Christopher Monroe enjoys the same types of things any 11-year-old does – soccer, video games, playing with friends. And he is especially fascinated by the military.
But Monroe’s brain doesn’t function like the typical child’s. He was diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) when he was six years old.
AD/HD is a neurobiological disorder that affects 3 to 7 percent of school-age children and 2 to 4 percent of adults. It is characterized by developmentally inappropriate levels of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. The more commonly known attention deficit disorder (ADD) possesses all of the same symptoms of AD/HD, minus the hyperactivity.
According to Dr. Deborah Gelinas, a neurologist at Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer, ADD and AD/HD “can come from a different brain activation pattern, one in which the signals do not come through the same pattern as a non-affected brain.”
The frontal lobes of the brain are affected by the disorders, according to Gelinas.
“This is where your executive function comes from,” she said. Executive function refers to the variety of functions within the brain that activate, organize, integrate and manage other functions.
Monroe’s mother, Donna Tyler-Monroe, said having either disorder is “like watching the credits go by at the end of a movie. You try to read every one, but they go by too fast. So eventually you just stop reading. That’s their life.”
According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), medical science first documented cases of what we now refer to as ADD and AD/HD in 1902. Since that time, the disorder has been given many names.
“It’s easier now that more people know (about the disorder). Previously, children with AD/HD were labeled ‘problem children.’ They were just children with unmet needs and we didn’t yet know how to help,” said Tyler-Monroe. “Some people think that there is no such thing as AD/HD, that the symptoms are just the result of a disciplinary problem or bad parenting. It isn’t the person’s choice to be this way,” she said.
According to CHADD, “Research does not support the popularly held views that AD/HD arises from excessive sugar intake, food additives, excessive viewing of television, poor child management by parents, or social and environmental factors such as poverty or family chaos.”
Monroe has been struggling with the disorder in the five years since his diagnosis. He is currently participating in a medication trial study at Mass. General Hospital’s AD/HD Research Clinic in Cambridge, Mass.
“I heard about the study on the radio. I called and we were put on the wait-list for approximately one year. You get to the point where you’ve exhausted every possibility,” said Tyler-Monroe.
Another misconception of the disorder is that it affects only children. In fact, according to CHADD, 67 percent of children diagnosed with AD/HD will continue to have symptoms of the disorder carry into their adult lives. Those affected with AD/HD can lead very normal and successful lives. Reportedly Jim Carrey, Tom Cruise, Walt Disney, Charlize Therone, Albert Einstein and Ernest Hemingway all suffered from ADD.
Tyler-Monroe, a licensed practical nurse at Health Alliance in Fitchburg, recently found out that she, too, suffers from ADD. She explained how her life makes more sense looking back at it with her new diagnosis.
“I maintained a 4.0 GPA while in nursing school, but I had to really work at it,” she said.
Tyler-Monroe self-medicates her condition with what works for her – two liters of coffee per day.
Nashoba Valley Medical Center has now implemented new state-of-the-art testing for the disorder. The new testing system is called NeuroTrax Mindstreams and takes about half-an-hour.
“The test is computerized, it is a Web-based system,” said Linda Mansfield, office manager for Gelinas. “The test is administered, then the doctor reads the results, which are printed out as soon as the testing is complete.” The test rates the patient on a variety of skills including memory, executive function, visual, spatial and verbal function, attention, speed and motor skills, reactions, speed and concentration levels, and how much distraction the patient can deal with.
“This is a very exciting tool, especially being in what is considered a pretty rural area,” Gelinas said. “It gives us the opportunity to test people that have concerns for themselves and their children.”
She also said that modern medications can help create normal patterns in the brain.
“We need to control the gate of stimuli,” she said. “There are three lines of medications. One increases the serotonin, which affects the command center of the brain. We can also now work with other centers of the deeper brain, which is another line of medications. There are also medications that work on controlling the stimuli.”
As for Monroe, does he wish he had been born without the disorder?
“No, AD/HD makes me who I am.”
Tyler-Monroe agreed. “You and I are special together.”
Staff writer Diane Beaudoin contributed to this story.