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What Does ADHD Stand For? Explaining Attention Deficit in Simpler Terms

Explaining attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is complicated — and so vitally important. That’s why I often stress that the most part of explaining ADHD — to children or adults — is keeping it simple and stressing that there are no stupid questions.

What Does ADHD  Stand For?

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. ADHD is a complex neurological disorder that impacts the executive functions needed to assess, plan, and execute life. That is the technical description, which does nothing to explain what ADHD symptoms look like in everyday life.

Luckily for me, for the last 16 years I have been blessed to have one of the best jobs for an adult with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). I’m a public speaker and a performing artist. I get to travel all over the country and even to different parts of the world, each gig offering a different location, a different crowd, and a different vibe. I get to stand on stage and share a presentation that combines comedy, creativity, information, and inspiration. I’m never bored!

I give my ADHD symptoms and characteristics a lot of credit for where I am. ADHD is both the cause and the consequence of my very unorthodox lifestyle and career. I’ve never had a regular job. I dropped out of college to pursue speaking, and 20 years later, I still love every moment of it!

Explaining ADHD to Children — and The Adults Who Care for Them

My target audience today is primarily educators and student groups. However, when I first started, my audiences would vary from event to event. One day I could be speaking to 1,000 middle school students, and the next day I might talk to 20 business professionals about what ADHD stands for. I loved the variety, and I would book dates for any type of group except one — elementary-age students.

Young kids scared me! I had one bad experience, and it left a lasting impression. It was like getting sick on a food you ate; you never want to see or eat that food again. For those of you who are curious about what happened, let’s just say that after the words “Power Rangers” left my mouth, I never was able to get those kids to calm down and listen.

[The Meaning of ADHD: Clear Explanations for Complex Kids]

Over the years, my office has gotten multiple requests for me to come speak to little kids. Out of fear, I avoided those requests, referring them to other speakers. For over a decade, I shied away from elementary-age audiences. Then I started traveling with Larry, a 63-year-old superhero grandpa who’s been teaching 4- and 5-year-olds for years and loves kids. With his help, two years ago, I overcame my fear and booked a show for 500 little guys and gals. I’ve been nervous before a lot of shows but none more than this. A gym filled with elementary-age children was more frightening than getting a phone call that begins, “Do you like scary movies?” Before the show, Larry gave me a few pointers to help calm my nerves but also to help me adjust my message and make it age-appropriate. It’s how I like to do things anyway, but he reminded me to “keep it simple.” I did and the show was a great success.

I was reminded of the day “keeping it simple” made all the difference while recently listening to a podcast about ADHD. The podcast host and her guest were some of today’s top experts on the subject of ADHD. After an insightful hour, I had a whole page of notes. Along with the notes though, I also had a lot of big question marks, stuff I needed to look up and read about to wrap my brain around. That’s right, I, Ben Glenn, The Simple ADHD Expert, found plenty to be confused about as I listened to the medical expert and host converse.

I wondered what people who have no knowledge of ADHD whatsoever would have made of it all. I wondered what parent or even an adult with ADHD would sit through 60 minutes of mostly medical jargon. I know that saying “comorbid” is simpler than “two or more medical conditions that one person can have at the same time,” but can’t some of these terms be explained at the beginning of any conversation, verbal or written, especially if the target audience most likely has no medical background?

How ADHD Confusion Trickles Down

A few years ago, after I started getting into the ADHD stuff with some serious intensity, my mother confessed to me how helpless and stupid she felt at the meetings we had with my special education teacher in high school. “Why didn’t you just ask the teacher to explain to you what you didn’t understand?” I asked with surprise. “I didn’t want her thinking I was stupid and a bad parent because I didn’t know any of the things she was telling me,” my mom admitted somewhat shamefaced. Oh mom! I thought. Think of all the headaches we could have avoided together if only you’d asked and if only the teacher had been more aware of how confusing a lot of this ADHD-related information can be.

[Your Free Guide to Changing How the World Sees ADHD]

That conversation strengthened my desire to somehow put ADHD into simpler terms. Don’t get me wrong. Brain disorders, ADHD, autism, Asperger’s, and similar conditions are incredibly complex. But professionals in the fields of special education, psychology, and psychiatry need to remember that moms, dads, and all sorts of regular folks with ADHD often don’t speak the same language and need a lot of the information translated into user-friendly terms. The experts have a lot of great, useful, even life-changing information, but it won’t be much good to the people who need it if it cannot be understood and applied. So please, keep it simple!

That said, if you are a parent of a child with special needs, please feel no shame in asking questions — as many as you need to — to make sure that you understand what is being said to you. Poor communication cannot be laid entirely at the professionals’ door if you sit there nodding, smiling, and acting like you get it when in fact, you don’t.

[Explaining ADHD to Your Child]

Updated on June 4, 2019

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  1. While this was a nice little article, the reason I read it was because it was in an email and the link was titled How To Explain ADHD. I was actually looking for an article that would explain it. Like in simple terms or something. I have read a few other articles with interesting ways to explain it or analogies. This article basically is saying “you should explain ADHD in simple terms”. The end.
    There is no actual explanation. Maybe I’m missing the part of the article that explains it.

  2. I also like the article. The author is right. I would add that sometimes a written explanation is better than a verbal for me as i can refer to it and make sure we both are on the same page. I’d read it to the instructor and bring 2 copies so both of us can refer to it. That way we are literally on the same page. Teachers are humans and humans believe some crazy things like a disorder is a character defect rather than simply how they are made.

  3. I’m inclined to say that the author veered off topic because he saw a squirrel while writing it 🙂
    Sorry, author! However, because I’ve seen this exact same kind of headline vs. content mismatch so frequently on this site, it’s probably an editing problem.

    Editors, you don’t need to worry about generating headline clicks from this audience, with such a high percentage of us having ADHD!

    Please just keep it real.

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