (I do not conduct brain scans or surgery on my clients to verify these differences are present) based on self-report, other report, observation, history and other diagnostic measures that fit the ADHD experience – and then A-Brain further states that these differences are neither good nor bad – they just ARE.  A-Brain terminology inherently means different – not disordered.  From my perspective, ADHD/A-Brain is a condition that represents a different processing system that presents different strengths and weaknesses from the majority population (the B-Brainers – aka the “normals”).  That’s it.  If one has an A-Brain, one can learn how to work with this brain system – maximizing the strengths, and better managing and supporting the particular weaknesses – just like every other human being on the planet gets to do.

A-Brain terminology is meant to reinforce the reality that everyone (A-Brainer/B-Brainer, ADHDer and non-ADHDer) has strengths and weaknesses.  If one learns their A-brain system and applies that knowledge into how they approach life, this can result in a vibrant, full, and successful life.  Or, conversely, without knowledge of how to work with this system or without access to environments that fit with the A-Brain processing style, one can experience major challenges and impairments – and these inform the high level of co-morbidity seen with other illnesses such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse among the clinically diagnosed and researched ADHD populations.

I will use ADHD and A-Brain interchangeably in these posts as I have them defined.  However, please note that others may use the term ADHD differently and that A-Brain terminology may not equally be interchanged in other arenas outside of my work.

Now that you know what these terms mean, onward to other ideas…..