Is Twitter the next big thing in ADHD diagnosis?

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Yesterday, I received my daily Google Alert email update for the search terms “attention deficit.” I’ve had this set up for several years, but I must admit, I don’t often check it; I can offer no better excuse than that it is rather hard to keep abreast of daily news about attention deficit if you suffer chronically from it. In any case, this time, something compelled me to read through the headlines compiled in the email, and one caught my attention (no pun intended): “Searching for ADHD in a Million Tweets.” It states: 

After analyzing 1.3 million tweets written by nearly 1,400 Twitter users, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have created a machine learning model that can predict which of the site’s users are affected by attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). […] Researchers monitored Twitter users with self-reported ADHD, comparing them to a set written by age- and gender-matched controls. The team then used various machine learning models to search for patterns in the two sets of tweets.

It might come as a surprise to you, my readers, but I must say, I find the whole thing terribly problematic. Why? Because it fails to take into account the fact that there are as many manifestations of ADHD as people living with it. The effects of ADHD in the life of one person may be entirely different from that of another.

For example, Lyle Ungar, one of the study co-authors, was quoted as saying, “I didn’t realize how common it was for patients to use marijuana to treat their symptoms, so you see people talking more about dope and weed.” But in contrast to these ADHDers, I avoid pot like the plague, not wanting to be any more dumbed down than I already am.

Meanwhile, according to the abstract of the article accompanying the research, published Nov. 8 in the Journal of Attention Disorders, “Users with ADHD are found to be less agreeable, more open, to post more often, and to use more negations, hedging, and swear words. Posts are suggestive of themes of emotional dysregulation, self-criticism, substance abuse, and exhaustion.” It seems to me the way these results have been reported is liable to reify negative stereotypes associated with ADHD. 

ADHD: not ‘one-size-fits-all’

I commend anyone wishing to shed light on ADHD, which after all is still arcane to most people who neither live with it or know someone who does. Also, for the record, I’m well aware of the inherent value of the internet, and social media, in particular, having minored in communication studies as an undergrad at the University of Oregon.

Even so, this research is misguided. It assumes there is one, and only one, kind of life ADHDers live, regardless of gender identity, socioeconomic status, race, etc. 

True, some health outcomes are more likely for people with ADHD. Depression, eating disorders, and self-injury are among a slew of comorbidities, or co-occurring conditions, in ADHD women, for instance. But therein lies the salient point: These aspects are common in ADHD women, specifically. As Devon Frye notes in a blog post on ADDitude, “men with ADHD are more likely to have substance-abuse problems while women with ADHD are more likely to have personality or mood disorders.”

Thinking outside the ADHD box

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Far from demarginalizing ADHDers, the reasoning driving this research homogenizes the ADHD experience. I love the idea of a group of researchers at an Ivy-League institution setting out to make things easier for people who may have ADHD. This is especially so because Ungar has said while ADHD is less well studied than conditions like depression, “Understanding the components that people have or don’t have, the range of coping mechanisms that people use all leads to a better understanding of the condition.”

What we really need

What people with ADHD — those who have been diagnosed with it, those who suspect they have it, and especially, perhaps, those who live with it unknowingly — really need is for the medical community to realize there is no one, singular ADHD experience.

Yes, this does make it harder to single out people who are likely to have undiagnosed, and thus, untreated ADHD. Yes, this does mean there would need to be a concerted effort to map all tweets from studied ADHDers, and not just those that appear so frequently as to be acceptable to make generalizations about said ADHDers.

But the effect — newfound insight into ADHD in all its countless iterations — would be well worth it.

 

7 tried-and-true tricks for traveling with ADHD

ADHD profoundly affects many aspects of our day-to-day lives. Travel is no different. But luckily, after years and years, I’ve learned how to minimize the fallout of ADHD-induced, travel-related trials and tribulations. And with the holiday travel season drawing ever closer, I thought I’d share seven of my foolproof methods.

