ADHD Attention Blog

Attention Must Be Paid

When we’re talking about the brain, we’re talking about a puzzle. We’ve got names for the different pieces, and the chemicals running through them, and we’ve got a fairly solid grasp of how this part interacts with that. But when Charles Darwin said that a mathematician is “a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there,” he might just as well have been talking about neurologists and psychologists discussing the brain. We don’t even know why we yawn!

Same thing happens when we’re dealing with mental illness: We have a solid idea of the symptoms, the causes, and a platter of different treatments. But with a booming discourse over the past few years about depression, anxiety, and other manageable conditions, what we’ve found is basically that experiences may vary. What helps for one person might not help for the next.

As we discussed in an earlier post, music can play a big role in people’s management of physical pain. To the extent that the right “infectious” tune can wiggle into our limbic system, reducing stress, and thereby priming us for recovery.

Well, the same is true of music’s utility in treating mental illness, and we’ll talk about the above-mentioned blights (depression, anxiety) in blog posts to come, but here at Focus@Will we’ve taken particular interest in the conversation about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the role that music might play in its management.

A significant proportion of our users could be considered ADHD. And their brains work differently from others’.

Fortunately, we can talk about all this with relative ease. Over the past two decades, the taboo’s dissolved fast. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about ten percent of kids in America between the ages 2 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. And those’re just the ones who’ve been to a doctor about it. About 3 to 5 percent of adults have diagnosed ADHD.

Those of us who’ve worked in, or attended, a public school in the past 10 years or so can attest to the comfort with which, when a teacher asks the class who’s eligible for extended time on their test, five or six hands out of 30 will shoot up in the air. No shame. In fact, it’s almost fashionable. Did you hear about the new clothing store for teenagers with ADHD? It’s called Off Topic.

Back to that brain-as-puzzle thing: ADHD is kind of elusive in terms of what causes it, what exacerbates it, and what mediates its obstacles. The disorder is characterized largely by inattentiveness, impulsive behavior and, as the name suggests, hyperactivity. And it appears to stem from a shortage of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical, released by neurons, that sends signals to nerve cells. Call and response. Helps you focus. Specifically, dopamine’s a neurotransmitter that allows us to regulate emotional responses, and take action to achieve specific rewards. It controls feelings of pleasure and reward.

So there’s the rub: we’ve got this disorder to contend with, it’s totally manageable, but how does a person manage it without resorting to drugs that bring with them a bevy of repercussions—sleeplessness, organ damage, and addiction among them?

Knowing what we know about the root of ADHD in the brain (shortage of dopamine), we’ll talk in our next post about some avenues that sufferers take to manage that chemical imbalance.

Here’s a hint: you can dance to it. Start listening at!

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