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Too Distracted or Too Focused? ADHD Can Cause Both!

Picture this:

You’re sitting outside a coffee shop with one of your friends. The weather’s nice, the conversation’s great, and gluten-free scones don’t taste like cardboard. It’s the perfect day.

Then, right smack dab in the middle of your friend telling you something important, your attention is suddenly drawn to a ladybug crawling along the sidewalk.

You’re intrigued because the ladybug is orange instead of the usual red. You consider bending down to let it crawl across your finger, but resist the urge. You watch its wings open and close as it pauses near a fallen bread crumb on the ground.

You count how many spots are on its back, and then you start to imagine what its life is like. Does the ladybug have a family? Is it a boy ladybug or a girl ladybug? Where does it live? Is it homeless?

… and then you realize your friend is waiting for you to respond to what he’s said. You have no idea which direction the conversation went, and you’re clueless as to what to say in return.

You were distracted by a bug. Of all things on Earth that could distract you… it was an insect.

Will you admit it to your friend? Even if you do have ADHD, it’s hard to muster up the courage to admit something like that because you still convince yourself you could’ve prevented it if you’d tried hard enough.

Sure, your friend might try to be understanding, but some part of them would probably still be annoyed that you weren’t listening. No one likes to repeat themselves.

This is the lie so many people with ADHD tell themselves. Or, perhaps, the lie others tell them to make them feel guilty. In reality, your distraction can’t be helped. And the fact that you become so focused on something that you lose sight of everything around you… that can’t be helped either.

It’s all a packaged deal and that’s okay.

ADHD brains are prone to becoming side-tracked. I think we all know that. However, many people don’t know that ADHD brains are also prone to becoming obsessively focused. They can either have not enough concentration or too much of it, depending on the moment. In particular, people with ADHD really struggle (especially kids) with being able to tear their attention away from something that interests them.

During Christmas break this year, my husband and I took our kids to see their grandparents on his side. My father-in-law has ADHD so we got some really healthy reminders of how and why the disorder affects them, even into adulthood.

My favorite thing about my father-in-law is that he never just “passes through” a room. He can’t. He always gets interested in something that’s going on in the room and has to stop and observe for a while. Sometimes it’s watching whatever’s on the TV for twenty minutes. Sometimes it’s going through a stack of CDs he didn’t remember he had.

He gets so focused on something interesting that he forgets why he walked into the room in the first place.

When my husband and I were in college, we lived in their basement so I got some firsthand knowledge of how his ADHD impacts his life. We used to make jokes about how he’d leave his office to get a cup of coffee and wouldn’t return for half an hour… but in reality, we admired the work ethic he had, despite the attention challenges he had. We thought it was awesome that he’d taken his natural tendencies and turned them into a well-paying career.

He needed something that allowed him to focus intently on details (working alone), but that also allowed him the freedom to move around and be part of a team. So he became a computer programmer who worked from home.

Our jokes have always been misplaced because we really respect him.

For those of you who have children, family members, or students with ADHD, if you ever start to think they have no strengths… think again. They have a multitude of assets. And if anyone ever tries to convince you that your child doesn’t have ADHD just because they’re able to hone in on a task, know that it’s just not true. It’s a symptom, too.

Sometimes the things people deem negative in life are actually not negative at all. They’re just different. And sometimes differences are not at all what they seem.

Ladybug photo available from Shutterstock

Too Distracted or Too Focused? ADHD Can Cause Both!

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2015). Too Distracted or Too Focused? ADHD Can Cause Both!. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Dec 2015
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