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1. Invest in a large suitcase.

Pro tip: As long as a suitcase weighs less than 50 pounds, you may check it like any other bag. So instead of trying to be someone you’re not and attempting to squeeze two weeks’ worth of luggage into one medium-sized suitcase, go big or stay home! And if you really want to ‘go the extra mile’ with your ADHD-proof luggage, choose a suitcase that’s indestructible, like this stylish pink one

2. Pack everything you’ll need — AND everything you MIGHT need.

We ADHDers have a reputation for being underprepared — a reputation that isn’t ENTIRELY unwarranted. That said, if you’re anything like me, you tend to overcompensate by overpacking — and then later, trying to thwart everyone’s judgment that you’re a pack rat, ending up underpacking. All things considered, I think it’s better to be overprepared than underprepared. Don’t you?

3. Do a packing dry run.

 As early as possible before the start of your vacation, gather all of the items you’ve decided on after reading tip #2 and try packing them in the suitcase purchased after reading tip #1. Granted, some things, like your toothbrush or your medications, can’t be packed until day-of. However, you can TEMPORARILY pack them, and you should; you need to verify that your luggage hasn’t exceeded that 50-pound weight limit. To do that, you first need to weigh yourself. Then, pick up your full suitcase and step on the bathroom scale again. Finally, subtract your weight from the weight of you and your luggage. After that, you can adjust your packing list accordingly. 

4. Spring for TSA Pre✓

As the Transportation Security Administration website boasts, with a five-year, $85 membership, “you can fly through security and don’t need to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets.” I know, I know: Not everyone can afford this. But if you CAN pay for this option, then by all means, for the love of all that is good and holy, DO.

5. Set up a mobile boarding pass in addition to printing one out.

It would surprise me very much if I were the only person with ADHD ever to misplace a printable boarding pass while en route to a flight gate. Those damn little pieces of paper are just WAITING for us to lose them! Phones, on the other hand, are much harder to lose track of, if for no other reason than that you can track them using GPS. Avail yourself of these technological innovations — you’ll be glad you did.

6. Pack your medications in your carry-on — NEVER a checked bag.

Inevitably, luggage sometimes gets lost; and it can be days before its owner reunites with it. If you make the mistake of packing your ADHD medications in the said checked bag, you could face multiple days sans pharmacological symptom control. Granted, my ADHD is particularly severe; nevertheless, I think I speak for all other ADHDers when I say having to go neurologically ‘au naturale’ for even a single day can be pretty much the worst thing imaginable. 

7. Treat yourself and pay for some Wi-Fi time — BEFORE the day of your flight.

When I was preparing to fly to Washington, D.C. to visit my boyfriend last month, I surprised myself by getting everything together ahead of time — or so I thought. On the day before my flight, I received an email trying to entice me into paying $16 for a day’s worth of in-flight Wi-Fi. I smugly chaffed at forking over so much money for web access when I had already downloaded four e-books on my iPad that could be read without an internet connection. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was on the plane and in the air that I remembered something: It’s impossible for me to concentrate on reading while flying due to the cacophonous sounds coming from every direction on the airplane. Suddenly, I was stuck in the sky for three-plus hours sans any entertainment. And as it turned out, Delta Airlines doubles its prices to for a full day of Wi-Fi once the day of the flight has arrived. In the end, I just bit the bullet and shelling out $6 for an hour online.

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That’s really the salient point: Something WILL go wrong, no matter how many fail-safes you’ve devised. The key is to expect it. And above all, you have to have a sense of humor about problems while peregrinating. Otherwise, your ADHD may keep you from enjoying yourself.

…Bon voyage!

