Home » ADHD » Blogs » ADHD Millennial » What’s It Like Having ADHD? That’s the Wrong Question.

What’s It Like Having ADHD? That’s the Wrong Question.

If you want to understand ADHD better, a logical question to ask is: what’s it like having ADHD?

For people with ADHD, though, the answer isn’t very interesting. Having ADHD just feels normal. It’s the whole thing with fish and water and not knowing what water is because you’re surrounded by it.

QuestionA more interesting question is: what’s it like not having ADHD? When I started asking this question is when I started really making progress in understanding ADHD.

The problem is, there’s nowhere you can look up the answer. It’s easy to find lists of ADHD symptoms, but there’s no checklist you can use to tell if someone’s neurotypical.

One thing you can try is taking the opposite of the ADHD DSM criteria. For example:

  • Gives close attention to details and rarely makes careless mistakes
  • Generally doesn’t have problems sustaining attention
  • Listens well
  • Doesn’t fidget

Try imagining your life with some of these “symptoms” of not having ADHD. Would things be different?

The best way to learn what not having ADHD is like, however, is by observing people who don’t have ADHD.

When I had my job in a library, things would get slow behind the circulation desk, so I’d do some good old fashioned people watching. What really shocked me was the people who would come into the library, get out some reading, and sit there attentively without fidgeting indefinitely. I knew these people were doing something I wouldn’t be able to do and that their brains seemed to work differently than mine.

Keep an eye out for things other people do that you don’t do. Things related to focusing, organizational skills and so on. These strange habits that most other people seem to have can be a window of insight into what living without ADHD is like.

Finally, don’t forget about meds. Finding an ADHD med that works can be a revelatory insight into what it’s like living with a steadier, more orderly brain. When I started meds, I realized I was beginning to do some of those things everyone else did like forcing myself to be patient and actively making decisions about what I wanted to pay attention to.

This is one reason I think it’s a good idea to try ADHD meds even if you aren’t planning on staying on them long-term. Experiencing what it’s like to not have such severe ADHD symptoms can be an essential reference point for seeing how ADHD affects your life.

There’s no official guide to what not having ADHD is like, but by observing people without ADHD, trying meds, and connecting the dots, you can start to get a better picture of what life without ADHD symptoms might be like, which will in turn give you more insight into what ADHD is and how you can effectively deal with it.

What do you think not having ADHD is like? Post in the comments. Or if you don’t have ADHD, please share what it’s like!

Image: Decroos

What’s It Like Having ADHD? That’s the Wrong Question.

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

One comment: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2016). What’s It Like Having ADHD? That’s the Wrong Question.. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Jul 2016
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.