ADHD Part 4 – Helping yourself or another – Stigma

Part 1 – Defining ADHD [Link]

Part 2 – Experiencing ADHD [Link]

Part 3 – Managing [Link]

Stigma vs Symptom

It is important to separate the psychosocial consequences of societal stigma from the actual experience of having ADHD. Stigma is a result of how society or individuals see you, judges you and thus treats you. It is natural to experience some secondary problems as a result of this social bias that would disappear if society did not view ADHD in the negative.

In this post we will be looking at Stigma.


Often people with ADHD are told that their method of solving problems, of being them, or interacting with others is wrong. It only takes a few times of being told off before anyone will become a bit nervous about taking action for fear of the inevitable telling off, rejection or looks of disgust. This fear and hesitance of being judged or mistreated is often mistaken for anxiety and this can be the first diagnosis you are given, rather than the practitioner looking deeper at why you are anxious. It is important to note that if people around you had accepted you to start with, or began to accept you now, that the anxiety would fade.

Self Help

There is a fair chance you are focused too much on what other people are going to think about you and seeking their approval and acceptance. Rules of thumb on this are : is your action going to hurt you or another, if so, rethink. That’s about it. Also note, some people will accuse you of hurting them in order to control you, and some people will inform you of the hurt you are actually creating. Separating these two groups is really important. Regular counselling is good at helping you create an internal rule set you can apply to navigate this.

It is okay to make mistakes. So long as no one (including you!) is hurt, then you can learn from this. If you keep making the same mistake, then that is another problem.

It is common to develop a need to be perfect in order to try to satisfy another person because of someone we thought we needed in the past who had impossible standards. Recognise who this person or these people were and realise this is driving your impossible standard now. Practice making mistakes and being okay with it.

Helping Another

There are many valid ways to do things and just because the person you are helping picks one that isn’t on your list doesn’t make it wrong. However that doesn’t mean that people are going to just accept that either. It can be hard for someone with ADHD to perceive how their actions are going to affect others, or why perhaps their choice is invalid for complex reasons. It is important to have built some trust and in a non-judgemental or person-critical way inform the ADHD person that there may be a problem with their choice or actions, to offer suggestions of what to look out for and suggestions on how to avoid that. The person you are helping may accept your variant, go ahead and make mistakes, or go ahead and have everything work out fine.

If the person wants to know more before acting, then by all means go in depth on looking at the assumptions and methods you have used to get to your solution and what rang alarm bells for you on theirs.


After a while of being told we are doing things wrong and receiving disgust, we may instead (or also) feel welcomed and without a place to belong. This can lead to depression, where nothing has any meaning anymore. Another path to this secondary diagnosis (which may also be your first diagnosis as this is easier to recognise than some forms of ADHD) is fatigue from anxiety, or fatigue from caring about people who don’t understand ADHD. The last most likely variant of depression is related to anxiety – in fear of misunderstanding you have learned not to act, and this non-activity looks like depression, but is actually anxiety as described above.

Disgust is a powerful force. It is an important social emotion we detect in others so we know we are conforming adequately to the group to avoid being rejected. Feeling rejected can leave us feeling worthless and without purpose. We are both biologically wired to want to fit in, and raised to believe that our family and early friends should accept us for who and what we are. Without that acceptance we can feel incredibly worthless, unlovable and without a place to feel is home.

Self Help

Not all people are wired to accept others. Many neurotypical people traditionally struggle to accept variation in humans – take a look at the stigmas created by race, religion, left handedness and height. Start to recognise that some people are not going to accept you simply because they can’t and stop trying to win recognition or understanding from them.

Instead start to look for those who can and will. When you meet them, try not to be an asshole and test the boundaries of their acceptance. That leads to a self fulfilling prophecy of doom – eventually all people break. Once you have worked out a set of internal rules for reasonable social behaviour, find those who accept that and stick to it.

Also note that society is getting better. Again look to race, religion etc. In Australia racism is illegal, gay marriage is now the law, left handedness is now accepted as normal human variation and so on. It isn’t perfect, but it is progress. In a similar way, ADHD is becoming more normalised in society’s eyes.

Other Help

Accept the person you are supporting for who they are, but make it clear what behaviours are detrimental to you and which behaviours you believe are detrimental to them. While love and acceptance may not have boundaries, self care does and it is important to have reasonable limits. Recognise what it is about the person you are helping that prompts them to feel isolated and unwanted and see if you can either directly accept that, or put in some agreed upon safety management plans to minimise the risk of those aspects. Accept your person for who they are.

Low Self Worth

While anxiety and depression are part of this, those have been dealt with specifically above. What is left is the illusion of low intelligence, and the risk of abuse from others.

The school system is not set up for people with ADHD, and as such it doesn’t do well to either educate or test people with ADHD. While schools are now getting much better at spotting ADHD, those who don’t have a kinesthetic component (physical movement) are often missed, especially in those who appear female. Recent research is indicating that the genes most likely linked to ADHD don’t discriminate on sex chromosomes, and better research is indicating that XY chromosomed people are often missed in being detected for ADHD.

