There are different phases of learning to cope with ADHD, and one of the phases that many of us pass through is the phase of wishing we were like people who didn’t have ADHD.
Often, this is a phase we go through before we’re diagnosed, possibly before we know what ADHD is. We ask ourselves, how can I be like other people (who don’t have ADHD)? How can I concentrate better? How can I be deliberate, careful and patient? How can I be naturally organized and self-disciplined?
The assumption behind these questions is that ADHD is something we do, that we have control over, so we can decide to not have ADHD symptoms. That assumption is what makes these the wrong questions to ask.
To give an example from my life, one of the things I always struggled with the most in school was the lectures. You can ask me to sit still and pay attention to someone talking for an extended period of time, then go to a different room and do the same thing all over again. But you’re never going to get the desired results, because that’s not how my brain works. Instead, you’re going to get someone who fidgets and zones out, missing important chunks of the lesson – someone who is miserably bored and understimulated.
Needless to say, this inability to “do” lectures interfered with my school experience. In the phase of asking the wrong questions about ADHD, I would ask myself: how can I concentrate better on lectures? How can I be more like other students? How can I not let the fact that I find a lecture-based classroom environment understimulating not get in the way of my basic ability to concentrate?
I never answered these questions successfully. Because even if I wasn’t always fully aware of it, all these questions were ways of asking “how can I not have ADHD?”
But I did have some successes when I asked different questions. Some of these more productive questions were:
- Since I don’t learn well from lectures, what classes or areas of study will provide a more hands-on, engaging experience?
- Given that I am inattentively missing a lot of the information from lectures, how can I supplement lectures by teaching myself the material using other resources, or by reading the textbook where I can go back and reread if I lose focus?
Notice that neither of these questions involves asking how I can concentrate on lectures better. Rather, they’re both ways of saying: since I don’t concentrate on lectures well, what can I do to work around that and make up for it in other areas?
That’s the basic difference between the wrong questions and the right questions to ask about coping with ADHD. The wrong questions come from a place of trying to change your symptoms, which is impossible.
The right questions start with accepting that you have ADHD and that your brain works differently. Once you own that fact, you can start to figure out alternate ways of doing things that compensate for the things you struggle with by playing to your strengths.
Image: Flickr/Stefan Baudy