Cape Croker Powwow, Cape Croker, Ontario ©Zoë Kessler 2011

Cape Croker Powwow, Cape Croker, Ontario ©Zoë Kessler 2011

An out-of-town friend stayed over at my place the other night. She was in my city to attend a course, so we decided to have a visit.

The next morning I sat on my deck drinking my morning coffee as she packed up her things. I was surprised when she walked out the door and said, “Give me a hug. I’m leaving now.”

Sit with me while I finish my coffee, I said. It was 20 minutes before the course started, and we both had to be somewhere at 9 a.m. I didn’t understand why she was in such a rush to leave. After all, we only saw each other two or three times a year. I wanted to squeeze in a bit more visiting before she left.

“Tell you what, I’ll take my stuff to the car and then come back for a hug.”

I felt abandoned. Then I tried to imagine why my friend thought she had to leave so early. It didn’t make any sense to me: after all, surely the drive to her course was only five or, at most, 10 minutes away from my place. Recognizing I have a wonky ADHD sense of time, I tried to think like a neurotypical person (and tried not to feel rejected).

She probably wants to stop for another coffee, I reasoned.

When she came back I said, How come you’re leaving so soon?

My coffee theory was shot to hell. I should’ve known: I was thinking like an ADHDer. I was thinking about a legal stimulant that lots of us use to get ourselves functional in the morning.

Her answer? “I want to get there and look over my project and think about what I’m going to do today.”

My coffee theory was shot to hell. I should’ve known: I was thinking like an ADHDer.

This sounded so exotic to my alien ears. Then I recognized the foreign landscape: Foresight. Planning. Organization. Linear approach. Recognizing these things (as something I’d read in a book) it made perfect sense.

A gave her a hug, and bid her adieu. I felt as though I’d had an encounter with a superior being.

Over the course of the day, I mulled over this exchange, feeling slightly stunned by the clash between worlds.

Then it hit me: it’s futile for me to try to think with the brain of someone without ADHD. By definition, it’s impossible. So how to bridge the gap? Like most people I’ve observed who don’t have ADHD, my friend had an innate, effortless sense of time; not just its passage and flow, but how to manage it.

Then it struck me: if we’re to fit better into the neurotypical world, we have to find a way to observe and mimic our neurotypical counterparts.

A potent visual image came to mind, inspiring me and filling me with hope that it can be done. I remembered watching the male traditional dancers at the many powwows I’ve attended.

I remembered the precise movements of the men dressed in bird’s plumage as they so beautifully mimicked the actions of a bird in the wild. So skilful were these performers that it seemed as though they had channeled the very essence of the bird, their staccato head movements imitating the pecking motions, utterly and convincingly.

I began thinking that like the First Nations dancers I’d seen at powwows, I’d have to become a keen observer not just of the movements of non-ADHD people, but I’d have to mimic their ways to the point of thinking like them.

I’d have to do this, that is, as long as I want to function within the neurotypical world.

More and more, this desire is waning. But until I’ve managed to arrange my life in a completely ADHD-friendly way, in a way that’s 100% authentic for me, I’m willing to don the costume and perform – if that’ll make my life easier in the meantime.

Like those powwow dancers are not really buffalo, birds, or horses – and never would be – I’ll never be a person without ADHD.

Unlike those powwow dancers, I’m hoping to get off the circuit as soon as possible. No prize I might win for passing as a neurotypical person will ever be worth the enormous effort it takes to do so. Unless (maybe) I can wear a kick-ass costume to work as well. And there are drummers. Will there be drummers? Not likely.

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    Last reviewed: 25 Jul 2013

APA Reference
Kessler, Z. (2013). ADHD Mimicry: Take a Hint From the Dancers. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 30, 2015, from


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