Why I’m thankful that I have ADHD as a millennial (ADHD Awareness Month post #5)

For an ADHD blogger, you may have noticed my feelings about ADHD aren’t exactly of the warm-and-fuzzy variety. It’s true: I’m far from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder’s biggest fan. It’s not that I believe this kink of the human nervous system is anything to be ashamed of; in fact, I’ve spent a great deal of my life attempting to convince people it’s not. It has just had too deleterious an effect on my life for me to join the ADHD-is-an-evolutionary-adaptation camp. If I had to be born with ADHD, though, I’m glad my birth year of 1989 classifies me as a member of Generation Y, aka the millennials. 

Technology 

Young asian student on university campus with computer laptop

(Photo credit: Adobe Stock)

I honestly don’t know what I’d do without the internet and my various electronic devices. And I’m willing to hazard a guess that I’m far from the only ADHDer who feels this way. I first knew modern technology would be my ADHD-related salvation in middle school when my math teacher started posting homework assignments online — not just textbook page numbers but scanned copies of our worksheets we could print out if we didn’t make it home with the sheets distributed in class. There was something so liberating about being thwarted by my ADHD, as I inevitably was from time to time, but then being able to reverse the damage right from home, with no one else but my mom the wiser. Of course, not even 2002 Drew could have conceived how integrated the internet would end up being in my education, from googling for research on weekends in high school to emailing professors term papers late at night in college.

As I got older and technology more advanced, I found additional workarounds for my pesky ADHD problem in the form of various hi-tech devices. When I was 22, for example, I bought tickets to a concert in my hometown, but when the day of the show arrived, I realized I had left the printable tickets in my college apartment, a two-hour drive away. Suddenly, I remembered having received a confirmation email I could pull up on my iPhone, which I did, and was granted admission to the concert as a result.

Over the years, the combination of my iPhone and my MacBook Pro has been my saving grace; in a future post, I’ll explain exactly how. But trust me, we ADHD millennials have benefited immeasurably from the ‘i’ revolution.

Treatment

My gratitude for being born with my particular disability in my specific generation is also due in part to the fact that there are a variety of pharmacological treatment options available today. By my count, based on the most recent information on WebMD (last updated in April 2016), there are five short-acting CNS stimulant medications, 14 intermediate and long-acting stimulants, six nonstimulants, and seven antidepressants used in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. That’s 32 in all. Now, granted, many of these medications are chemically the same drug, just prepared in different strengths and dosages. And I’ll be the first one to tell you it is essential for Big Pharma to prioritize developing entirely new medications for those whose ADHD is unresponsive to any drugs currently available.

Pills Pills Pills

Nevertheless, this is a leaps-and-bounds improvement over the breadth of options (or rather, the lack thereof) on the market not very long ago. Between 1936, when the first ADHD medication, Benzedrine, was approved, and 1982, only six medications were developed and released on the market. And after that, there were no new ADHD drugs for another 14 years, when Adderall first hit the market in 1996. In other words, for almost half a century, a new ADHD medication only became available once every seven years or so. Subsequently, Concerta, an extended-release preparation of methylphenidate I took from ages 13 to 22, was released in 2000; Focalin, the stimulant I’m on now, hit the market in 2001; and the FDA didn’t approve the non-stimulant medication I take, Intuniv, until the year 2009. Imagine if I had been born just a decade earlier: I wouldn’t have had Concerta to get me through all of high school and college, Focalin to get me through my ’20s, or Intuniv to get me through grad school. And I definitely wouldn’t be able to write this post now!

Tolerance

But perhaps the no. 1 reason I’m glad I was born when I was is that in the 1990s, ADHD awareness spread like wildfire. It was unprecedented. There were conferences and self-help guides, not to mention the first issue of ADDitude! And things are only getting better. Gone are the days when jokes about parents putting their kids “on Ritalin when they just…won’t…behave!” were fodder for popular primetime comedies (*cough*”FRIENDS”*cough*). With every passing year, ADHD is shedding the stigma that surrounded it in the past and getting closer and closer to its rightful place in the public consciousness as just another fact of life. And if this is a trend, you know what the very best part about being a millennial with ADHD is? It means the next generation may live in a world that would never conceive of ADHD any other way.