ADHD : Attention Difference, not Deficit

I have always believed there is something wrong with the name ADHD or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. If I would really have a shortage of attention I would not have been able to do so many things I do. I shouldn’t be able to loose all track of time when I’m writing, drawing boxing or sometimes even working. I believe I have an Attention-Difference disorder.

There are so many days I start doing something and can not stop. So many days I loose time completely. So many days I only notice the day has passed because it has gotten too dark for me to continue what I was doing, while it feels it’s only 11 in the morning and my day has just started. I am talking about my hyperfocus, my extreme attention for the things I love to do, isn’t this the opposite of an attention-deficit?

I believe the name ADHD is made up by the neurotypical brains, the ones that see that we, ADHD brains, don’t pay enough attention to the things they believe are important. No, we can not focus in school like you, we can not do everyday tasks like you, we can not listen to conversations about everything or watch a complete movie without being distracted like you. But this doesn’t mean we have less attention, we can even have more attention if you ask me. The only problem is that we are very picky when it comes to choosing the things we want to pay attention to. We don’t value importance or priority, we determine if something is worth our attention by interest.

Throughout my whole life I see things that I have trouble with doing, and things I can not stop doing. Mostly the things that I have to do, or I am supposed to do, are the ones I am not able to do. But there have always been many things I was able to focus on, even as a child. I notice that the further I got in my life, the more the things that I was supposed to do also became the things I wanted to do, the more attention I started having for the important things is life.

Being a kid with ADHD is the worst. In our education system we have to sit still and listen, for hours a day, five days a week, at least until we’re 18 years old. We have to learn everything, maths, languages, physics, geography, biology, philosophy, history, economics… We have to know the basics, or even more before we turn 18 and the only way to learn is to stay in a seat and listen to some old guy with a very monotone voice and no sense of humor. Off course ADHD brains will not be able to do this, and funny enough, I think that many adults would not even be able to do it if they had to go back to school. The system simply just not works, not for everyone.

In my years in school I had a few subjects I always liked, I always showed up for and always payed attention to. Math and everything related to art. The art classes, the creating paintings, drawings, music, movies or photographs always made me interested enough to focus. There were all creative, they were all creating somethings, they where all active in a way, and this is what I find interesting and challenging, so I was good at it. In a weird way math was creative for me as well. It interested my how a couple of numbers and symbols had such a complex meaning, and how it was actually all related to geometry, it fascinated me, maybe it interested the little architect in me. Math exams and classes where always interactive in a way, there was the opportunity to draw, circles, triangles and graphs, there was a challenge in solving each equation before the teacher did, there was the fancy calculator and all these weird symbols I never used for something else. Math was a challenge, and the only way to get good at tit was practice, in contrast to the other subjects, where you have to read, listen and remember to be able to pass.

When I now look back on my math classes I can see that I did not just like math the way I like art, but it did create the opportunity for me to make it interesting. If I solved one more equation, I could draw the next graph, if I would keep practicing on my π, and Σ it would start to look like the signs in my textbook. Math had the possibility to turn each test into a little art piece and it was the first time I discovered how I could trick my ADHD brain into being interested in things, the first time I could trick myself into paying attention. But unfortunately I did not find a way to do this for my other subjects, especially history, languages and psychology remained impossible for me, but I don’t think I was to blame for this. Every person in this world is different, so also the way we learn things should be different. As a child I was never good at languages but now I have a Greek boyfriend and play a lot of Duolingo I actually like learning this new strange language. The same with French, I was the worst student but when I moved to France to work I was having complete conversations with locals within a month. And what about English? Again I sucked at it in school, but once I started speaking and writing a lot, at university, with friends, with my boyfriend, in my work and now even here, I guess I got pretty good at it.

The problem is not that I was stupid in school, that I wasn’t able to concentrate or that I couldn’t learn. The problem was that I was expected to do these things in the standard way, the way society believes it’s done best, so it should be the way it’s done by everyone. I could have learned so much more in school if I would have been allowed to do it my way. Instead of learning lists of meaningless words of another language, I could have only spoken that language for a month and be even better at it. Instead of giving me a book about history and question me about what’s in the book, I could have done the research myself and made a movie or essay about it. If I would have been allowed to learn things in a way that they become interesting to me, I could have been so much better.

The good thing about life is that the older you get, the more you can control what you do during the day. In the course of my life I got to choose more and more things, at 14 I got to choose the subjects I wanted to do at school, at 17 I got to choose which university to go to and after one year of general courses I could choose architecture, which I could specify even more when I started my masters at 20. Slowly I was able to merge have and want together when it came to daily tasks (let’s leave out housewife duties for now). If I look at how I can loose myself and time in my work I’m for from someone with an attention deficit, I’m extremely passionate and focussed and often my concentration seems to be even better than my colleague’s. I think this counts for all the ADHD brains, as long as we can do what interests us, we can be as good, or even better, as neurotypical brains.

I do things because I’m interested in them, not because they are important. In a way I believe this is a good thing, in a way I am more true to myself, and I know I will always succeed in the things I start because of true interest. The only problem is that society gives rules to live by, and many of these rules are about doing things because they’re supposed to be done, many rules imply we’re all the same, we all do things the same way, but off course the opposite is true. We live in a world where almost everything can be personalized, from cars to shoes, to yoghurt variations and toothbrushes, but although the business world profits from this individualism, our government and our society still believe we all have the same way of doing things. Individualism is not just about giving us everything we want in life, it is about the opportunity to truly be ourselves. The opportunity to discover and learn what our own interests are, to experiment instead of being forced to show interest in what society wants us to be interested in. If we start allowing children more freedom when it comes to how they learn things, if we allow employees to be free in how they do things and when they do them, I believe the definition of ADHD would change. I think we no longer be labeled as brains with a deficit, I believe when this happens the neurotypical brains will be much more positive about ADHD, maybe even a little jealous.

Further reading

I have written multiple articles about the problems with the name ADHD, the name that is for sure not made up by the people that own a brain that accommodate the devil and the angel that come with it. I believe the name causes a lot of negativity, it does not cover the truth about the type of brain that comes with it and this frustrates me.

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