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3 Ways of Describing ADHD

People who are diagnosed with ADHD late or never often fall through the cracks partly because their image of what ADHD is doesn’t gel with their image of who they are.

PrismEven if you were to tell someone with undiagnosed ADHD that ADHD is “a disorder characterized by inattention and hyperactivity,” they wouldn’t necessarily connect the dots between these symptoms and their own lives. Add to this the fact that people with ADHD often lack insight into how the disorder affects their lives, and you can see why people frequently don’t recognize the disorder in themselves.

But part of this is just about how you frame ADHD. Terms like “inattention” and “hyperactivity” are clinical. Sometimes rephrasing how you describe the disorder is enough for people to start to see the symptoms reflected in themselves. Here are 3 ways of describing ADHD:

  • Low boredom tolerance: People with ADHD get bored easily, and they hate being bored. Moreover, boring tasks are where symptoms like being unable to focus are at their worst. Of course, not everyone with low boredom tolerance has ADHD, but getting bored quickly and going to great lengths to avoid boredom can hint at undiagnosed ADHD.
  • Chronic underachievement: Even in situations where they have the basic skills to excel, people with ADHD regularly fail to get it together in terms of the organizational skills, discipline, focus and persistence necessary to leverage those skills. If you think about it, saying that someone with ADHD is an underachiever is just another way of saying that their symptoms are impairing. Once again, not everyone with a history of underachievement in school or at work has ADHD, but this is a way ADHD symptoms can make their presence known.
  • Extreme inconsistency: ADHD and inconsistency go hand-in-hand in a couple ways. First, people with ADHD can be highly inconsistent in their workplace or classroom performance since these people tend to lack the self-regulation skills to reliably turn their basic abilities toward focused goals. So if you ask someone with ADHD to perform the same task on different days or under slightly different conditions, you might get very different results. Second, people with ADHD are often inconsistent in the sense that they jump from one thing to another. They might be jacks of all trades, and they can repeatedly switch jobs or move to different cities.

It’s not uncommon for people with ADHD to know they’re boredom-prone, inconsistent underachievers long before they get diagnosed. If you or someone you know fits one of these descriptions, that’s not to say ADHD is the only possible explanation – but it’s one that should be considered because proper treatment can be life-changing.

What are some other ways of describing ADHD? Comment below!

Image: Flickr/Exploratorium

3 Ways of Describing ADHD

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2016). 3 Ways of Describing ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Aug 2016
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