Challenging the dominant ideas and negative annotations on ADHD
Text: Rozan Snoek
Image Editor: Rozan Snoek
While writing this article about ADHD, my thoughts wander off, my hands keep searching for distractions. I take a break from writing and leave my desk to do the dishes. In the middle of washing my plates I think of a title for this article. I’m walking to my laptop, but see my washing machine and start unloading my clothes. Wait, what was I doing in the first place?
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a neurodevelopmental disorder mostly diagnosed during childhood. ADHD signs are categorised into three forms of symptoms. Having a hard time concentrating or focusing on one task is categorised under inattentiveness. Overactive bodily behaviour or experiences of restlessness is sorted as hyperactivity and acting without thinking or interrupting conversations fall under the category of impulsiveness. The subdivision of symptoms helps to recognise and diagnose those who have ADHD, but the symptoms can differ for every individual. To be able to get the diagnosis as an adult, the disorder has to influence day-to-day life in a negative way. For example: underachieving at school or work, having a hard time keeping your house clean and difficulties with romantic or friendly relationships.
As a young woman, the influence of ADHD in my daily life was a motivation for me to set in motion the diagnosis process. Initially, I didn’t recognise myself in the dominant behavioural problems: the busy kid with an inability to sit still and wait my turn, acting without thinking and excessive talking and moving. Now I know that ADHD is more than just the dominant symptoms and can therefore be unnoticeable for others.
My difficulty with focusing and concentrating happens within my own brain. I thought everybody was struggling with the same low levels of concentration on a daily basis. Therefore, I didn’t understand why, in relation to ‘normal’ people, I had such a hard time dealing with the same tasks and expectations. This effected my self-esteem, because I related these ‘shortcomings’ to me being stupid, lazy, forgetful, but mostly different. To deal with those problems, I decided to get help and went to a therapist when I was 18 years old. After multiple sessions, my therapist recognised that my problems were related to ADHD and not a lack in ability or motivation.
Accepting the diagnosis
After my diagnosis, I started to read a lot about ADHD and gathered information from my friends who were, at the time, already diagnosed with ADHD. It’s remarkable how much of this information is focused on the negative annotations, leading me to believe I live with a ‘disorder’ that needs to be treated. When diagnosed, I made the choice to do cognitive behavioural therapy; to find ways to reduce ADHD related symptoms by changing behavioural patterns. This method is created to become more successful in life as one becomes aware of the embodied thought patterns. This method, in combination with medication, is the standard treatment for ADHD in the Netherlands. Even though this method is very useful, it reinforces the idea that ADHD is a ‘disorder’ which needs to be dealt with instead of embraced.
There are also positive representations and perspectives on ADHD. Tracy Otsuka’s podcast ADHD for smart ass women emphases ADHD not as a ‘disorder’, but as a ‘gift’. Tracy Otsuka herself is diagnosed with ADHD and from that perspective she interviews women who successfully navigate their ADHD. She credits her ADHD as her greatest ‘gift’ and shares the message: ‘to proudly stand out instead of trying to fit in’. To me, this is an improved perspective on ADHD: emphasising on the positive sides and “super powers” that are also related to ADHD.
ADHD as a gift
To turn ADHD from a ‘disorder’ into a ‘gift’, it is important to emphasise the many positive aspects of ADHD. Calling it a ‘disorder’ depends on the perspective and environment. When standing on the soccer field, an excess of energy comes in handy. In the classroom, that same energy is not appreciated by most teachers and fellow students. Examples of positive sides are: being creative, empathetic, spontaneous, enthusiastic, thinking outside of the box and taking risks.
Creativity comes in many forms and stages. For me, creativity is not the ability to paint or make music, but the ability to come up with ideas or think of solutions. When I have to write an essay, I can think of multiple topics to write about, I have the ability to make new connections between the existing literature and I think of multiple perspectives addressing this subject.
However, I also see all the possible pitfalls for both my article and my writing process. Regulating my concentration can be a pitfall, leading to procrastination and sloppiness.
Even though starting a project or essay can be a great opportunity for procrastination, when started, a hyper-focus often arises. A hyper-focus is a certain state of flow, accompanied by intense concentration and attention that is energised surrounding a task. With this flow my productivity levels are very high and I can get a lot done in a small amount of time, since I’m fully absorbed by the task. When I edit film material or play a game of chess I can get so involved, I even forget I have other appointments on that day. Thus, the regulation of concentration is the challenge rather than the amount of concentration in general.
Embracing different brains
I used to believe that ADHD was a ‘disorder’ that needed to be treated. Not only because the name itself implies that something is ‘wrong’ with the person, but also since all the information I found confirmed this idea. Now, I’ve come to realise this is not the entire truth: there are two sides to consider: the negative and the positive. I’m learning to deal with the symptoms by proudly standing out and creating systems that work for me. Using colour coded systems, setting timers to be aware of the time, putting on rings to fidget with when I get restless. Creating these methods and coming up with creative solutions, show the wonderful and unique, but often hidden aspects of ADHD.
Just as, and because of, Tracy Otsuka I believe my ‘disorder’ is actually a ‘gift’. To change the general conception about ADHD, we have to look beyond the dominant idea of people with ADHD as lazy, unmotivated and we need to stop marking the amount of talking or moving as excessive. Instead, we must change our conception and see people with ADHD as people who can bring a lot of joy and spontaneity with a loaded amount of energy, creative ideas and new concepts. By accepting different kinds of brains and believing in ADHD as a ‘gift’, we can make the world more creative, risky, spontaneous and ‘outside the box’. Ready to do this together?