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will.i.am and ADHD

by on 2018/01/23

will.i.am, the highly successful founding member of The Black Eyed Peas and judge on ITV’s ‘The Voice’, has recently spoken to the media about his diagnosis of ADHD. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a developmental disorder characterised by pervasive inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. It is one of the most common childhood psychological disorders, affecting around 3-5% of all children worldwide. Diagnosis rates in the U.K. are lower than most European countries and the U.S., with around 1% of U.K. children diagnosed with the condition. Media awareness of the condition, particularly from successful individuals like will.i.am is very positive in highlighting issues surrounding the condition. Last year there was extensive media coverage of a programme about ADHD with Rory Bremner covering his diagnosis, which helped address significant misconceptions about the condition. So how has the coverage of will.i.am on this topic helped with awareness on this occasion?

In one article this week, will.i.am is reported talking about strategies he uses to help organise his thinking. He states “I’ve learned how to control it. I can talk, look at that person, think about what I have to do now and what am I going to eat later. I don’t see if as a flaw”. In an earlier post a few years back he talked about the difficulty of living with ADHD symptoms “I’ve got all this stuff in my head at the same time as I’m doing stuff and I don’t know how to stop or slow down. But it’s all good because I know how to control it.” He goes on to talk about channeling his inattention and hyperactivity into being creative in meetings about music….and of course his impulsivity he says is behind the random jokes he makes on air. He said his mind wanders and “If it wanders then that’s not good because I could scare myself thinking of weirdo stuff. Music brings control to my thoughts. It’s not escape – it’s just order. I’m making order out of a disorder.” These reflections on his symptoms and his open discussion of strategies to overcome them is positive for children, young people, and adults with the condition.

Another issue will.i.am raised in the current media articles about his ADHD, is the high risk of accidents for those with the condition. He is reported this week as having almost drowned when he was ten because he went into the deep end of a pool even though he couldn’t swim. The example will.i.am provides sounds like it reflects an impulsive decision – impulsive behaviour is one of the three core symptoms of the condition. Impaired or disorganised thinking processes may also contribute to the high risk of accidents in ADHD. We know that having ADHD is a risk factor for many types of accidents, particularly for children and adults as pedestrians, or adults when driving. In a recent study I conducted, we showed that there were a number of factors behind the difficulties children with ADHD face as pedestrians, such as being poor at predicting what drivers will do next and planning safe routes to cross. These skills are underpinned by the ability to hold different pieces of information in memory in your mind over time and the ability to organise information in memory. Impairments in these areas, which we see in a significant number of children with ADHD, may then contribute to the difficulties they face at the roadside.

The media and reporting on will.i.am and ADHD

In general, the media reporting has been largely positive on this topic in relation to will.i.am. One significant inaccuracy appeared in the reporting this week – ADHD was referred within a headline as a ‘mental health disorder’.  While ADHD is associated with a higher risk of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, it is itself better characterised as a developmental disorder.  The same newspaper, though, included a recording of a clinical psychologist explaining what ADHD is. She described the various subtypes and who to contact if you are concerned about your child, which was a suitable and informative ending to the article.

Support and information on ADHD

Where else can parents or those involved in the care of children with ADHD learn more about the condition and associated services? ADDISS (Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service) is a national UK charity that provides information and resources to families, teachers and health professionals affected by ADHD. Another useful website is the Scottish ADHD coalition, which in particular provides information on support in Scotland. Other U.K. wide organisations include the ADHD foundation and the U.K. ADHD partnership.

From → Health, Psychology

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