Consider being tested on what colour ruby is. If you had been taught about crystals, or were from a high socioeconomic neighbourhood, you would probably answer “red”. If not, then Ruby is a person you know, and you would answer accordingly. The test is poor because it relies on testing what you were taught, then holding you accountable for being taught poorly. Recognising this error in testing is the reason this question was taken out of the IQ test for youth in the USA. Our school system is often not teaching people with ADHD well or at all and then blaming the student on this.

Self Help

Your intelligence is not tied to your IQ score or your school marks. It is far more complex than that. IQ scores only test how well you score on IQ tests, which can sometimes have interesting results, but don’t necessarily indicate your actual intelligence. It is time to start letting go of the ways other people measure neurotypical people and start realising those tests don’t apply to you.

The real question isn’t how smart you are, but what kind of person are you? Separate yourself from other people’s judgements and start seeing yourself for what you are doing. Are you proud of yourself? If so, good. If not, adjust yourself until you are.

Trying to be accepted by others can make you vulnerable to being abused by those who wish to take advantage of you. Not all people are nice, and not all people are nasty. Most people who have grown up with ADHD have been messed around enough by others that your red flag (trouble) and green flag (safe) detectors are a bit messed up. Go and get some counselling to help learn what good red and green flags are when you judge others. Once you have identified those who have lots of red flags, start making changes to protect yourself from the ones you can’t get rid of, and get rid of the ones that you can.

Other Help

When raising someone with an ADHD diagnosis, it is really important to look at the environmental messages your person is receiving and balance that with clear signs of affection, love and acceptance. Ensure you teach them about detecting red and green flags in people and then how to extricate themselves from bad relationships. By all means seek some counselling yourself or do some research yourself to learn good methods.

If the person you are helping is an adult, then support them to the realisation that their upbringing may not have given them good data. Avoid just outright contradicting their mistaken beliefs as that is more likely to prompt them to dig in their heels to protect the image they have of themselves. Instead work through the logic of where their beliefs came from and help them question the validity of that themselves. Help your person to see new ways of measuring and testing themselves without the stigma bias of the past.

ADHD Part 3 – Managing

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a complex condition that affects how you focus, behave, feel and interact with people. Realising that you have the condition allows you to begin making intelligent adjustments to your variant.

Part 1 – Defining ADHD [Link]

Part 2 – Experiencing ADHD [Link]

Managing ADHD

There are two primary methods to manage ADHD, and it recommended to use both where relevant and possible.


CBT and DBT are the better methods to manage ADHD from a therapy and egocentric perspective. That is, with some suitable help, the person who meets the criteria for ADHD can learn to manage the symptoms that earn the label.


CBT (or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is a method for identifying specific problems and countering them with specific solutions. This looks at identifying the problematic behaviour and or thought process and developing a specific skill to address this which changes the behaviour or thought process. The advantage of this method is that it address unique presentations and develops unique solutions to meet the variance of the client. That is, it doesn’t give you a one solutions fits all, but it may take advantage of known useful tools.


DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) was initially developed to treat BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) in a specific course like way. The course happens to also be very useful for learning to regulate mood dysregulation (a common experience for people diagnosed with ADHD) and social interpersonal skills (another common experience). While specific parts of the DBT modules can be used in isolation
(DBT informed therapy/therapist), most people gain the most use by doing the entire course in a group (may not be compatible for all people).

Advantage and Disadvantage of Therapy

Therapy is useful for addressing expected or identifiable skill deficits, giving power of control back to the individual who is often experiencing a chaotic life due to a lack of, or poor use of, life and self management skills. The problem often comes in with a basic aspect of the disorder itself – difficulties concentrating, difficulties sticking to a task and frequently learning disabilities. It is hard to learn any skill with this interference.


Medication is often used to help manage a major component of ADHD – task prioritisation. Given the hyperactive nature of ADHD, it seems odd to prescribe a stimulant. The brain is a wonderful and complex organism. While the specific parts that affect all people with ADHD are likely to be different, some common differences are found in the insula and the anterior cingulate cortex. The insula is often attributed to mood regulation and the anterior cingulate cortex is often attributed to attention. Both of these are frequently found to be smaller in people diagnosed with ADHD (more research required). It has been found that certain stimulants boost the abilities of these parts of the brain, compensating for their underperformance. That is, the underperformance of these two parts of the brain means the patient is likely to find their mood and attention span poorly self controlled; stimulating these parts increases the patient’s ability to self regulate, decreasing the most problematic symptoms.

(Reduced insular volume in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [Link] and Anterior insula hyperactivation in ADHD when faced with distracting negative stimuli [Link])

If all brain scans had shown an equal problem with all people fitting the diagnostic criteria, this would be known as a neurological condition and the question would only be “how much of this one medication to prescribe?” Each brain scanned is a bit different, and not all people that fit the diagnostic criteria that were scanned have the same regions undersized. This means that medication is not going to work for all people who fit the diagnostic criteria, nor will the one type of stimulant match all peoples needs.

