Dispelling ADHD myths pt. 1: Attention Deficit

I don’t like the name “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”

People with ADHD don’t have a deficit of attention. If anything, we have a surplus. We have so much attention it gets in the way of our daily lives. The issue we have is with regulating that attention. (Also the hyperactivity may be absent, or subtle, or even mental rather than physical, and thus difficult to observe, but that’s a whole other post.)

For example, a neurotypical person might be working and see a cool-looking bug. “Huh,” they’d think, “that’s a cool-looking bug. Well, back to work!”

Us ADHD’ers would not be able to do that. We would likely look the bug up online, learn about its mating habits, diet, and any number of fascinating facts about the bug, apropos of nothing—just because we find it interesting. When we snap back, hours may have gone by. We’re behind on our work. Shit.

So really we’re less like Doug from Pixar’s “Up,” (Squirrel!) where a distraction is fleeting and temporary, and more likely to start researching whether Sarah Silverman’s assertion is actually true that squirrels forget where they hide 80% of their nuts, (Maybe squirrels have ADHD too?) and end up causing forests,.

Sounds easy to remedy right? Just concentrate on your work and forget the bug. Except that’s exactly what we cannot do. We cannot regulate our attention. We flit from one interesting thing to the next. Like a butterfly in heavy wind, or a ship in a storm we can try to steer and navigate as best we can, but the wind and sea have their own agendas and may push us off course.

In fact ‘interesting’ is our primary, and in some—ONLY, motivating factor. If we don’t find a task interesting, no amount of persuasion, cajoling, threats of punishment, offers of money or anything else can spur us to do the task. We just can’t, our brains pretty much forbid it.

I really can’t explain how impossible it is to try and do a task when we don’t find it interesting because, (in my experience,) neurotypicals can’t imagine it and so cannot empathise. Neurodivergents will be nodding along here though, trust me.

This is why ADHD’ers are often branded as “Lazy”, “Difficult”, or “Uncooperative”—even after diagnosis and often by those we love.

The flip side of this coin is Hyperfocus— where we find something so fascinating that we lose track of time while doing it, or become irritated if interrupted from it. During hyperfocus, we may forget to eat, or use the bathroom, (until it’s no longer optional,) or even put off sleep because we HAVE to continue whatever we’re working on.

So if we don’t find something interesting, wild horses couldn’t drag us to do it, whereas if we do, you have to crowbar us away from it.

(Btw, I saw a meme that said that people with ADHD tend to use more parentheses when writing, because every thought comes with another supplementary thought, (which may also have its own spin-off series of thoughts and so on,) which is both true and funny. Case in point. QED. Whatever.)

So imagine a situation where you have a lot on your mind. Your brain is already going 90 to the dozen, and every 2 minutes someone comes in, interrupts your train of thought with a new task that comes with extra information and is marked “Urgent!” that you really have to deal with then and there. Repeat ad nauseam.

That’s kind of what having ADHD is like .