6 mins read

ADHD and me (my understanding of it)

“it’s life Jim but not as we know it”

As a child of the 80’s you may recognise the quote, “it’s life Jim but not as we know it”, and if you don’t, well it’s from the song ‘Star Trekkin’ by The Firm, attributed to Spock of Star Trek fame. Well apparently wrongly attributed, as he’s reported to have actually said:

“No life as we know it.”

What’s my point, I’m not sure what the original meaning really was, but the way I see it in the context of this blog, is that living with ADHD is life but not as the ‘neurotypical’ may know it.

Often there may be few observable signs (perhaps because of masking), and if they are present they may well be discounted as anomalies or even misattributed to things like forgetfulness, laziness, restlessness etc.

In addition, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a group label for a condition individually experienced and personally managed (or not managed as the case may be). So, whilst there may be some generalisable principles which will help us understand the internal world of the ADHD mind, there are infinite variations.

This blog is my takeaways from what was one of the best CPD events I have been to in a long time. My desire here is simply to share some of my aha moments (like ‘did you know’… because I didn’t!) and shine a light on something that lives in the dark all to often.

Navigating Neurodiversity in a Neurotypical World

On Sunday the 22nd January along with my partner I headed to the Leadmill, an iconic music venue in Sheffield to listen to a talk on the Science of ADHD. I say a talk, but on reflection this event was probably better described as a humorous, honest (and at times raw), authentic exploration of ADHD by two credible humans. Who in sharing openly, connected and cared for their audience. Like I say one of the best CPD events I’ve been to in a long time.

Dr Alex Conner and Dr James Brown were a phenomenal paring, who managed to co-deliver, co-support and co-create throughout the experience. I’d copy and paste some cool stuff from their online bio’s and put it here, but it’s easier to just provide a link to their amazing organisation ADHDAdultUK. Acknowledging that now some of you may well have left and find yourself lost in their great work. For those who go, come back soon, for those of you who stay, hope you find what follows informative.

Did you know – A ‘bandwagon’ it is not

With their own personal brand of humour, Alex and James shared the perception that some believe people wish to be diagnosed with ADHD as part of some trend. This is not the case and if it was it’s a “sh!t bandwagon”…

“it takes 3 years to get on this bandwagon and it’s crap weak speed when you get there”

I did like their frank nature about this. Note, ADHD is something that many people have but don’t even realise:

Len Adler, M.D., one of the leading researchers in adult ADHD and a professor of psychiatry at New York University, believes that at least 75 percent of adults who have ADHD do not know that they have it.

Source: https://www.additudemag.com/undiagnosed-adult-adhd-diagnosis-symptoms/

Therefore, perhaps its not that there is now some desire for people to be part of any ‘weak speed taking crew’. It may just be that the undiagnosed are coming forward. Oh and the reference to speed is because some ADHD medication contains amphetamine (a stimulant).

Implications for Learning and Development:

If you are a university student with undiagnosed ADHD, and you begin your journey toward diagnosis on day 1 of your course, you are likely to have only just received your formal diagnosis at your graduation ceremony. We need to consider reasonable adjustments, or just more empathic learning design for people in advance of formal diagnosis.

Did you know – the clue is not quite in the name

So ADHD stands for, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Alex and James shared that this is perhaps not the best ‘name’ for the disorder. To the layperson (those not exposed to this area) its misleading and unhelpful and to the diagnosed it seems limiting and misinformed. I am keen to know what Alex and James would re-title this as.

What I want to share here is the distinction between the Symptoms of ADHD inattention and Symptoms of ADHD hyperactivity/impulsivity. As simply knowing this I believe has the potential to dramatically improve understanding within the wider population.

