Could I have ADHD in addition to SMA?

Sherry Toh avatar

by Sherry Toh |

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“Sherry, did you forget about your evening medication yesterday?” my caregiver asked as she held up a plastic bag with a vitamin pill and painkillers. It was Feb. 17, the day after I attended an Ed Sheeran concert with my brother Gabriel.

In response, my faced looked like that Pikachu meme where his mouth adorably hangs open in surprise.

I hadn’t meant to forget my painkillers. In fact, I could’ve used them. I had a headache throughout the concert from overstimulation and period cramps. I’d seen on Gabriel’s phone that it was time for me to take them while we watched technicians set up the stage. But then I’d completely forgotten that my medication existed.

“Yes,” I meekly admitted to my caregiver.

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This is one of many incidents that have made me suspect I have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Specifically, the predominantly inattentive subtype, whose symptoms include chronic disorganization; difficulty finishing tasks, paying attention to details, and following conversations and instructions; distractibility; and a poor working memory. It’s offered me a potential explanation for certain frustrations I’ve had with myself.

I should pause to emphasize that I don’t know if I have ADHD. I’m working on getting diagnosed, but it’s an expensive endeavor, even at public hospitals here in Singapore, and I have to fit the appointment in with my packed schedule this year.

I’ve also heard it’s tough to find psychiatrists who will diagnose you correctly if you don’t fit the “typical” profile of an ADHD patient. In my experience, that often means someone without a neuromuscular condition like SMA — even though research suggests there is a correlation between Duchenne muscular dystrophy and ADHD. Thus, I suspect it could take a while before I find the right doctor to either confirm or refute my suspicions.

I didn’t arrive at these suspicions casually. It took weeks for me to realize I might have it.

May I have your attention, please?

The story begins when I was struggling with a friendship. A friend of mine had been forgetting things I told her, and I had let things slide until the pressure built to an unbearable point and my frustrations spilled over. Later, Muscular Dystrophy News Today columnist Shalom Lim, who has ADHD, pointed out while I was venting that my friend was exhibiting symptoms beyond forgetfulness, such as rejection sensitivity.

To fix my friendship, I immediately dove into researching ADHD. I wanted to support my friend and show her my love.

In doing so, I found I had much in common with people who have ADHD, like my tendency to procrastinate until a deadline approaches, a poor working memory, a habit of drifting away in thought, and easily losing track of time. But I attributed these things to regularly dissociating from traumatic events. ADHD is usually present from childhood, and I couldn’t recall any incidents that might’ve indicated I had it as a child. If I worked on dissociating and procrastinating less, maybe those similarities would disappear.

A few weeks later, a colleague at my part-time job asked if I was struggling with work. Despite handling one of our financial spreadsheets for three months, I was still making careless mistakes. That prompted flashbacks of my mum chiding me almost constantly for careless mistakes in my homework as a child, which made me revisit my research on ADHD with a new lens.

I finally acknowledged that SMA and my parents’ preconceived notions about ADHD might’ve masked the condition in me when I learned about emotional dysregulation. It’s a core symptom of ADHD and means my brain can’t effectively regulate my emotions.

I’ve noticed it increasingly in recent years, as I’ve taken on more responsibilities and expanded my social life. I can cycle through intense moods one day, then feel nothing the next. As a child, I was home-schooled and didn’t have many friends, so there were fewer opportunities for that symptom to be noticed, because it wasn’t conflicting with my life and what I wanted to do.

Now I have to save up to be tested, which will provide me answers and allow me to get help if needed. It’s will take a while, and it’s admittedly hard to contend with possibly having two disabilities, but I’ll do my best to get there.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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