Zandra Maffett dreams of the day there is no stigma attached to Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD or ADD). The day a person hears ‘ADD’ and knows “it’s real, it’s diagnosable, and it’s treatable.”
Zandra recounted a story about her oldest son, John, now 28, who attended a private high school, “For all his brilliance, he wasn’t doing very well.” She said she couldn’t figure out why until her younger son’s ADHD diagnosis led her to recognize the same symptoms in John.
When she spoke to John about the likelihood that he too had ADHD, Zandra said, he sought professional advice and a proper diagnosis. The right medication and professional help changed his life. “He came to me then and said ‘Mom, all the voices in my head have sorted themselves out.’” Today, John is working as a field organizer for a man running for a council seat in Philadelphia. He will be completing his bachelor’s degree in communications in December.
Zandra’s youngest son, Max, having received the proper help, is also on his way to a successful career as a personal trainer. But Zandra realizes that until there is greater awareness, and unless the many widespread misconceptions about ADHD are publicly challenged, those who suspect ADHD in their child, spouse, or even themselves, will not want to acknowledge it, nor will they know where to turn for help.
Zandra is saddened that kids are often ridiculed for acting “so ADD,” and because they just want to fit in, are afraid to seek the help and support they need. It’s as bad for adults in the workplace who hesitate to let others know they have ADHD for fear of being let go or denied a promotion, rather than being treated with respect and empathy. With proper accommodations, these kids can often succeed, even excel, in school, and these employees frequently become out-of-the-box thinkers who are a real asset to their company.
That’s why Zandra has spent the last few years working tirelessly on the ADDA board as chair of the Awareness Campaign Committee to generate hope, awareness, empowerment and connections world-wide in the area of ADHD.
Last year, Zandra suggested that the four national organizations – ADHD Coaches Organization (ACO), Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA), ADDitude magazine, and Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) – join forces for ADHD Awareness Week to gain a greater voice and bring more awareness to ADHD, and “we are continuing as a coalition in 2011.”
Zandra, who worked for many years with companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Merck in public relations, communications and patient advocacy, brings tremendous experience to her efforts. She points to the potential these four groups have for even greater success and impact by working together, “going even beyond the membership of these organizations in order to reach the bigger world out there.”
“We must think in terms of reaching the major media outlets, to encourage each organization to bring in other organizations. And even though we have declared observance of a week of ADHD awareness, we are hoping for a month filled with activities sponsored by local groups to really get the word out,” she explains.
“We want to present the facts, the truth about medication, and how ADHD is treatable. We want to reach the broader public and to help with that, we want to encourage celebrities, who can have such a powerful impact, to begin to talk openly about their ADHD.”
Zandra would like to see the same recognition given to ADHD as is given to breast cancer or other physical illnesses. Along with that, she believes, would come the respect those with ADHD deserve.
This year ADHD AWARENESS WEEK is scheduled for Oct. 16-22 under the theme, “ADHD, Get the Facts.” Abundant scientific research has led every mainstream medical, psychological, and educational organization in the United States to conclude ADHD is a real neurological disorder resulting from an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain.
ADHD affects four to seven million children (5-9 percent of the population) and 9-13 million adults (4-6 percent of the population) in the U.S., and every day they must fight against the persistent myths about ADHD that damage public perception.
“There is a lot of negativity out there,” Zandra said, “and we must do what we can to change this perception, to end the stigma once and for all.”
Judy Brenis is an ADHD coach based in Santa Cruz, California. She has a 22-year-old daughter that was diagnosed with ADHD at age five and is passionate about helping those with ADHD create successful, happy, and healthy lives. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.