For Kerry Miller and Lynn Myrvang, the acronyms ADHD and ADD are commonplace in their vocabulary. Both have experienced family and friends affected by the disorders. And both have spent years helping others understand the conditions.
“There is no blood test to determine if someone has ADHD,” said Myrvang. “And you can’t just look at a person and see it in them. It takes a real team of professionals who know the right questions to ask to make a good, correct diagnosis.”
After Myrvang suspected that someone close to her had ADHD, she decided to ask a psychiatrist she worked with about the symptoms she was seeing in her loved one.
“I’d been in the mental health and counseling field for years,” she said. “And I wasn’t sure. I needed someone who knew the right questions to ask to help me.”
In general, ADHD stands for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and has subcategories. What was once called ADD, is now called ADHD, and refers to a person who is predominantly inattentive and includes symptoms of someone who has difficulty paying attention, seems to not be listening, struggles with instructions, has difficulty organizing, is easily distracted or is forgetful or distracted.
ADHD, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, is often described as someone who fidgets or squirms, can’t sit still, talk excessively, runs as if driven by a motor, blurts out answers, interrupts others or has difficulty taking turns.
Once Myrvang had a true diagnosis, she felt better. But she wasn’t sure what to do next. That was when she happened on to Kitsap CHADD, the local chapter of a national organization that supports people with ADHD and their loved ones. The National CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity) began in 1987. The local chapter was started in 1990.
It was there that she met up with Kerry Miller, a founding member of the local chapter.
“We’d known each other in college,” said Myrvang. “But we went our own separate ways and it wasn’t until twenty-some years later that we ran into each other again through CHADD.”
Miller and her husband, Brian, founded the local CHADD after their children were diagnosed with ADHD.
“Our son’s behavior was challenging,” Miller said. “With my husband being a physician, we knew to take him to see his pediatrician for an evaluation and he gave us the diagnosis. And it was at one of my son’s appointments that the doctor turned to me and said, ‘You don’t have one child with ADHD. You have two.’ He could tell from watching our daughter that she was ADHD, too.”
They had the diagnosis, and they had suggestions of how to manage their children. But they needed support. So they formed the Kitsap CHADD group.
Through the help of the national organization, Miller was able to begin the local chapter and soon she had other parents and professionals joining in. As they worked together, they were able to dispel the misunderstandings about children and adults with ADHD.
“They used to have all kinds of terms — slow, or minimal brain disfunction, even ill-behaved,” she said. “None of them were anything positive.”
Finally by the 1990s, research had shown that those with ADHD are highly intelligent and often times on the high-end of the spectrum of creativity.
“We know it’s a neurobiological disorder that manifests itself as inattentiveness and hyperactivity,” Myrvang said. “Getting people to recognize that it is an actual diagnosable disease is so important.”
When mothers and fathers, or teachers, or others call her for help, Myrvang first directs them to get a diagnosis from the family pediatrician or family doctor. Once that is done, she asks them to attend the support group.
“We have a great lending library and lots of literature,” she said. “And we have people who have been in their shoes. We can give them understanding and support.”
The group has more than 30 members, some who come for the meetings from as far away as Tacoma, Forks, and Port Townsend.
Many times the people who come to the meetings are parents and teachers, or people looking for ways to help someone they love who won’t go for a diagnosis. Sometimes it’s an adult who is looking for answers for themselves.
“We have adults who come and listen and after they hear us talking about the symptoms of ADHD, they say ‘Oh, that’s what’s wrong with me. That’s what’s been my problem ever since I was young,” Myrvang said.
Some adults can suffer with ADHD for years before they get a diagnosis, she said. And when they find the answer to what’s been an issue for them all their lives, they’re overjoyed.
“It’s like they finally know that it’s not something they’ve done wrong,” she said. “It’s just who they are. They’ve been told for years, all the way through school, that they were lazy, or even crazy. Now they know it’s a brain disfunction that they can learn to deal with.”
Myrvang said Kitsap CHADD doesn’t recommend any specific behavioral or pharmaceutical treatments. Rather, the group helps those with ADHD to find information that is scientifically-supported and research-based and then allows each individual to determine what course of treatment is best for them.
“We’re here as a place they can come to get information and to discuss their options,” she said.
“We’re here to support, not to be a platform for any one thing.”