Picture someone with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). You're probably imagining a person who is easily distracted, can barely sit still, and impulsively jumps from topic to topic at a hundred miles an hour.
For some people this is endearing, but for others, someone with ADHD sounds like their worst nightmare.
But our preconceptions aren't always entirely correct. For example, it's a myth that people with OCD always want things clean, or that introverts are unsociable hermits.
ADHD is simply another form of neurodiversity — which is the name for all the different ways our brains are wired.
Doctor of psychology Perpetua Neo told Business Insider we can learn to leverage the glory of those differences instead of being held back by the stigma.
She said it is presumed that people with ADHD cannot sit still, are always moving around, cannot finish projects, and don't concentrate.
"If you think about it, most of us go to school, and this education setting is designed for people who sit still," she said. "That's essentially the way society is wired to operate in. And ADHD kids, the high functioning ones, can be extremely high ability but they fall through the cracks because they cant be bothered — because class is so boring for them."
Sometimes, they give up completely and fall all the way to the bottom of the class. Either way, she said, children with ADHD tend to be neglected, and this doesn't set them up well for having faith in themselves as they get older. Simply telling them to sit still when they cannot breeds an environment of not being good enough — which can produce a lot of anxiety and shame about who they are.
Neo said there is another way of thinking about ADHD. It is a kind of variation that humanity needs, she said, because every society needs people who are "settlers," and also those who are "explorers."
"The settlers are those who stay in a place and make it good, and keep the stability, but explorers are those who conquer new lands and new opportunities," she said. "Over time, there are always going to be disasters or catastrophes happening, so we need the explorers to actually go forth and conquer new opportunities and new land — and so the ADHD team continues to go forward."
Day to day, this translates to taking risks and trying new things, as people with ADHD can learn a lot about a broad range of topics.
"Because your brain is highly active, you get very creative, so you can put together many of these disparate concepts that other people might not otherwise see," Neo said. "The ADHD brain has the potential to be a polymath, because they have so many wide interests. They can be pretty resilient, they can be extremely creative, and they can be obsessively focused. So they can actually conquer new frontiers."
When it comes to sitting down and working, people with ADHD can struggle to concentrate, and end up procrastinating. Neo recommends that you work for just 20 minutes at a time, because it's about the quality of the time you're spending, not the quantity — and people with ADHD can be hyper-focused and get a lot done in these short blocks of time.
"The thing with people with ADHD is there's almost this time bending ability," she said. "Because when there is a time urgency, and they have maybe 20 minutes instead of 40 minutes, their brain just kicks into gear. The threshold for action is reached, and they start giving superhuman amounts of output in that 20 minutes."
Anxiety and ADHD can both cause difficulties with concentration, which many people have experienced during the pandemic. Distinguishing the diagnoses of anxiety and ADHD involves timing of onset, the theme of the person's worries, and psychological testing. Anxiety is more common than adult ADHD.
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