The ADHD Circuit® (Article 2): A Breakdown of the ADHD Circuit®
I have always been fascinated by strings of lights. It amazes me how a simple strand of light bulbs can illuminate any space and transform it into a warm and festive atmosphere.
While shopping for party decorations this summer, I came across an inexpensive set of lights that would fit perfectly in our kitchen. I put them up for a surprise party, but we enjoyed them so much, they never came down. Little did I know, that $10 pack of lights would not only add a nice touch of ambiance to my kitchen…it would help me discover a clear model for understanding ADHD.
One afternoon, my seven year-old son, Mark, was sitting with me in the kitchen. We somehow started talking about ADHD and he asked a very thorough question. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I remember being slightly stumped. I took a deep breath and absentmindedly looked up towards the ceiling, mentally “searching” for an answer.
Peeking just over his head was my strand of lights. And, with all puns intended, the light bulbs in my head went on! I not only had an answer for him, I had a whole new understanding of ADHD.
“Mark,” I said with renewed confidence, “these lights are like our brains…”
The Brain Circuit
The brain is made up of several different sections, each responsible for specific functions. These sections manage things such as: feelings, visual input, auditory input, language processing, movement, and a whole host of other tasks. These different parts of the brain communicate with the each other through electrical signals. The signals are called “synapses.”
A synapse is a connection. When one part of the brain needs to coordinate with another part of the brain, it sends an electrical signal. This signal instantly “connects” both parts of the brain together.
For example, when you are having a conversation with someone:
One part of the brain hears the sounds.
Another part of the brain processes those sounds into words.
Another part of the brain processes meaning from those words.
Yet another section determines the thoughts you want to express in response.
But, first, another part of the brain has to find the words to express that thought.
Then, another part of the brain translates those words into sounds.
Finally, a different part of your brain helps you move your lips and generate the sounds to say those words.
Every single step in this process represents connections between different parts of the brain; these connections happen instantaneously, fluidly, and in quantities much larger than we could ever comprehend!
For a better understanding of these synapse connections, take a look at this video. You will find yourself thinking about these images as you become more aware of your own brain connections:
The ADHD Circuit®
All of the trouble caused by ADHD boils down to one simple concept: inefficient brain connections.
An ADHD brain has a chronic shortage of two essential chemicals, dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals are required to carry the electrical signals in the brain and make synapse connections. Normally, these chemicals allow the different sections of the brain to communicate with each other. However, when these chemicals are low, the brain will often drop signals before a connection is made.
The frontal lobe is the part of the brain that typically suffers from these low chemical levels. This front section (directly behind your forehead) is responsible for receiving signals from your nerves, senses, and other parts of the brain. It processes these signals, then responds to them by sending commands to other sections of the brain. The frontal lobe is like your brain’s “Grand Central Station” and manages more connections than any other part of the brain. For this reason, it is very susceptible to problems caused by low chemical levels.
What About the Lights?
As Mark and I sat in the kitchen, we looked at our string of party lights. I pointed to the long cord that was plugged in to the outlet and traveling up the wall towards the first light. “If this string of lights was our brain, then this cord would be the section that picks up signals from our eyes, ears, and other senses and carries those signals to the front part of our brains. On this string, the front part of the brain is the first light. The “first light” decides what to do with those signals and sends a signal or command to the next light.”
I asked Mark, “What would happen if I cut the wire between the first and second light?”
“The light would go out!” Mark instantly replied.
“Exactly! And that is what happens when the front part of our brain does not have enough chemicals to send signals to the other sections of our brain. The power goes out. The brain is lost. It has to double-back and attempt to fix the connection,” I explained.
Eventually, connections will go through, but not before people with ADHD feel like they have been spinning in circles. In reality, their brains ARE spinning in circles. trying to generate. enough. power. to complete. a. full. circuit!
An Over-Simplified Model
On one hand, comparing the billions and billions of electrical connections in our brain to a simple, linear strand of lights seems entirely too simplistic. For certain purposes, it would be. However, for those of us who have ADHD or live with someone who has ADHD, this simple model can help us understand much more about the biology of an ADHD brain.
When you have asked your child 18 times to get ready for bed and you find him playing with a toy in the hallway instead of heading to the shower, you want to scream! Why does he do this?
Imagine that string of lights. You know what happens when you cut a wire between lights…the lights go out INSTANTLY! The same thing has happened in your child’s head. He started heading towards the bathroom. But, along the way, a connection was “cut” between the front section of his brain and the section responsible for opening the bathroom door. He is not trying to be difficult. He simply had a power outage and lost track of what he was supposed to be doing. The signal, quite literally, disappeared.
The brain is an elaborate network of electrical connections. ADHD is a condition caused by a chronic shortage of chemicals needed to make these connections. A person with ADHD frequently experiences “power outages” that prevent the brain from delivering signals and commands to other parts of the brain.
Imagine a string of lights. Electric signals travel from one light, to another, and another. Then, suddenly and without warning, a wire is cut between two lights! In a fraction of a second, the lights go out and all signals are lost!
This is the ADHD Circuit®.
The Next Article
The implications of this model for ADHD are seemingly endless! I have only scratched the surface today and realize that there may still be some confusion over the connection between ADHD and a strand of party lights.
In the next article, I will share a personal story about my triumphs and trials…in pouring drinks for my kids! This story will shed more light on The ADHD Circuit®.
Article 1 – Introduction to the ADHD Circuit®
Article 2 – A Breakdown of the ADHD Circuit®
Article 3 – My Personal Journey Through The ADHD Circuit…for a Cup of Milk!
Article 4 – ADHD Is Not an Excuse!
Article 5 – Is it Creativity…or ADHD?
Article 6 – How to Avoid the “Tasmanian Devil Tailspin” of School Work
Article 7 – A Simple Learning Solution Hiding in Plain Sight
Article 8 – “EVERYTHING Is Wrong With My Kid!”
Article 9 – Improving Social Skills
Article 10 – When ADHD Children have ADHD Parents