Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (initialised to ADHD) is a neurodivergence which presents as a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that has a direct negative impact on academic, occupational, or social functioning. Inattention refers to significant difficulty in sustaining attention to tasks that do not provide a high level of stimulation or frequent rewards, distractability and problems with organisation. Hyperactivity refers to excessive motor activity and difficulties with remaining still, most evident in structured situations that require behavioural self-control. Impulsivity is a tendency to act in response to immediate stimuli, without deliberation or consideration of the risks and consequences.
There are several common traits and behaviors that can be associated with ADHD:
The following traits are examples of hyperfocus:
- performing hyperfocused tasks for an extraordinary amount of time
- becoming unresponsive to outside prompts (even to body signals like the need to eat or sleep)
- repetition of tasks to "perfection" rather than "good enough"
Naturally there could be positive outcomes when someone with ADHD hyperfocuses on beneficial tasks (e.g. studying a musical piece for an upcoming recital). In contrast, hyperfocus on non-beneficial tasks (like staying up late playing video games) can have the opposite effect. ADHD is a lifelong condition that some professionals believe should not be "cured". Rather the recommendation is to help the person with ADHD build coping mechanisms to direct their hyperfocus on beneficial tasks and minimize the impact of non-beneficial tasks.
Per ADDitude, Executive Dysfunction affects a person's ability to "engage in goal-directed action." This typically manifests in difficulty planning, completing tasks, and staying organized. This may mean someone with ADHD frequently has trouble starting chores, for example. In other cases, people with ADHD find it difficult to break large goals into small, actionable tasks.
Working Memory Issues
People with ADHD often have issues with their working memory. Working memory is important for decision-making and reasoning - it allows people to keep and reference multiple thoughts quickly when synthesizing information and also when context-switching. A deficit in working memory means that people with ADHD can seem forgetful and it makes context-switching especially difficult. It can also result in someone bouncing around between several tasks, especially when those tasks are mundane or uninteresting.
ADHD makes it hard to regulate emotional reactions. According to How to ADHD, Emotional Dysregulation is often overlooked, but it can be partly attributed to deficits in inhibition, self-soothing, focus, and working memory. In children, this can cause tantrums. Adults with ADHD are often expressive, excitable, and they often show atypically intense emotion.
Distractibility is one of the "hallmark" traits people think of when they think of ADHD. Because ADHD causes interest-driven behavior, people with ADHD often have trouble maintaining focus on uninteresting tasks. This means people with ADHD often jump between several tasks, and it can be very easy for them to become distracted by other things. Common distractors are loud sounds, other people, the Internet, and bright lights. Everyone experiences distraction at some point. However, for people with ADHD, distraction can be nearly constant and it disrupts focused, deep work.
Distractibility also has social consequences - in conversation, it can seem to others that someone with ADHD is not listening or does not care. A common behavior to counteract distractibility is "stimming", which is commonly associated with Autism. Many people with ADHD use fidget devices or other tools to stimulate their senses and keep themselves focused on a task or a conversation. Stimming is a natural reaction to anxiety or sensory overload, and it can help regulate focus.
People with ADHD often experience some combination of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. It is a diagnosable neurodivergence that affects both children and adults. What used to be diagnosed as either ADD or ADHD is now a single diagnosis called ADHD. ADHD has a few distinct subtypes: Inattentive, Hyperactive, and combined type.
People often say "I'm so ADD/ADHD" when they're referring to short periods of hyperactivity or inability to focus. It's used colloquially much like "I'm so OCD," and has many of the same negative ramifications for neurodivergent folks.
When people think of ADHD, they think of a very specific character. This character is almost always an able-bodied white boy, and he is usually hyperactive and extremely distractible. In TV, movies, and books, ADHD characters are almost always played by white boys, and the emphasis is on their tendency to get into trouble or their inability to listen to instructions.
Rather than saying "I was so ADD/ADHD" when meant without the medical diagnosis context, instead use:
The long-time emphasis on the hyperactive subtype of ADHD has resulted in a lot of gender and racial inequity in ADHD diagnosis and treatment. To parahprase René Brooks, it's very difficult for women, especially Black women, to obtain a proper diagnosis and treatment for their ADHD. Traits like inattentiveness and hyperfocus can be harder to recognize than the hallmark hyperactivity, which results in missed diagnoses in girls and women.
The casual usage of ADHD to refer to occasional focus or hyperactivity issues creates the stigma that ADHD is a "fixable", "temporary", or "fake" mental state that you grow out of, rather than a chronic neurodivergence that can involve medical treatment. As is the case with many disorders, the symptoms and behaviors can happen to many people regardless of diagnosis. What results in a diagnosis is when those symptoms create a significant impairment in someone's ability to function on a regular basis and they have access and means to obtaining that care.