Published on ADDitudeMag.com
Why ADHDers Act the Way We Do: Understanding ADHD Behavior
Keys to understanding our thinking and behaviors -- from preferring the company of fellow ADDers to hyperfocusing all night, to doubting our ability to perform when others want us to.
by William Dodson, M.D.
Your ADHD Life
Most ADHDers have always known they are different. They were
told by parents, teachers, employers, and friends that they did not fit the
common mold. They were told to assimilate and become
like everyone else.
The main obstacle to understanding ADHD has
been the incorrect assumption that ADDers could and should be like the
rest of us. For neurotypicals and ADDers alike, here's a detailed portrait of
why those with ADD do what they do.
Why We Don't Do Well in a Linear World
The ADHD world is curvilinear. Past, present, and future are
never separate and distinct. Everything is now. ADDers live in a permanent
present and have a hard time learning from the past or looking into the future
to see the consequences of their actions. "Acting without thinking"
is the definition of impulsivity, and one of the reasons that ADDers have
trouble learning from experience.
Troubles Getting from A-Z
ADDers aren't good at ordination—planning and doing parts of
a task in order. Tasks in the neurotypical world have a beginning, a middle,
and an end. ADDers don't know where and how to start, since they can't find the
beginning. They jump into the middle of a task and work in all directions at
once. Organization becomes an unsustainable task because organizational systems
work on linearity, importance, and time.
Why We're Overwhelmed
ADHDers experience life more intensely than
neurotypicals. The ADHD nervous system wants to be
engaged in something interesting and challenging. Attention is never
"deficit." It's always excessive, constantly occupied with internal
engagements. When ADDers aren't in The Zone, in hyperfocus, they
have many things rattling around in their minds, all at once and for no
obvious reason, like five people talking to them simultaneously. Nothing gets
sustained, undivided attention. Nothing gets done well.
Why We Let the Whole World In
Many ADDers can't screen out sensory input.
Sometimes this is related to only one sensory realm, such as hearing. In fact,
the phenomenon is called hyperacusis (amplified hearing), even when the
disruption comes from another of the five senses. For example, the slightest sound in the house prevents falling asleep. ADDers have their worlds constantly disrupted by experiences
of which the neurotypical is unaware.
Why We Love a Crisis
Sometimes, an ADHDer can hit the do-or-die deadline
and produce lots of work in a short time. The "masters of
disasters" handle crises with ease, only to fall apart when
things become routine again.
Lurching from crisis to crisis, however, is a tough way to
live life. Some ADDers use anger to get the adrenaline rush they need to get to
be productive. The price they pay for their productivity is so high that
they may be seen as having personality disorders.
Why We Don't Always Get Things Done
ADHDers are both mystified and frustrated by the
intermittent ability to be super-human when interested, and challenged and
unable to start and sustain projects that are boring to them. They are never certain
that they can engage when needed, when they are expected to, when others depend
on them to. When ADDers see themselves as undependable, they begin to doubt
their talents and feel the shame of being unreliable.
Why Our Motors Are Always Running
By the time most ADHDers are adolescents, their
physical hyperactivity is hidden. But it's there and
it still impairs the ability to engage in the moment, listen to other people,
and relax enough to fall asleep.
Even when an ADDer takes meds, he may not be
able to make use of his becalmed state. He's still driven forward. By adolescence, most ADDers have acquired the social
skills necessary to cover up that they're not present.
Why Organization Eludes Us
The ADHD mind is a vast and unorganized library. It contains
masses of info. in snippets, but not whole books. The info. exists
in many forms — as articles, videos, audio clips, Internet pages. But there's no card
Each ADDer has his or her own way of storing that huge
amount of material. Important items (God help us, important to someone else)
have no fixed place, and might as well be invisible or missing entirely.
Why We May Forget
For the ADDer, information and memories that are out of
sight are out of mind. Her mind is a computer in RAM, with no reliable access
to info. on the hard drive.
The ADDer's mind is full of the minutiae of life
("Where are my keys?"), so
there's little room left for new thoughts and memories. Something has to be
discarded or forgotten to make room for new information. Often the information
ADDers need is in their memory, but it's not available on demand.
Why We Don't See Ourselves Clearly
ADDers have little self-awareness. While
they can often read other people well, it's hard for the average ADDer to
know, from moment to moment, how they themselves are doing. Neurotypicals misinterpret
this as being callous, narcissistic, uncaring, or socially inept. The ADDer's
vulnerability to the negative feedback of others, and the lack of ability to
observe oneself in the moment, make a witch's brew.
Why We're Time Challenged
Because ADDers don't have a reliable sense of time,
everything happens right now or not at all. Along with the concept of
ordination (what must be done first; what must come second) there must also be
the concept of time.
85% of my ADHD patients
don't wear or own a watch. For ADDers, time is a meaningless abstraction. It
seems important to other people, but ADDers have never gotten the hang of
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