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ADHD, A Disorder of Performance?

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Dr. Russell Barkley, an international authority on attention deficit hyperactive disorder, offers a different theory on ADHD than most. He believes it is actually "a disorder of performance", theorizing that the child suffering from ADHD is really delayed in the development of their self control and self regulation. Specifically, such a child cannot stop and think effectively, before responding to social and scholastic situations, and that under-developed brain neurology impairs the child's ability to control impulsive responses, to real time events.

This deficit in self control disrupts the child's performance, and noticeably absent from this theory are the deficits in attention commonly regarded as the primary attribute of attention deficit hyperactive disorder. Dr. Barkley says that problems with inattention are an information processing disorder, not an attention disorder. Dr. Barkley's opinion is that ADHD is over simplified, when it's described as a disorder of attention. Instead, we must understand that ADHD is the inability to inhibit behavior, long enough to self regulate, control, manage, and organize, to meet situational expectations.

The mechanism that allows a person to self regulate and exhibit thoughtful self control, is the core attribute that separates humans from other animal species. Self control allows a person to pause, think, and consider. In contrast, the child with ADHD lives in the moment, propelled by the impulse to immediately gratify their own interests and needs, and fails to demonstrate thoughtful, planned, and controlled behavior. This is commonly seen as egocentric behavior; in ADHD, the development of behavior inhibition is substantially delayed. Under developed self regulation and self control interferes with the ADHD sufferer's ability to function effectively.

Dr. Barkley theory speculates that the ADHD sufferer is typically 30% delayed in their ability to self manage, self control, organize, and plan for the future. Dr. Barkley suggests that the developmental age of the child with ADHD can be estimated by subtracting 30% from the child's chronological age. Even though the child may know the skills they need to better control or manage their behavior, they have difficulty executing those skills, because they have a developmental deficit, they have less capacity to self direct and stay on task, and future oriented, goal directed behavior is disrupted by their orientation towards immediate gratification. Their inner guidance and self regulation functions inefficiently, especially without external rules and guidance. The 30% delay in the development of self control remains, even as the ADHD child grows older. Yet, it is still possible for the person with ADHD to learn strategies, and modify their behavior, to become higher functioning individuals, both scholastically and socially.

Dr. Barkley theorizes that deficits in behavioral inhibition disrupt the ADHD child's skills and abilities to self regulate impulsive and unregulated behavior. Even with a full repertoire of life skills and abilities, impulsive behavior at the "point of performance", can destroy a person's efforts to demonstrate what they know, and achieve in life.