ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), also sometimes known as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), is a neurodevelopmental disability. It’s something that you’re born with. You can’t catch it or develop it later in life.
What may occur however, and what happened with me, is that a person’s life may not get in the way of their ADHD. What I mean by that is, the areas of that person’s life where their ADHD could negatively impact the person, are taken care of by other people. This is most easily explained with an example. When I was a child and teenager, I was always on time to school. That’s because my mum made me get in the car and took me to school, or she made me get the bus which took me to school. Whatever it may be, I was being brought to school by someone else. By the time I learnt how to drive, therefore having to manage getting to school myself, I was pretty much always late to school; if I showed up at all. That’s because the area of my life that my ADHD could’ve impacted, was being managed by other people. Then, when that area stopped being managed by others, my ADHD started to negatively impact that area. This is how many people go through life with ADHD and not knowing it as this same concept can occur in pretty much every aspect of someone’s life.
By the time we reach adulthood, our entire lives are expected to be managed by ourselves. This means, people with undiagnosed ADHD have to figure out how they’re going to manage to lead a functioning life. It is possible, people can be diagnosed with the disability well into their 50s and no doubt even later. But it causes a lot of unnecessary stress. If someone knew they had ADHD and knew they could get support for it — their life would be much easier.
That’s kind of a side point about adult diagnoses of ADHD.
The condition of ADHD is incredibly difficult to explain. There’s the medical definition of it: “ADHD is a disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.” but that’s not quite capturing the full picture. ADHD is a misleading name, it is merely a description of how the disability effects other people and not the people with ADHD themselves. People with ADHD do not have a “deficit” of attention. In fact, ADHD people have an ability to hyperfocus. But the confusion comes from the fact that people with ADHD often have a difficult time initiating a task. This is an issue with what is know as “executive function”. This is a set of mental skills and abilities that every human has. Executive function is severely impacted by ADHD, to the point where it is difficult to get the skills and abilities to work correctly. This is called “executive dysfunction”. Two of these mental skills that make-up executive dys/function are “task initiation” and “working memory”. Task initiation is what it says on the tin. The ability to initiate a task — or to get up and do something. This is where some of the symptoms of ADHD begin to effect other people. If I am asked to do something, especially if it’s something I hate doing or have no interest in doing, I simply cannot do it. It isn’t because I don’t understand what to do, or I have the other necessary skills to perform the task. I can’t do what I’ve been asked because their is a physiological issue with the way my brain is processing the request that makes me incapable of starting it. This translates into an unwillingness to do tasks (especially if they’re stressful, or have other negative feelings associated with them) which can then seem like I’m just not willing to pay attention to the task at hand. It’s not that I have a deficit and cannot afford to pay attention, it’s because my brain is not able to even start focusing my attention on the task. This leads into the next part of ADHD, hyperactivity.
Hyperactivity is not always apparent in people with ADHD. Some may only experience minor symptoms, others might not get it at all, others may not be able to sit still for more than a second. It differs for every single person. Personally, my hyperactivity includes: endless talking without realising I’m not letting anyone speak; interrupting others; endless pacing; fidgeting; restless leg; tics and twitches; and stimming (and probably a few more but I can’t remember them all off the top of my head). I’ll explain what stimming is in a bit. Hyperactivity comes from the ADHD brain’s need to feel satiated. The brain is constantly trying to find things that it wants to do. This ends up manifesting itself in being easily distracted, moving a lot, talking a lot, switching subject etc etc. But this is only “hyper” activity to people without ADHD looking in.
So with both attention deficit and hyperactivity both being descriptors of how ADHD impacts other people. A more accurate name for the disability would be something a long the lines of Attention dysregulation disorder. However, this is not really a battle worth fighting. But more of a thought exercise to help people understand that ADHD is much more complex than a lot of people assume.
With all forms of neurodivergence, it’s incredibly hard to define what symptoms make up a condition. And determine whether certain conditions are symptoms of or causes of other more serious conditions. For example, depression is often linked with anxiety. This is because, people with depression are often made to feel othered. This is for a variety of reasons, whether it’s bullying, or somebody is treat a person with depression a little bit too nicely, or ignoring a depressed person asking them for help. Many reasons. But this treatment creates anxiety. Therefore, anxiety can be a symptom of depression. Depression can be a symptom of anxiety, should the anxious person begin to fall into depression because of their frustrations with their emotional dysregulation. This shows that different conditions that fall under the neurodivergent umbrella are interlinked.
This is the same with ADHD. A lot of the possible symptoms of ADHD also occur in Autism. Hypersensitivity is one of these examples, and one I experience. Hypersensitivity refers to the literal senses - not being overly emotional. So, too many lights, too much movement, too many sounds, loud sounds, bright lights, if my clothes are too tight, if I’m wearing too many clothes, too many people are trying to speak to me, etc. Any time my brain has to process lots and lots of stimuli I am at risk of becoming overwhelmed. For some people this can lead to a breakdown. For me, I get extremely irritated and frustrated to the point of anger and the only way to stop that is to move out of the environment that is causing the problem. This is also a potential symptom of Autism. Like with ADHD, not all Autistic people will experience hypersensitivity, and the people who do won’t all experience it at the same intensity or frequency. It’s all case by case.
Similarly, as I previously mentioned, stimming is also a symptom of both ADHD and Autism. Stimming is the act of performing “stims” these are stimulating activities that relieve stress on a neurodivergent brain. Stims are acts of self-stimulating behaviour…. (trust me, there’s no way to say that without implying something). These often involve repetitive movements or sounds. Stimming is not solely a symptom of neurodivergence though. Everyone may do it. Chewing on a pencil whilst you’re trying to work something out or biting your nails when you’re nervous are both examples of stimming behaviour. In people with ADHD or Autism, it is typically more frequent, more apparent, sometimes more intense, and we perform a wider range of stims. I rub my hands together when I’m excited, and I flex my fingers when I feel angry, frustrated, disgusted, or painfully bored.
One way that think about ADHD, Autism, and all forms of neurodivergence is that it’s a vast collection of symptoms, and you may get handed a random selection of these symptoms. Some people get handed their symptoms as they’re developing in the womb; others develop them out in the world living their lives. Some symptoms can be treated with medication and therapy, some symptoms can be cured completely, and some you’re stuck with for life. But it really is a large collection of symptoms and behaviours, some of which can be categorised as disabilities, disorders, and/or illnesses. Most people will experience at least one symptom that is typical of neurodivergence throughout their lives, it is very common.
I’m not sure this post had much of a point, it was really me just rambling on. Fingers crossed it’s actually readable and not just an incoherent stream of consciousness.