ADHD Myths & Facts

10 Things I Wish the World Knew About ADHD

During ADHD Awareness Month, we asked ADDitude readers to share with us the (sometimes uncomfortable) truths about attention deficit disorder that they most wish the neurotypical world would understand and respect. Nearly 450 readers responded; here are some of the most poignant from adults with ADHD.

1. My ADHD is a Superpower, and It’s Bigger Than Any Box You Force Me Into

“For every executive function issue I have, I also have strength. I may be late to appointments or interviews, but I’m always trying, sometimes struggling, and many times succeeding in my ongoing journey to meet your needs and create my place in this world. I’m still an asset to you because I carry with me heart, resilience, hard work, and a fierce drive to overcome the impossible. And I won’t give up.”

“My ADHD fellows, stop seeing yourselves as broken and start noticing that, with attention deficit disorder, you have a superpower that is literally unstoppable. You can provide something new to the world through your quirky passion, follow-through, and joy of pursuing that which does hold your attention. You are a gifted aberration, not a categorized disease. You cannot sleepwalk through an unauthentic life. You were born to soar. And if you can live each day with enthusiasm and self-love, at the end of your life you will know you lived your life — and not that of someone else.”

2. The Symptoms of My ADHD Are Invisible… Unless You Know Where to Look

“You can’t judge if someone is ‘really’ ADHD based only on visible ADHD symptoms. I don’t seem to struggle to sit still, I don’t fidget much visibly, I don’t get up and move around when I shouldn’t – but that’s because my social anxiety has me terrified to do anything that would be out of step with the people around me. So I suppress my fidgeting and restlessness (in public, anyway), and I’ve had people react with surprise when I talk about my diagnosis because ‘I’ve never seen you being hyper or fidgety or anything!’ Well, no, because I’m expending a large amount of my energy to suppress it. Just because you don’t see the symptoms, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Some of us just had to learn to hide them in order to make it in a neurotypical world.”

“I wish the world could tell the difference between the person I am, and how ADHD affects that person. I wish they could see how hard I try. I wish I could really clearly understand that myself, because sometimes I realize it and sometimes I don’t. Please, world, understand what is already known about ADHD, and try to support and help those who hold it on their shoulders, like a heavy, invisible cloak. Please understand that under those invisible cloaks are rare, unique, smart, creative, talented, constructive, yet different people. Can you see them? Can you see the cloak?”

3. ADHD Erodes Self Esteem, Which Exacerbates ADHD, Which Further Erodes Self Esteem

“A lifetime of missed chances, bad first impressions, poor social skills, being too loud, too annoying, too honest, and just too much has left me with broken hope, broken dreams, and a broken heart. I have learned that I am defective — a bad person. That I am always going to be on the outside looking in. That I have to simultaneously let all this baggage go, so I can relax, but at the same time remember it so I don’t get distracted. That the anxiety and fear of failure uses up most of my attention, so I am stuck in a Catch-22: my attention is destroyed by the fear of my lack of attention.”

[Take This Test: Could You Have Emotional Hyperarousal?]

“Frustration, pain, and low self-esteem are all a direct result of ADHD. Never meeting neurotypical expectations beats up the emotions of some with ADHD. Overreactions and meltdowns are all part of ADHD, but they are compounded by the emotional anguish that comes from taunts and criticism. Everyone with ADHD needs to know they are worthy, capable, and needed. So all you square pegs stop trying to fit into round holes and start carving out your own square niche.”

4. We Really Don’t Mean to Cause Offense

“People with ADHD don’t mean anything personally. We want to call, write, and meet up, but anything that isn’t happening now is too damn hard to keep track of. We don’t want to drop off the face of the Earth, but we just can’t get our damn heads in order long enough to stay on it! In short, world, we don’t want to hurt you. We don’t mean to when we do. And we know that, most of the time, you don’t want to hurt us either. We’re sorry that the wires get crossed while trying to communicate that.”

“ADHD doesn’t make me uncaring, irrational, or unreliable. I am a mature adult and am capable of growing past difficult situations and becoming stronger in areas of weakness. I recognize every day what areas are a struggle for me. ADHD makes certain things harder, but not impossible. The very nature of ADHD amplifies introspection because we are so hard on ourselves, but in that introspection we gain a great perspective of self-awareness, empathy, and grace. I find joy in the thought that the blessing of being diagnosed will allow me to gain the knowledge and experience to help others.”

5. My Mind Works Differently, and That’s Beautiful

“I’m not flighty! My mind is simply attracted to looking at everything and finds beauty in all moments, so much so that it distracts me all the time. There is beauty in ADHD if you will only recognize it! I wish the world knew that I’m not debilitated by my diagnosis, but empowered and proud to name it. I own ADHD and am a better person because of it. I wish the world knew that I’m excited to see where this journey will take me! ADHD doesn’t define me, but neither does it limit me!”

[Take This ADHD Symptom Test for Women]

“Like a kaleidoscope, an ADHD life can be somewhat chaotic, but it can also have so much beauty as we find our own patterns and unique look on the world.”

“I wish that ADHD were widely understood to be a valid, nonlinear way of thinking. In the linear world that neurotypical people inhabit, ADHD is a deficit only because that’s not the way most people think and process information. There is nothing deficient or impaired with US. It’s the contexts which we most often encounter that disable us.”