As such, a range of different medications have been found to be differently effective depending on the specifics of the individual person.

A very common co-occurrence of ADHD is drug addiction. Stimulants such as caffeine (coffee/tea/energy drinks), amphetamines (dexies, speed, meth amphetamines, ice) and nicotine are often used to help increase focus, while sedatives such as alcohol and diazepine are used to calm down from being hyper, and psychoactive drugs such as THC and LSD are often used to create an alternative state of mind that is easier to manage. Each of these are often used in conjunction to just self manage an undiagnosed condition.

Someone with undiagnosed adult ADHD who has a co-occuring Substance Use Disorder (SUD) will frequently struggle to be given a prescription for ADHD medication as it is either easy to dismiss the person as drug seeking (which ignores how easy it is to get illicit drugs compared to prescription), or difficult to manage due to the patient often continuing to take illicit substances. In Australia, psychiatrists are the health professionals who must diagnose and prescribe ADHD and ADHD medication. It is not uncommon for the patient to have to “go clean” prior to receiving necessary medication to manage their symptoms, which is incredibly hard; or to get frequent drug tests to ensure compliance with medication in the absence of illicit drugs.

(Treatment Strategies for Co-Occurring ADHD and Substance Use Disorders [Link])

Advantage and Disadvantage of Medication

Medication doesn’t work for all people diagnosed with ADHD, and when it does, it doesn’t always work equally. Going through various medication trials can seem daunting and frustrating as your body adjusts and adapts to the medication. Some people find medication as a gateway to illicit substances, however most people with undiagnosed ADHD have already attempted to moderate their experience via illicit substances, so this is a bit of a chicken and the egg fable – for those who are compliant with their prescription, this doesn’t seem to be an issue. Using medication to feel better and function better can have an existential query of “Who am I really? The person on medication, or the person off it?” or stigma questions such as “why does society only treat me alright when I am on the medication, but then blame me for taking medication to be ok?”

An advantage of medication is that when it works, even partially, it makes a profound different to your experience. It can be the launching pad for effective therapy, it can quiet the more destructive impulsiveness and it can allow you to focus enough to earn a degree, get a job and have good relationships with people.

BOTH Medication and Therapy

The best results often come when a person uses both approaches – medication and therapy. A person experiencing ADHD is likely to struggled to be able to focus and retain the information and drive to take in the therapy that upskills ADHD management without medication, while someone who takes medication now has that capacity to upskill, but doesn’t have a good mentor and guide to learn what skills are actually useful.

A good combination of both medication and therapy addresses these issues and gets the best results.

ADHD Part 2 – Real life experience

Understanding ADHD

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a condition that many people experience, even if it is undiagnosed. It can often be mistaken for anxiety and depression, behavioural problems, autism or cognitive impairment. Most write ups fail to describe what the condition is actually like, only citing medical criteria.

Below are some views from people who have been given the diagnosis of ADHD.

Part 1 – Defining ADHD [Link]

Part 3 – Managing ADHD [Link]

From the Inside

— S

Sometimes I would hyperfocus – do a thing obsessively until it was done. That hyperfocus is the reason I never thought I was [ADHD]. It helps to drown out the “noise” when there’s too much to think about or it’s too overwhelming. Prioritising can be challenging too. This is why I end up with mount foldmore [laundry].

I described it as my brain is like a pinball machine. I cannot type or speak as fast as my brain and that is frustrating for me. I’m constantly flitting from one thing to another, when I walk into one room to do xyz I see something else and get distracted by that. This results in many unfinished chores/projects. I particularly find it difficult to finish tasks I find boring, though I can obsess over tasks I find interesting. This makes life balance difficult.

It can waste a lot of time being so easily distracted. I used to wonder wtf was wrong with me. Everyone else can do it, why can’t I? I’m educated, intelligent, capable. The tasks are not difficult tasks. It can be incredibly frustrating.

Quite often I cannot get from one end of the sentence to the other. I will go off on tangents, at some point realise I’m rambling, then ask what the original point/question was. I am sometimes perceived as being rude because when someone says something I want to react, and can butt in before they are finished speaking. I’m not trying to be rude or not listen, I am just enthusiastic and if I don’t spit it out then and there I will get distracted and forget it. I forget things nearly every time I go to the shops. If it’s not put in my diary immediately I will forget it. It feels like most people live slower than me. They have a relaxed demeanour and an ability to finish tasks that I don’t understand. I don’t and can’t sit down and relax. That makes me anxious. I need to do SOMETHING, anything. I prefer written text over spoken word because I am able to review what I have said first.

Hammy from over the hedge on red bull is a very good representation of how I mostly feel. Meds help, a lot. They also illustrate my differences as I notice when they wear off. I’ve asked others for outside perspective and they said that’s just how I always was. It was only once I started my meds that I realised just how much different I am. That took some processing and support from very good friends.

