Until I was diagnosed myself a few years ago, I knew little about ADHD. The image I had was what is shown most often in articles and the media: boys running around in a classroom. And extremely hyperactive people, who talk a lot, and quickly. However, it is larger, more complex and can have a major impact on your daily life.
Because of the many books and articles that I have read about it in the meantime (the general idea seems to be that people with ADHD have no patience to read, but I like to read), supplemented with my own experiences, now I have a clearer picture. But when someone asks me, “What exactly does ADHD mean?” I find it difficult to sum it up in a few sentences. I’m making an effort here.
Starting with the name. ADHD stands for “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”, and it is described as a medical/neurobiological condition that leads to attention and concentration problems, impulsivity and hyperactivity. (*see note below)
Many researchers and practitioners believe that this name is no longer appropriate, but that’s how we know it now. One of the confusing things about the name is that it seems that people with ADHD have too little attention. However, there is no shortage of attention, but the attention goes where it wants and therefore it can take a lot of effort to focus on something purposefully. Or someone focuses all attention on a task and the environment seems to no longer exist. (This is known as hyperfocus, which, by the way, can also be useful).
Another word to stumble over: disorder. Because it sounds like there’s something very wrong that needs to be fixed. And for a long time, ADHD was really seen that way. But at least in recent years there has been a growing realization that not all brains work the same. And if your brain doesn’t work as standard, it’s not automatically a disorder. (See also my previous column on neurodiversity).
What ADHD is not: a lack of effort, laziness, the result of a bad upbringing or a made-up trend.
What it is: a collection of traits and symptoms that can cause you to run into all sorts of obstacles and problems, and severely hamper your emotional life/relationships/work/finance/self-esteem, especially while undiagnosed.
But a number of nice and fun qualities and skills are also common among ADHDers: originality, perseverance, charisma, empathy, creative, original way of thinking, intuitive, curious, special humor and problem-solving ability. And they often come out even better if you know how your brain works and what does or does not work for you.
In the book ‘Delivered from Distraction, Getting the Most out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder’, written by Edward Hallowell (adult and child psychiatrist specialized in ADHD, and he has ADHD himself), there are many beautiful, painful and clear examples in which I recognize a lot. I share one here:
“In other ways, ADHD is like being under constant stress. (…) You get an idea and you have to execute it right away, and before you know it you have another idea before you finish the first one, and so you throw yourself into it, but of course a third idea intercepts the second idea and and then of course you have to go after that, and before you know it people are calling you chaotic, impulsive, disobedient, rebellious and all sorts of unkind things that completely miss the point. Because you try so hard to do it right. You just have all kinds of invisible powers that pull you here, then there, which makes it very difficult to carry out your mission.”
Do you recognize something in this article? Or do you have questions or comments? You can write something in the comments, or contact me via my contact form on my Dutch site.
(This is the third column I wrote for the Dutch site about mental awareness ikbenopen.nl. Published at June 2022. Here you can read this column in Dutch. )
*: while translating my article from Dutch to English I noticed that ADHD is described slightly different in Dutch or English. And in English there are variations too.…