I struggle every day to help you good folks, the neuro-typs (people with a neuro-typical brain), understand just how difficult it is to have ADHD. Many of you, the powerful majority, seem to see it as akin to a left-handed person living in a right-handed world. That’s not even close. So far, the most we have been able to achieve is a grudging acceptance by you that ADHD is a real disability.
Our brains look and act differently. The frontal lobe, which handles executive functions is slightly smaller. Our emotional center never rests. Our left and right hemispheres have far less connective tissue. No matter how hard we try, we can’t change the physical properties of our brain. We are the way we are.
We ADHDers think in a completely different way- and try as you might, there’s nothing you can do to change it. Although I’ve spent 58 years trying my best to understand the neuro-typical world, this is the best I can come up with as a way to compare: you good folks live in a linear fashion. You have a past, present and future. You take a series of steady, even steps through life. You look directly ahead, ignoring, or more accurately, not even noticing, all the interesting interactions going on all around you. You call them distractions. For you, it’s all about heading straight towards the future.
Thank goodness for all of you! The world would be chaos without you. We ADHDers truly appreciate all that you do. Sadly, we ADHDers are incapable, even with medication, of relating to your method of living life. Our path is not linear; it’s just as wide as it is long. Past, present, and future are not in an easy line to follow.
We meander all around. We notice and react to everything. To you, we appear self-absorbed, immature, and careless. And certainly by your standards we are. They are your norms and most of us accept them as valid and necessary. But as hard as we try to fit in, we feel a bit like indentured servants who can never earn our freedom. We must live in a controlled, highly uncomfortable way in order to best serve in your world.
We have been trained using harsh tactics: bullying, banishment, punishment, and imprisonment. Yet still, we will bolt from your world every chance we get. It isn’t that we think our world is better – our world is a tough, lonely place – we just can’t maintain consistent stability in yours. We’re not built for it. We’re doomed to fail.
Here is a real life comparison. When you good folks take a college class, you attend almost all the lectures, you schmooze the professor, you do the homework, you attend study sessions, and ultimately you pass the class with flying colors. The professors love you. They are happy to write letters of recommendations for future opportunities. You fit right in and enter the working world all set to go.
We on the other hand, attend the first lecture to get the syllabus. If it requires too much checking in, we drop the class (usually one day too late to get a refund) and sign up for a different professor. We then do what we can. We negotiate with the professor for some trade-offs. We work at our outside job instead of attending class – partly because we didn’t have the high school grades to get a scholarship, and partly because we are time blind and regularly overbook ourselves. We show up late for the final, but beg our way past the door. We are ecstatic if we get a grade of C.
No professor ever offers to write a letter on our behalf. We are perceived as having scammed the system. Untrue. We merely managed to survive in the system you designed.
Only one out of eight of us that begins college will finish – which makes it really hard for us to get ahead.
Success for us usually comes from starting our own business. We have the ability to notice a need, to be highly creative, and we aren’t afraid to take a risk. Unfortunately, only one in ten businesses succeed. Consequently, we are constantly dodging bill collectors.
You often perceive us as lazy because we don’t make good forward progress. The world for us has so much to offer that the overload causes us to fail at something every day. We are juggling far more balls than you are because we can’t prioritize. We don’t comprehend that time is linear, so we always think we have time to do what we want, and to do what we must. We are concentrating very hard to juggle the first ones we grabbed, the ones that most captured our attention. Try as you might to give us more, we will probably let your balls drop. In other words, the garbage won’t be taken out, homework won’t be done, and we will be late to everything. And we will never change. We can’t.
Fortunately, we do have important functions in your world. For example: you need one of us to be at every meeting ever called to solve a problem. From our bubble way up high, we can mentally see all the pieces of the puzzle at once, and quickly put them together. They are floating all around us in the here-and-now, which is the place you never look. If we happen to have good coping skills, and good meds, we know that we have to pretend to be listening to everyone, and then we figure out a way to present our idea as though everyone else loosened the jar ahead of us. That will be a skill that will take time for us to build.
Until then, we ADHDers completely blow it at meetings. We blurt out, “Oh for God’s sake, we’ve wasted enough time on this! Can’t you guys see? It’s so obvious. If we just set up a separate database…..etc., etc.” You will use our idea – after you fire us.
The HR director will explain, as she hands us our final paycheck, that we’ve been warned several times that our outbursts scare everyone. She’ll say, “We appreciate all your creative contributions. We realize that you put in lots of extra time. As for our part, we’ve put up with your constant tardiness, your wardrobe violations, and your messy cubicle – but the offensive outbursts in the middle of meetings have been too much for us to handle.”
Something like this, hopefully not so life altering, happens to us every day: a teacher throws us out of class, the other kids never pick us for their teams, no one comes to our birthday party, we are expelled from high school, our parents kick us out, we are fired from the first ten jobs we get, we do a short stint in jail, we are court-ordered to attend an anger management class, we have our first child while still a teen, we total two cars, we get addicted to something or other, we rack up two or three divorces.