Symptoms of ADHD – Inattention

  1. Making careless mistakes/lacking attention to detail
  2. Difficulty sustaining attention
  3. Inability sometimes to listen when spoken to directly
  4. Failure to follow through on tasks and instructions
  5. Exhibiting poor organisation
  6. Avoiding/disliking tasks requiring sustained mental effort
  7. Losing things necessary for tasks/activities
  8. Being easily distracted (including unrelated thoughts)
  9. Being forgetful in daily activities


Symptoms of ADHD – Hyperactivity/Impulsivity

  1. Fidgeting with or tapping hands or feet, squirming in seat
  2. Leaving seat in situations when remaining seated is expected
  3. Experiencing feelings of restlessness
  4. Having difficulty engaging in quiet, leisurely activities
  5. Being “On-the-go” or acting as if “driven by a motor”
  6. Talking excessively
  7. Blurting out answers
  8. Having difficulty waiting for your turn
  9. Interrupting or intruding on others

Implications for Learning and Development:

As I said above, simply knowing this is helpful and in the context of learning and development can help us navigate the design and delivery of more ‘accessible’ experiences. I wouldn’t expect anyone to be able to accommodate for everything above, but ask yourself – what are you affording for? Some ideas around ‘reasonable design adjustments’ can be found here: Designing for Neurodiversity in Learning

Did you know – the non-diagnosed symptoms are more debilitating

Now this one made me really sit up and listen. Alex and James shared that there are a number of ‘non-diagnosed’ ADHD symptoms. These being symptoms that the process (test) for diagnosis of ADHD doesn’t account for (they are omitted), yet these symptoms can have a far greater impact on the life of someone with ADHD.

  • Rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD)
  • Executive function deficits
  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Time agnosia

These are often more debilitating and destructive than the diagnosed symptoms listed previously.  I’m not about to go into each of these here, but I will share one quote for the duo that brings this to life for me:

“RSD is like being slapped in the face while having sunburn”

Those with ADHD might find themselves saying yes all the time to avoid rejection. So, its not that they are eager to take on more work, its they are eager to avoid a metaphorical slap in the face if the no is met with some form of rejection.

Implications for Learning and Development:

RSD, do your research. Give people get out clauses and don’t chastise those who say no. When it comes to executive function, working memory is short term and transferring things to the long-term memory is not so simple. So offer information in multiple ways at multiple points (in conversation with). To consider emotional dysregulation is to consider peoples triggers and, is to give time and space for people to return to a ‘working state’. And with Time Agnosia (or time blindness), provide structure, staged check-ins (not check-ons) to guide and support.

Did you know – its not a superpower

This is one I’ve personally been grappling with. I have dyslexia and at some point in my adult life I needed to find a way to cope with the fact that my way of seeing the world was not like those around me. I latched on to the story that because of my ‘dyslexia’ I may have a ‘superpower’. And for quite some time this has been my reference point for seeing my diagnosis as having some form of positive impact (amongst all the negative things). However, this may not be how others feel and perhaps they’d be a little pissed with this manner of seeing things. To quote Alex and James:

“ADHD is not a superpower and any ‘perceived’ benefits it may bring will often be relinquished if you could give up the ADHD”

This quote was preceded by the framing of…

“We (people with ADHD) tend to do creative jobs because we can’t do the boring jobs”

Again I loved this frank humour, so our perception that people with ADHD are creative may actually be driven by a desire to avoid something else (something more process related and ‘boring’).

Implications for Learning and Development:

This is perhaps a more personal one for me, I’ve been coached to believe in the idea of the ‘superpower’. Be careful of your reference point, it may not be that of your learners and be sure not to make assumptions. Ask, be curious (not an investigator) and give space for people to answer at a time relevant to them.

In Closing

If you haven’t already, track down Alex and James. I didn’t get chance to speak to James but Alex is really approachable and a good egg. The two of them offer a credible, research-based perspective on ADHD in a way you can make sense of and act upon.

If you think you have ADHD, start your journey toward diagnosis now. Share your journey with those close to you and build a supportive environment (emotional and physical) around you.

I’m posting this before my partner SPAG checks it, so apologies for any spelling or gramma issues. I have a tendency to just want to press publish before all this is checked and she as a love for finding the errors I make (its a great combination). For the record I’m not an expert in this space and I’m barely an expert in anything other than the mistakes and successes of my own life. I do know I have dyslexia; I don’t know if I have ADHD.