Scattered, or as my friends and I call it, “squirrel”, is not an occasional thing – it’s every moment of every day. Have you ever walked into a room and wondered why you came in there? I do that ALL the time. Whereas others may remember after a moment, I have to backtrack to where I was to remember. Or more often than not I see something else and get distracted doing that. Until I walk back into the other room, see what it was that prompted me to go looking for something and go back to get/do it.

I have strategies in place to help. Like my keys go here, my phone goes there. I don’t have to remember where I put them because they have a specific place. I write lists. Appointments go in my diary. If they aren’t in there with reminders then I will forget. 

On meds I slow down. It’s not that I do things slower, though I do talk slower. It’s that I’m able to stay on task and stay focused. I can finish a sentence without getting distracted. For those that know me it’s very obvious when I have skipped, or when they wear off. Mine wear off about 6pm. If you are here with me from before that I’ll be talking normally, then over about half an hour I go to 1 million miles an hour. When I realise (usually when someone says something) sure enough I check the time and it’s between 6-6:30pm.

Hammy from the film Over the Hedge, just after drinking the energy drink, the world seems to freeze as tiem for Hammy

— M

As someone without medication, 3-5 thoughts a second, can’t focus on a single thing, forgetting where you put something 5 seconds ago walking into a room, “what am i doing in here”

— T
About a decade ago I was “diagnosed” by a GP with anxiety +/- depression. Recently I was re-diagnosed with ADHD and I am using medication for it. My psychiatrist thinks that the anxiety is mainly a result of coping with unmedicated ADHD. I’m inclined to agree with her as I’m now fairly stable on long acting dex and have been able to come off SSRIs [anxiety/depression medication].

I’m a good example of how inattentive type can easily be missed, especially in girls. I’ve never been overly physically hyperactive (but I am mentally and sometimes verbally). I’m still unpicking how much camouflaging I’ve had to learn in order to function and realising the emotional costs of that.

Some interesting things for me have been:

  • learning about hyperfocus and how it relates to inattention. It’s really the adhd superpower and most people don’t know about it. It helps to account for my awesome research skills but has drawbacks for interpersonal relationships.
  • the flip side of that is the intense antipathy I feel to things that don’t interest me. Housework is almost physically painful at times. I never realised how abnormal this degree of dislike of tedious tasks is.
  • rejection sensitive dysphoria is really really horrible. I’ve mostly learned to make friends (this took an active effort to change myself in my early teens) but still sometimes put people off and can’t always pinpoint why. I can very easily tell when I’m annoying people however and it spikes my anxiety something terrible. It’s very very hard for me to not care about what people think

Medication has been helpful, but with some challenging side effects. I’ve always had trouble getting to sleep at night, my brain runs at a million miles an hour. If I imagine a swing swinging, I often can’t get my brain to stop the motion. The first day I took dex, I felt physically energised but that night my brain felt calm. It was amazing!

Medication helps me focus more consistently and work on tasks that I need to, not just ones I’m interested in. The short acting dex had some pretty nasty physical crashes later in the day as it wore off. Long acting is better for me in that respect. It’s also helped me moderate my eating, not just by suppressing my appetite (which it does and can be annoying), but by reducing my use of food as an emotional crutch. Interestingly still, the less sleep I get, the more my diet goes to shit. Having kids certainly exacerbated my symptoms.

Ultimately I see the diagnosis as helpful. ADHD is poorly named and badly understood but has some positives. The hyperfocus for one. Also likely a tendency towards and enjoyment of creativity. I love brainstorming and coming up with creative solutions to problems and that seems to be more common in folks with ADHD. The emotional sensitivity can be painful, but can also be helpful in various situations (interestingly a lot of people I know with ADHD are heavily involved with charities, not for profits, goodwill projects and similar).

Another thing that may interest you. I first learned I may have ADHD by reading an article a friend linked to on FB. I was reading it to be a good ally, but then it sounded awfully familiar. Like they had cameras in my house! Both my GP and my counsellor were very dubious (my counsellor sees other people with ADHD, I gather they mostly have more challenges with it). But my GP wrote me a referral and my psychiatrist (who specialises in ADHD) had no hesitation diagnosing me after a thorough assessment.

Ultimately I do want to go public with the diagnosis, but I still have some unpacking to do first and I want to make sure as much as possible that it can’t be weaponised against me.

The difference between a regular conversation and an ADHD conversation, according to Dani Donovan [Link], who writes a great deal about their ADHD experience.

Public Perception

Public perception is often about blaming people diagnosed with or who fit the criteria of ADHD for their behaviours. People are accused of not trying hard enough when they don’t stick to a task, for being impatient when things go wrong. They are blamed for not taking things seriously when they don’t recall, or prioritise what J Average thinks is important. People are blamed for misbehaving when they haven’t managed to develop some level of impulse control.

People who take medication to help their ADHD symptoms are often seen as weak or drug addicts. This is odd as we don’t blame people who take diabetic medication to manage their blood sugar as addicts, nor blame them for having hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic incidents without their medication. Yet we want people who experience ADHD to manage without because of some judgement about their medical condition.

