As an adult, I can’t count how many times I have heard the phrase, “Everyone is a little ADD.” It’s usually followed by laughter, but I tend to get very quiet. This is because I actually do have ADD, and there’s something about being told that I don’t that rubs me the wrong way.
I’m probably upset by the jokes because Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD, is exactly what it says on the tin: a disorder. It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain that makes it difficult to concentrate, remember details, and at times, control oneself.
A common reaction someone who hasn’t dealt with ADD themselves tends to have is to explain ADD away as it just being “kids being kids.”
While it’s true that many people who live with ADD are diagnosed as children, that doesn’t make the disorder any less of one. The symptoms don’t just go away with age, either. Adults can have ADD as well, and for some, they are never diagnosed.
These symptoms easily make life much more difficult. People with ADD are often characterized as easily distracted, but it’s much more than that. The issues with focus and concentration can extend far enough that the person becomes physically incapable of completing tasks, even when they know that they have to get something done.
Conversely, a person with ADD can occasionally lapse into hyperfocus, where they can become lost in the task for extended periods of time. This usually occurs when the task is especially interesting or rewarding for the person.
For example, I sometimes have a lot of trouble working on class assignments or projects, sometimes to the point where I can’t make myself work on it, regardless of the amount of work or the due date. It’s not procrastination, as I’m actively trying to complete the assignment. It’s my brain making it impossible for me to do so due to a chemical imbalance.
Alternatively, when I’m reading or drawing, which are both things I enjoy doing, I often get so engrossed that I lose hours of time that should have been spent doing something else.
A bad memory and disorganization also come into effect. Someone with ADD could forget about details, duties or even entire conversations without realizing it or knowing how it happened, or they could check where something is multiple times and still be unable to remember if the object is there or not.
Someone with ADD also has a lower level of impulse control, and can accidentally interrupt someone or blurt out what they’re thinking without any filter. The person isn’t intending to be rude, but in the moment it appears that they are.
And while Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) tends to give more issues with hyperactivity, people with ADD can also have problems sitting still.
Talking excessively, easily becoming bored and doing far too many tasks at once are common instances of hyperactivity as well.
Someone with these symptoms can come across as easily distracted or rude, but in the case of a person with ADD, they can’t help it unless they are on medication, and even then it may not completely fix the problem.
If you tell a person with ADD that “everyone has it,” you’re telling a sick person that they aren’t actually sick, and that if they tried harder, the symptoms would go away.
That isn’t how a disorder works. By saying that, you can make the problem even worse, because now the person who is already juggling their ADD symptoms could start thinking, mistakenly, that they don’t have a problem. This can be even worse for kids, which I can attest to.
I was in elementary school when I was diagnosed with ADD. At the time, very little was known about ADD, and upon my diagnosis, my pediatrician at the time told my mom that she needed to be on me to make sure I was focusing properly.
Even though I had a diagnosis for an attention disorder, if I couldn’t learn to control myself and keep myself focused, I would have issues later in life. Let me reiterate: My actual doctor told my mother that the best thing to do was to keep me from expressing symptoms.
As there was little information about ADD, all my mom had to go on was the doctor’s instructions, so I was made to forcibly push through or hide my symptoms until the beginning of college. For anyone with a disorder like anxiety or depression, doing something like that for a week, let alone multiple years, can be extremely stressing and tiring.
It was the same for me with my ADD.
School was the same way. My teachers saw ADD not as a disorder, but as a kid being easily distracted. I was near-constantly reprimanded for reading in class when I was supposed to be working, even if I understood what to do or had finished already.
One of my teachers in high school had his students evaluate themselves periodically throughout the year, and every time I marked that I paid attention in class, he took points from that section because I would doodle in my notes.
It didn’t matter that doodling allowed me to learn better, as it got my ADD out of the way enough to pay attention. To him, I was distracted and not doing enough.
This type of treatment is still ongoing, although to a lesser extent now that I am in college. My professors rarely say anything about me using my phone for a small game or drawing, and when I was asked about it, I explained that I had ADD, and that was usually enough for the professor to understand.
However, that isn’t the reaction across the board.
I met with my advisor recently, and in some way or another, the topic got to me having ADD. The immediate reaction was for him to say, “Oh, you don’t have ADD.” Feeling on the spot, I started to explain my diagnosis and how it affects me, only to be asked when I was diagnosed.
That alone was extremely insulting. If a person is sick, the time they were diagnosed does not affect whether or not they are still sick. As I mentioned earlier, the symptoms of ADD do not go away with age.
ADD isn’t a punchline. It isn’t just being distracted or procrastinating. It’s a disorder of the brain that actively works against my ability to get work done, and at times, even function properly.
So the next time you tell me that “everyone has ADD,” please be ready to tell me how you deal with people who tell you that you aren’t sick when you are.
I mean, if everyone has ADD, then everyone else has to deal with that too, right?
Megan Sabers is a fourth-year student majoring in business marketing. She can be reached at MS789222@wcupa.edu.
One thought on “Addressing stigmas associated with ADD”
Really interesting article. I feel like I learned a lot.