We simply can’t understand and can’t do all of what you require, and consequently suffer a lot of shame and embarrassment. Only with medication, a lot of caffeine, and/or a complete understanding of our strengths and limitations can we focus enough to learn how to cope with your expectations.
It seems as though we are children of a lesser god simply because of the way we were born. Our brains look and act differently than yours. Yet we have the audacity to keep wondering, why can’t we be equals?
We see ourselves as the risk-takers, artists, inventors, and explorers. History backs up our contention. Both camps now agree that many historic ground-breakers were probably ADHD. Thomas Edison is a classic example. He could easily see all the resources and tools available to create change because he had the ability to notice everything. Please take a good look back and see how many of those that made huge strides in advancing civilization were mocked, derided, and died penniless. They weren’t appreciated at the time. They depended on a few close friends to get by.
We certainly do need you more than you need us. That’s why there are less of us, so that our need levels match. You need us too. Is it too much to ask that you accommodate us a bit?
Our differences become noticeable when we are about three years old, and because ADHD is usually a chronic life-long condition, they will continue until the day we die. Each and every day you will try to train us to no avail, and we will come to resent it when it occurs. We’ll argue, blame others, and give excuses. We become desperate to please you. If cornered, we’ll try to lie our way into your good graces. Until we learn better, we lie a lot.
As we get older, we ADHDers realize that the world would work far more efficiently if you good folks would just learn to understand and tolerate us. Go ahead, roll your eyes, hold your noses, but don’t kick us out of the room. We could team up and achieve so much. We’ll draw the blueprint and help you get started. You will have to organize and see the project to completion. We always start something new before we’ve finished the old.
We are our own worst enemies. It must be true, because everyone tells us that. Oddly enough, we feel as though we are the only friend we have. No one else understands us. We seldom even like other ADHDers because our specific pain-in-the-neck ways are unique to each one of us. We long to belong to your big world. Everyone in it seems to be friends. You all know the secret handshake. We are alone a lot.
I know I’ve made our situation sound depressing, and yes it can be. However, we ADHDers wake up each day filled with hope. We are stung, but we are tough. “Today,” we always think, “will be the day that I will be understood and appreciated.” Our optimism is a hallmark of our condition. Just one small victory will sustain us a long time. Yes, we are pains-in the-neck. Yes, we are unintentionally offensive. Medication doesn’t change us; it doesn’t reshape our brain; it only makes us able to focus on what’s important. It also wakes up our filters, so we don’t blurt out all our thoughts – which does help to make us tolerable.
We are certainly disabled by your metrics. We accept that, but wish it wasn’t perceived as such a shameful condition. We didn’t choose to be born this way. You always tell us to change, as if it were possible. Every school and business has a ramp for the people who use a wheelchair. Why don’t you just tell them to change and start using their legs? It’s a fair comparison. We will always need some accommodations. We don’t like to think that there’s something wrong with us, but if we can’t do what you expect us to do, then we are disabled. It’s your world, and that’s your call.
We really do need your support to survive in your world. The earlier, the better. Every school district has speech therapists to ensure that students with a speech impediment are supported while pursuing their education. That 1.5% of the population is well-served, while we ignore the obvious needs of the ADHDers who instead squirm in the chairs in front of the principal’s office, awaiting their daily humiliation. Nearly 10 percent of our children suffer their way through school. Way too many of us are expelled, setting us up for a life full of failure.
How would it look to you if 2/3rds of the students in a class for expelled teens had a speech impediment? It would appear to be blatant discrimination against any child with a speech impediment. Parents would raise a stink. Changes would be made.
I dare you to find out what percentage of the students in your county’s class for expelled teens has ADHD. In my county, it consistently remains at 67% or more year after year. I know; I’m their teacher.
It may take some digging to get the true number. In some states only half of us are ever diagnosed. It isn’t a priority. Not all are easily categorized. American schools don’t even use the term ADHD. They are classified as “Other Health Impaired,” or my favorite, “Emotionally Disturbed,” and lumped in with other afflictions. According to the Center for Disease Control, 9.6% of our children are ADHDers. It is the number one neurobiological disability, yet it doesn’t even rate a category of its own.
I submit to you that these particular Other Health Impaired/ Emotionally Disturbed students deserve proper recognition, diagnosis, and support. With it, they will be important contributors to your society. You need every bit of our 9.6% of the population; you just don’t realize it.
If only you could take a good look all around; you’d see what we see. But you can’t. You are the way that you are. So it takes a long time for the world we share to make obvious changes: proper sanitation, electricity, radio, desegregation, women’s rights, the Internet, solar power, organic farming, etc. If you want to know what’s all around you, and what resources are ready to be integrated, don’t be afraid, just ask us. We know.
I don’t understand how that makes us the disabled ones, but so it is.