6. We Are Trying Our Best to Master Executive Function

“ADHD doesn’t always look like a kid who can’t stay still and is bouncing out of his or her seat. Sometimes it means feeling completely overwhelmed with the world around you and all the things you are supposed to accomplish within it, and feeling like a failure because everyone seems to be able to do things you can’t.”

“Individuals with ADHD are not choosing to be bad, forgetful, impulsive, or disorganized. They have often come up with their own ways of coping. If you are someone without ADHD, imagine you are asked to write your name in cursive with your non-dominant hand. At the same time, you are asked to make circles with your right foot, move your left foot side to side, and tap the top of your head with your dominate hand. Not very easy? That’s how much effort it takes someone with ADHD to do what those without ADHD deem simple and easy.”

“I’m not late because I don’t care; I’m late because I am either doing a task I should have said ‘no’ to, I’m caught up in my impulses, or I can’t find something that I need. Lateness is just as frustrating for people with ADHD as it is for those who are left waiting for them. World, please know that we are trying the best we can and, when we fail, we feel terrible about ourselves.”

7. We Know Our ADHD Can Frustrate You (So Please Stop Telling Us!)

“ADHD is hard for everyone. It doesn’t just impact the individual; it impacts the single mom who’s trying her best to help, it impacts the little brother who doesn’t understand what ADHD is but sees the symptoms every day, it impacts teachers and friends. Everyone has to deal with it. Find a way to work around it and work with it. We don’t choose to have ADHD in our lives; ADHD chose us.”

“It’s frustrating enough when ADHD wins the day. We internalize it more than we may let on. Every time our loved ones mirror those feelings with their words, expressions, or actions it validates our embarrassment and frustration. It is already hard enough experiencing them without witnessing them externally reinforced in our loved ones’ reactions. The more our loved ones react with criticism, the louder we hear their voices while reprimanding ourselves. Having an emotional reaction does not end when you remove yourself from the tainted environment. We are constantly trying to fix our mistakes in replay mode, incorporating the social feedback and consequences so that we can avoid repeating the same mistake. So please let go of the criticism. Our ADHD moments are not yours to own.”

8. Criticism Can Be Devastating — Especially When We’re Trying Our Best

“I wish you knew how bad it makes us feel to hear, ‘You seem distracted’ or ‘You’re kind of all over the place,’ especially when we’re already on medication. I want to reply ‘I AM calm, I AM focused… someday I’m going to come to work without taking my medication and then I’ll show you distracted…’ You might as well say, ‘Your best isn’t good enough and you shouldn’t even try.’”

“Those of us who have ADHD or who support people with ADHD are doing our best. I wish the world could walk in our shoes for just a short period of time to truly understand how taxing ADHD can be — and how it affects just about everything! I wish the world were more tolerant and accepting in general – everyone struggles with something and ADHD (no matter if you are the patient or the caregiver) is our struggle. Don’t judge. Be tolerant and accepting of everyone no matter the person, problem, or issue — known or unknown.”

9. It’s Worth Your While to Look Past My ADHD

“All my life, I’ve felt like a square peg in a round hole — and no amount of threatening, cajoling, or therapy is going to make me round. When I do something stupid, it doesn’t mean that I’m stupid. When I appear disorganized, it doesn’t mean that I’m lazy. When I’m late, it doesn’t mean that I’m inconsiderate. I wish people knew that, when my expression makes me look like I’ve ‘checked out,’ it’s because I am actually processing about 10 things at the same time and I’ll be right back. I wish people knew that I am actually intelligent and that, if they would just get into my world and my head a little bit, I could bring incredible stuff to the workplace and to relationships.”

“I am worth any trouble my ADHD brain might cause and, with a little understanding and patience, I can wow you. ADHD means we operate differently than most successful people, but it doesn’t mean our ways are wrong just because they’re different and you don’t understand them. Don’t underestimate me. Don’t tie my hands with unimportant rules or unnecessary restrictions. Let me think and work outside of your narrow little box. My work doesn’t always fit in a box. It’s bigger than your box.”

10. We Are Moving Toward a Neurodiverse Future

“There is a growing movement of people who are neurodiverse. We don’t consider ourselves sick, flawed, dumb, dysfunctional, lazy, crazy, unlovable, incapable, or without anything to offer. We are gifted, loving, bright people living in a world that says our differences are unacceptable. This is difficult, but we don’t need or want pity. We have challenges – we are not challenges. We are different, but equal. Left-handed children used to be forced to use their right hand instead, and that was wrong, foolish, and harmful. Perhaps we are moving to a more enlightened time when neurodiverse people will be no more ‘odd’ than someone who is left-handed.”

“I wish the world knew what it means to be forgiving and understanding of neurodiversity; to accommodate our weaknesses, and celebrate our strengths. It may seem a pain to change environments and procedures to fit those differences, but like all accommodations, they benefit everyone with both permanent and temporary differences. Creating check-ins and helping prioritize workloads are critical for ADHD worker success, and those same ADHD accommodations can help other workers keep on task and feel valued. Flexible schedules to help people with ADHD who are slow to wake up also help single parents get their kids on the bus in the morning. Creating schools, workplaces, and homes where everyone can thrive is a high tide that will raise all boats.”

[Read This Next: How to Process and Accept Your Child’s Neurodiversity]