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Mar 12

By Neil Petersen

Today I’m an ADHD blogger. But before that I was just a guy with an ADHD diagnosis. And before that I was a guy who didn’t know much about ADHD at all.

When I finally did get diagnosed, I wondered how it took me so long to find out something that made so much sense. Part of the reason many people with ADHD get diagnosed late or not at all is that they think they know what ADHD is, and based on what they think they know they think they can’t have it.

ADHD MisconceptionsIn my case, thereare a few assumptions I made that influenced my view of ADHD before I started learning about ADHD. For anyone out there who has these misconceptions or knows other people who have them, I wanted to share them. They are:

1. Having ADHD means you can’t focus on anything

Based on the fact that ADHD is an “attention deficit” disorder, I assumed the essence of ADHD was a lack of focus and an inability to concentrate on anything.

However, more than being a simple deficit of attention, ADHD is an inability to regulate attention. When you have ADHD, you have less control over where your attention goes, so your focus will be naturally drawn towards things that are interesting/stimulating and away from things that aren’t.

In practice, what this means is that there will be some things you struggle to focus on, but there will also be some things that grab your attention. In fact, there might be somethings you can’t stop paying attention to.

That’s not to downplay the importance of inattention: in inability to sustain attention that interferes with your life is a big clue to the possibility of ADHD. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have ADHD if you can concentrate on some things, especially things you enjoy.

So having ADHD doesn’t mean you can’t focus on anything, but it does mean there will be a bigger gap between the activities you can focus on and the ones you can’t.

2. If you had ADHD, someone would have noticed by now

By the time you become an adult, it’s easy to assume that if you don’t have an ADHD diagnosis you don’t have ADHD. After all, if you did have it, a teacher, parent or doctor would have caught it when you were growing up, right?

Not necessarily!

There are many reasons ADHD can go unrecognized. Not everyone with ADHD has hyperactive symptoms, and ADHD without hyperactivity can be harder to spot from the outside. If you’re able to do alright in school despite ADHD, your parents or teachers might not have reason to suspect anything. Many people simply don’t know enough to recognize the signs of ADHD, and your doctor might not know you well enough personally to connect the dots.

You don’t know something until you know it, so you should never assume that not having an ADHD diagnosis precludes having ADHD. If you think you might have ADHD, you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain by making an appointment to talk it over with a professional.

3. ADHD is no big deal

By the time I was in high school, I was regularly hearing people use “ADD” as a cute shorthand for being scattered, disorganized or unfocused. “I’m so ADD,” “that’s so ADD,” “stop being so ADD,” you know how it goes.

The problem with trivializing ADHD this way isn’t just that it comes across as dismissive to people who really do have the disorder. It’s that for people don’t have the disorder or don’t know they have the disorder, it skews their perspective of what ADHD is.

Before I got diagnosed, I recognized I had some “quirks” in my ability to control my attention, impulses and so on (although I don’t think I would have articulated it in those terms at the time). If you’d asked me, I probably wouldn’t have even denied that I met the colloquial description of “so ADD.”

However, because I’d mostly heard traits like inattention and impulsivity discussed as trivial things, I wasn’t able to connect the dots to really see how these were symptoms that had a far-reaching impact on my life.

That said, even if I’d had a better objective understanding of ADHD, I doubt I would have been able to spontaneously acknowledge the full extent of how these symptoms were affecting my life. Denial is a powerful way of thinking, and we get used to how are lives are even when they’re not working that well.

We think of ADHD as a thing that’s different, but it doesn’t feel like a thing that’s different when you’ve had it all your life because it’s all you know – it’s like being the fish in water who doesn’t know what water is.

So if you do recognize possible ADHD symptoms in your life, don’t dismiss them and say “oh, I guess I’m just kind of ADD.” Research has shown that having ADHD profoundly alters the courses of people’s lives in terms of work, health and relationships just to name a few areas.

Learning more about ADHD and getting rid of my misconceptions has been a gradual process. Probably the biggest step forward I took in building more awareness was talking to a professional and stumbling into a diagnosis, which is why I always recommend this to other people (the talking to a professional part; the stumbling part is optional). And hopefully reading ADHD blogs can help too.

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