This creates a damned if you do take medication and damned if you don’t if you act out. People often feel justified for defining people diagnosed with ADHD or experiencing ADHD symptoms as naughty, misbehaving and annoying. A moral judgement is passed, as if this were a choice.

No all public perception is like this, there are many allies out there who comprehend that ADHD negative behaviours are not the fault of the individual, but rather are a side effect of insufficient support, understanding, and or treatment. Allies understand that changing the way a thing is done, or explained, or presented facilitate the quality of life and experience of someone with ADHD, but are also quite willing to call a person on bad behaviour, or point out boundaries that should be considered.

Carer Perception

— K

So what’s it like being a carer for an ADD child. Before he gets his meds in the morning and when they wear off in the evening he will not focus, it is hard to get him to do as requested as he is often in the midst of something he finds very important. This thing may be trivial to me but to him it is the world.

There are times when he will be willfully defiant too. Even if I get his attention, it will still take multiple repeated times of asking him to do as requested
such as getting reading for school.

Before he started on meds, his school work was lagging seriously. It was a chore to get him to write (mostly as I think it was hard for him and he couldn’t focus on the task at hand). Now, on the meds, homework and school work is much better. He still struggles to finish work given to him, but will readily attempt to write and read now. He once told me, the pill helps me to hear what people are telling me.

His massive temper tantrums have lessened while he is on the meds, he is more compliant with requests, less easily distracted (still is a bit but what 7 yr old doesn’t get distracted).

ADHD Part 1 – Medical Definition

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is the most commonly diagnosed “disorder” applied to children. It affects children, teens and adults. It has high prevalence (5 to 8 of 100) and is a condition that is poorly understood. It can be difficult to manage, especially if the condition is misunderstood and mistreated.

Part 2 – Experiencing ADHD [Link]

Part 3 – Managing ADHD [Link]

Luis from the Marvel movie Ant-Man shows many classic examples of ADHD – odd conversation style, low ability to stay focused, easily distractible

Defining ADHD

ADHD describes a condition of low attentiveness (thus the Attention Deficit part of the name) caused by hyperactive brain activity that sometimes also affects the motor section. Common side issues of ADHD is doing behaviours with low regard to consequences and emotional dysregulation (mood varies chaotically and can be hard to control).

People diagnosed with ADHD often describe it as trying to work out what is the important thing to do, when that thing over there is more shiny, and now that, oh and look over there… Prioritising, concentrating and sticking to a chosen task is hard, while being distracted and becoming engrossed (hyper-focused) on an unimportant task is common.

The average adult has a 20 minute window of concentration, the average university student has evolved a 40 minute window of concentration. The average adult diagnosed with ADHD is about 5 and can train up to 10 minutes. If you can’t fit a task that isn’t shiny into 5 minutes, it won’t get done. Shiny is a personal definition – what is shiny for me won’t necessarily be shiny for you.

Working with someone with ADHD can be frustrating as they don’t stick to a task for as long as you want them to, get easily distracted by something else and seem to have a very different idea about what is important. Often we take out our frustration on the other, forgetting this this is frustrating for them too. Imagine knowing you need to do a thing, it is vitally important, but your brain just won’t let you. It’s like “I need to do this thing – I roll my two 6 sided dice to see if I do it, if I roll twin 6’s, I get to do it… and I guess I’m doing some other random thing instead”.

Steve Irwin – amazingly full of energy

Richard Giles [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]


Originally there were two conditions – ADD was used to describe people who seemed to fade out, or would easily get distracted, while ADHD was used to describe people who fidgeted, couldn’t sit still and were full of energy. While both of these were noted for attention deficit, it was considered to be two separate conditions.

In modern times it is recognised that these both have the same root cause (mostly) with different presentations. As such, ADHD has three subtypes – inattentive (classic ADD, now called ADHDi), hyperactive-impulsive (classic ADHD, now called ADHDh or ADHDhi or ADHDk) and combined (ADHDc). Many practitioners still use the old terminology to distinguish the subtypes – with hyperactive (ADHD) or without (ADD).

Prevalence and causes

In children under 18 years of age, 7.2% of people fit the criteria for ADHD. This will vary a little based on country and screening tools. This statistic is pulled from a meta analysis of 175 reliable studies.

Unfortunately adults with ADHD have not been as well studied. Studies in Europe, the Middle East and the United States of America indicate a likely 3.4% of people
fit the criteria for ADHD.

(General Prevalence of ADHD – CHADD [Link])

Some of this variance from childhood may be the end of puberty defiance, or it may be that the adults have learned how to temper themselves better and camouflage their experience. More study into this is needed.

Another confounding factor is that children are often screened by asking the parents questions. Parents who come from a stricter background are likely to over-report difficult behaviour, not necessarily because the child has a disorder, but because the parent’s definition of reasonable is variable.

While a specific gene has not been located for ADHD, it is well known that ADHD tends to run in families. It can also spontaneously appear, especially in the presence of certain pollutants, premature or underweight birth and brain damage. While ADHD is unlikely to be a learned behaviour, some environments promote ADHD symptoms over others.

