Why Your Child Acts Without Thinking

The following article was published in ADDvisor newsletter earlier this year. We are publishing this article in our newsletter with kind permission from Alan Graham and Bill Benninger of ADDvisor.

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Russell Barkley, one of the foremost researchers in the country regarding ADHD, has presented a new theory that describes ADHD. He states that ADHD is actually an impairment of the brain’s behavioral inhibition system. To understand this more clearly, think of the brain as having two parts: the “animal” brain-the part of the brain that is similar to animals in that it reacts to stimuli and controls the involuntary body functions such as breathing, blood flow, etc.; and the “human” brain-that part of the brain that is uniquely human in that it can think, problem solved, etc. Normally, when the body reacts to an external stimulus, a message is sent from the “animal” brain to the “human” brain where the event is evaluated and a response to the stimulus is formulated. In ADHD children, this message either never gets to the ‘human’ brain or it gets there late. In either case, the individual ‘acts before thinking’, often feeling remorse as the message is received after the response has occurred .

This is why ADHD is described as a disorder of doing, not knowing. Your ADHD child may know the appropriate responses to particular situations but when at the “point of performance” (the actual event when the knowledge needs to be put to use), your child acts without thinking and behaves impulsively. Very often, immediately after such behavior, your child may say, “Oh no! I didn’t mean it.” By understanding this process, we can better tailor our interventions to help our child mange the world better.