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Finding Meaning in ADHD

It’s easy for ADHD to feel like a big, pointless problem that came along and messed up life for no reason.

And on a practical level, that’s what ADHD is. The whole enterprise of coping with ADHD is about finding ways to lessen the impact of ADHD symptoms on our lives.

HowevMeaning in ADHDer, I think accepting ADHD and learning to live at peace with it requires going beyond the purely practical question of how to cope with and treat ADHD symptoms. It requires finding some sort of meaning in the experience of having ADHD.

Meaning is a personal thing, so different people will find different kinds of meaning in their experiences with ADHD.

For me, part of the meaning in having ADHD is that it has made me more empathetic.

I’m more aware than I’d otherwise be of the fact that when people struggle with things or don’t act the way we expect, often it’s because there are things they’re dealing with that aren’t visible externally. I’m more understanding that specific environments or “systems” for work, school, etc. don’t work equally well for everyone involved, and that people have a wide range in the conditions under which they function best.

Another part of finding meaning ADHD has been recognizing that ADHD can give me a unique perspective. The unique way my brain works might contribute to having strengths I wouldn’t otherwise have or to seeking out experiences I wouldn’t otherwise seek out.

Traits associated with ADHD can cause us problems in many situations, but they can also make us drawn to other types of situations that we might not have experienced if we had more “typical” brains. If I didn’t have high impulsivity, a low tolerance of boredom, and a different way of processing rewards than people without ADHD, would I have experienced being self-employed or traveling as extensively as I have? I’m not sure about that.

Therefore, I think that while ADHD without a doubt poses all sorts of practical problems, it can also be a source of meaning insofar as it broadens our perspectives. It gives us more material for empathizing with the experiences of others, and it can lead us to experiences we wouldn’t otherwise have had.

I talk a lot on this blog about ways of minimizing the impact symptoms have on day-to-day life. I do so because the practical question of managing symptoms is one that’s absolutely essential in coming to terms with ADHD. But there’s a more philosophical side in learning to live with ADHD as a constant companion as well, and it’s worth sometimes taking a moment to step back and reflect more generally on what ADHD means in your life.

Image: Flickr/Carl Jones

Finding Meaning in ADHD

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.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2018). Finding Meaning in ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 25, 2019, from


Last updated: 19 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Jul 2018
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