(About ADHD – Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments – CHADD [Link])

What this amounts to is that in any group of 20 people, you are likely to have between 1 and 2 people who are likely to fit the criteria for ADHD. For most classrooms of 30 kids, you are statistically likely to have have two people who fit the criteria. Many schools will note these youth and put them into a specialty class that doesn’t actually address the ADHD issues well, but mostly aim to contain the disruption these youth bring to from the rest of the class. This does not help people with ADHD symptoms to learn to manage themselves, it promotes self blame and lowered self esteem.

Co-occurring conditions

As many as 65% of people who fit the criteria for ADHD also have a co-occuring (comorbid) presentation with at least one other condition, around 25% of people have two, and some have three or more. It can be difficult to determine if these other conditions are parallel (happen to be in the same person at the same time) or secondary (one promotes diagnosis of another).

Most common co-occuring conditions in children:

  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and Conduct Disorders (CD)
  • Specific learning disorders (language, learning and motor skills)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Intellectual disorder

Most common co-occurring conditions in adults:

  • Anxiety (General Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety, specific phobia)
  • Depression
  • Substance Abuse
  • Intermittent Explosive disorder(impulsive anger)

( Psychiatric Comorbidities in Patients with ADHD|ADHD Institute [Link] and ADHD And Co-occurring Conditions – CHADD [Link])

What this amounts to is the fact that people trying to manage ADHD symptoms are often also trying to manage other things as well, each of which often requires specific methods to manage, some of which contradict.

Neurodiversity Part 3 – Living with Neurodivergence

Neurodiversity recognises the spectrum of thinking types, from neurotypical (local average) to neurodivergent (specifically not like average). This framework changes how we see people who think differently – not as faulty, but just different. This article looks at what it is like to be neurodivergent but not know it.

In Part 1 [link], we examined some of the terminology of neurodiversity. Part 2 [link] looked at why the concept of neurodiversity is important.

Being Alien

Have you ever visited another culture and been completely lost by what  they are doing and why they are doing it? Perhaps you went to another country, or went to a friends family and found that their basic assumptions and methods of doing things are quite different.

When I went to India around 2008, my cultural awakening occurred on the way to Bangalore from the airport. While driving down a six lane highway, theoretically three lanes on either side for traffic, I watched as the locals ignored that and any other semblance of road rules. Eight vehicles were banked up parallel to each other in five and a half lanes going in the same direction (towards the city), with half a lane dedicated to the traffic going the other way. Lanes were a nice idea, but no one cared. The horn was used to warn motorists of where they were and seemingly their intent, traffic in lanes wove in and out and we had to dodge the occasional ox and cart trundling slowly down the highway. Scooters were very popular, loaded with a nuclear family of two parents, 3 kids and at least one grandparent and the luggage. I was very glad to not be driving.

What I am trying to say here is that what I was use to as average was very different over there. Their average was not my average. Who was better? I can see the logic that if several million people are headed into the city in the morning and only a few thousand people are leaving, then it makes sense to switch the direction of some of the lanes. If most of the vehicles are bikes, then it makes sense to have several in a single lane. If you need to dodge carts and slow tractors, it makes sense to weave in and out. I can see the logic of all of that, yet it seemed like chaos and a recipe for disaster – especially as I come from a city that can’t merge lanes or use car indicators. For all of that perceived chaos, I witnessed no accidents and my driver told me (hopefully truthfully) that accidents were rare.

I was a stranger in a strange land, not knowing the local ways and dithering between understanding why I think they do things and wondering why they do things that way, while probably just not getting any of it. My assumptions, values and solutions did not fit this strange land.

When I made inevitable social blunders in India, my skin colour and accent saved me. I clearly was a stranger and should not be judged for not knowing the local rules. While I was frequently embarrassed for not knowing how things were done, I also acknowledged that I was in a strange land and didn’t know the rules – the customs, the traditions, or the laws. So that made it okay.

Growing up

That isn’t how I grew up though. I grew up in a family that seemed to do things quite differently to me. I empathised with Kal-el, who was ejected from Krypton, crashed on Earth and was adopted by some country folk called the Kent’s. They called him Clark and raised him as human, trying to manage his oddities and help him hide his differences from everyone else. Eventually his amazingness would be revealed in his Superman persona, a fantasy that I knew I would never realise. I mostly empathised with the Clark part of Kal-el, the man who would be human. As I grew up in my family, I hoped that I was adopted and that would explain why I didn’t fit. Turns out that I wasn’t adopted.

I went to preschool and found myself managing kind of ok. Parallel play was the rage (as it often is at that age), so I could do my own thing, lost in my own world and not have to interact with the others. For all that, I decided I had a best friend and that poor sucker was kind of stuck with me as I followed them around and just tried to be wanted.

Primary school was awkward because parallel play was over. You are now supposed to play with others. But they made no sense. They couldn’t see the worlds that I saw, they didn’t play the games I liked and they couldn’t seem to explain what they were doing to any sensible level of satisfaction.

