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Is Having ADHD Like Needing Glasses?

I’ve never been totally comfortable with the analogy that taking ADHD meds is like getting “glasses” for your brain instead of your eyes. To start with the obvious: ADHD and nearsightedness are very, very different conditions.

On some level, I feel like comparing ADHD meds to glasses trivializes ADHD and overstates how much we know about ADHD. While eyeglasses fix a relatively straightforward mechanical problem, the brain is so much more complicated.

GlassesThat said, there are some interesting similarities between needing glasses and having ADHD. And as someone who has had both glasses and ADHD since childhood, I think I’m qualified to say that!

Those who have gone a while with a bad eyeglass prescription (or not realizing they need glasses at all!) will know that you spend a lot of time filling in the blanks. You have to guess what the fuzzy letters are on street signs, or on the blackboard if you’re in school. You might not even realize that other people don’t have to guess.

For people with inattentive symptoms of ADHD, it’s a similar situation. Chances are you find yourself “zoning out” during conversations, when someone is giving you verbal instructions, in lectures at school, and so on. Sometimes you can ask people to repeat what they said, but sometimes you just have to go back and try to fill in the blanks of what you missed, much like someone who needs glasses tries to fill in the letters they can’t read.

Everyone who wears glasses likely remembers the “aha” moment of the first time they got an eyeglass prescription. Suddenly, the world becomes vivid, sharp and detailed. It’s something that people with good vision take for granted, but it’s magical for you because you didn’t even know what you were missing.

Many ADHDers experience the same feeling when they find a medication that works for them. There’s the “aha” moment of suddenly being able to tell your brain what to do – what to focus on, when to wait, how to inhibit impulses. The world feels defined and clear in a way that wasn’t accessible before, and even though there’s nothing special about being able to perform basic tasks of self-regulation that other people take for granted, it feels like an epiphany.

It’s this feeling of suddenly having access to basic abilities that other people have (seeing the world clearly, telling your brain what to do) that is, to me, the most compelling similarity between needing glasses and having ADHD.

I think that’s about where the parallels end, though. Both getting glasses for the first time and starting ADHD meds can lead to a feeling of seeing the world in a new light (sometimes literally), but at the risk of stating the very obvious: there’s nothing in common in the mechanics of how eyeglasses and ADHD medications actually work.

Image: Flickr/Pierre Francesco Gallenga

Is Having ADHD Like Needing Glasses?

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). Is Having ADHD Like Needing Glasses?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Dec 2018
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