I have a memorable moment in my third or fourth year when we were given a teaser phrase to write a  creative story from. We were given the class lesson to write our story – probably an hour. I did so, quite enjoying the exercise, while at the same time dreading handing my beautiful work in to be criticised because the words I wrote were poorly formed, had gross spelling errors and sometimes just did not connect. The meaning of what I wrote was irrelevant, pailing  into insignificance compared to the fact that I can’t write. At least, not as they define it.

Once the hour was up, and to my horror, we were told to stand up at the front of the class and read our work.

Out loud.

To the whole class.

My instinct to hide and not be seen sent me into panic. You can’t hide at the front of the class. You can’t blend in. You are there to be judged. Holy crap on a stick. I contained my internal panic because even then, I had learned to hide how I felt.

I listened as almost thirty identical stories were read out. Polite applause after each one. Then, finally, it was my turn. I gathered myself and walked, slowly and reluctantly, to the front of the class, watching the whole class watching me, lining up their judgement rifles, ready to shoot me for being wrong. Again. I would plead my case, the squad would judge and I would be shot. I did not see friendly faces, I saw a judgemental firing squad.

I read my story. Because I wrote it, my poorly formed written words were not an issue. I knew what my story was. Unlike the brief paragraphs the horde had written, I tremulously read out the page and a half of fully formed story with a horror twist ending.


More silence.

“Well… my… um…” said the teacher.

“You’re so weird,” offered one of the riffle men. Head shot. I was done.

On my way home, walking alone between a group of kids in front of me and a group of kids behind –  never with the kids you see – I began to wonder. Thirty identical stories. I’m sure they didn’t think the stories were identical, but compared to mine, they were. How did they know? How did they know what to write to be the same without talking to each other? Why was mine so different?

"You laugh at me 'cause I'm different. I laugh at you 'cause you're all the same" quote, The most neurodivergent phrase in existence
The most neurodivergent phrase in existence

I spent a lot of time hiding under tables. The world was too big and too confusing. I needed to make it closed in and manageable. There is this scene in “Man of Steel” where Clark hides in a closet. I cried when I saw it. I would run away from school a lot. School was hard. It was full of judgment and contradictory rules. The principal was often sent to retrieve me. I was considered stupid, retarded, incapable. I was in a lot of special classes. All my skills were in things they didn’t measure or care about. The way they taught me made no sense, so I spent lots of time in private research learning what I needed to know and struggling to get my mind recognised. I failed a lot.

Kal'el hiding in the closet "The world is too big mom"
Kal’el hiding in the closet “The world is too big mom”

The Effect to my Psyche

Unlike many that I now know, I didn’t develop an anxiety or depressive disorder. It is quite common to develop anxiety as you spend a great deal of energy trying to hide from everyone all of the time, becoming hypervigilant to the inevitable attacks, critiques and corrections. It is also common to develop depression as all your efforts fail, as every move you make is a disaster and you learn that it is better not to move at all. I did suffer a lot and become what is now known as emo. I spent a lot of time sad,lost and lonely, becoming very introspective as I tried to work out what the heck was wrong – with me, or the world, I wasn’t sure which. I learned all the ways to not fly a flag and be noticed. – wear plain colours, stay back, don’t act odd. Despite all my rage, I was still just a rat in a cage. Despite all my effort to hide, I was noticed anyway. Not because of flags that I flew or hid, but because it was me. I tried so hard to be average. Clearly, I failed.

I did develop a mood disorder. I spent so much time hiding who I was and second guessing all of my emotions (the feelings I show), that I suppressed my reactions and feelings in favour of intellectually calculating what others needed to see. One cannot have feelings and bottle them up – they will find ways to leak out. In my mid twenties I would recognise this and work out how to manage my moods.

One of the main moods I needed to learn how to manage was rage. I had rage against the world. Against the partner I had left, the parenting I received, the world that didn’t accept me, at how I had grown to be the person I was. I recognised that I had become a defensive mechanism, controlling all those around me to ensure my safety. I had grown up wrong.

I hated who I’d become.

It was time to change that. It took me some time, and I got some coaching, therapy and a new crop of friends and got there. That change isn’t the point of this part. The point is how I grew up in a land that was not mine, amongst people who were not mine and how I responded to that.

Thinking From a Different Angle

I often described the way that I think as different to anyone else I know. That I have learned how others think in order to compensate. This means I have at least two solutions to most problems – the one I’d use, and the one I expect that you will use. I use to describe thinking space as three dimensional sphere, where “normal” people were a circle in that sphere, and coming in at an acute angle was my circle of thinking – how I saw the world. At the intersection between mine and theirs was the only location that I had to implement the interface I use to compensate for this difference. I had to work out what made them tick and what they were likely to do, so that I could squash my instinctive responses and substitute theirs.

When they fail to do a thing, I use my other mechanism to survive – my natural instinctive one. When other people aren’t around, it is so much easier. I do “me” instead of “fake you”.

Many people claim that neurodivergent people are not empathic. I posit that this is sometimes true, but often false. Imagine you go to another country. Someone tries to talk to you with words you do not understand. Are you deaf? Or is it just another language you have yet to learn? Some people are deaf. Mostly though, you just don’t know the language. It isn’t your native tongue. You might learn some of the words, but you are slower to respond and can’t express yourself fully. Given time, you can learn their language, but you don’t think in it. You think in your own language first, then translate it into their’s, and then you say the thing and hope you got it right. They say a thing, you hear it, work out the words you do know, try to fit it into the presenting context and then translate it into the words you do know and hope you got it right.

That is me. Translating all the time. I’m not deaf to you – I just struggle to understand.

Neurodiversity – Part 1

Humans are diverse. We have a range of different aspects, such as skin colour, eye colour, blood type, height, gender preference, sex, gender identity, culture, food preferences and so forth. Neurodiversity is the word used to discuss how our brains and minds work in a range of different ways, highlighting those who are neurotypical, in the middle of the bell curve, and those who are neurodivergent, at away from the middle of the bell curve.

In this Part we will cover some of the terminology and a little of the history.


Neruodiversity was first coined by Judy Singer, an Australian social scientist on the autism spectrum around 1990 and was first seen in print in 1998. The idea was to recognise that diverse peoples have always existed throughout the history of humanity and that being divergent from the local social norm is not a pathological condition, but a factor of being human.

The concept was rapidly embraced by individuals who identified with Autism, and was quickly adopted by other peoples who wanted to move away from “mother blaming” and toward recognition that there is nothing inherently wrong with them, that there is just difference.

Jim Sinclair 1993 speech is incredibly important. While Sinclair is talking specifically about autism here, replace any of the axis and it is still true.

“Non-autistic people see autism as a great tragedy, and parents experience continuing disappointment and grief at all stages of the child’s and family’s life cycle. But this grief does not stem from the child’s autism in itself. It is grief over the loss of the normal child the parents had hoped and expected to have … There’s no normal child hidden behind the autism. Autism is a way of being. It is pervasive; it colors every experience, every sensation, perception, thought, emotion, and encounter, every aspect of existence. It is not possible to separate the autism from the person—and if it were possible, the person you’d have left would not be the same person you started with. This is important, so take a moment to consider it: Autism is a way of being. It is not possible to separate the person from the autism.”

While neurodiversity was initially first embraced by Autism people and groups, other peoples have also embraced the concept.

ADHD, developmental speech disorders, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysnomia and intellectual disability; mental health conditions such as bipolarity, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, sociopathy, bsessive–compulsive disorder, and Tourette syndrome and the medical condition Parkinson’s disease.


For an excellent more in depth discussion on terminology, I recommend you check out Neurocosmopolitanism’s website [link].


Neurodiversity is the diversity of human brains and minds within our human species. It recognises that we are not all the same, we are not clones or copies of each other.

Neurodiversity is a biological fact, not an opinion or movement.


The neurodiversity paradigm is a specific perspective on neurodiversity that follows these basic 3 principles:

1) Neurodiversity is a natural and valuable form of human diversity

2) The idea that there is one “normal” or “healthy” type of brain or mind, or one “right” style of neurocognitive functioning, is a culturally constructed fiction

3) The social dynamics that manifest in regard to neurodiversity are similar to the social dynamics that manifest in regard to other forms of human diversity (e.g., diversity of ethnicity, gender, or culture)


The Neurodiversity Movement is a social justice movement that seeks civil rights, equality, respect, and full societal inclusion for the neurodivergent. If you consider other diversities that have made progress towards equality you will find that they too had social justice movements behind them.


Neurodivergent, sometimes abbreviated as ND, means having a brain that functions in ways that diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards of “normal”, as defined by the local bell curve.

Neurodivergent is quite a broad term as it can refer to many different aspects of divergence from the “norm”.


A person who is divergent from “normal” in more than one axis.


Someone who is born divergent from the “norm”.


Someone who develops neurodivergence in response to a life event or experience


Neurotypical, often abbreviated as NT, means having a style of neurocognition that falls within the local dominant societal standards of “normal.”

Neurotypical can be used as either an adjective (“They’re neurotypical”) or a noun (“They’re a neurotypical”).

Much like Straight is to Queer, Neurotypical is to Neurodivergent.


A neurominority is a population of neurodivergent people about whom all of the following are true:

1) They all share a similar form of neurodivergence

2) The form of neurodivergence they share is one of those forms that is largely innate and that is inseparable from who they are and is thus pervasive to their personality

3) The form of neurodivergence they share is one to which the neurotypical majority tends to respond with some degree of prejudice, misunderstanding, discrimination, and/or oppression (often facilitated by classifying that form of neurodivergence as a medical pathology)

The word neurominority can be used as either a noun (“ADHD are a neurominority”) or an adjective (“ADHD are a neurominority group”).


Where one or more members of the group differ substantially from other members, in terms of their neurocognitive functioning.