Maybe this has happened to you. As soon as you started learning about ADHD, you suddenly saw it all around you. No, it's not that new people with ADHD suddenly started popping up in your midst; rather, you started seeing oh-so-familiar behaviors in a new light, through the lens of ADHD knowledge.
Thanks to 21st century brain-science breakthroughs, we’re developing enlightened attitudes about the organ linked to everything we do, feel, or think: the brain. Yet resistance remains, so we can't expect everyone to openly embrace what, after careful study, we've come to accept: ADHD is real, it is more common than anyone knew, and, when left unacknowledged, ADHD symptoms can limit the options and self-realization of those who have it—and their loved ones, too.
Is there a parallel in history, when knowledge that promised to vastly expanded human potential somehow gained acceptance only slowly and amid great opposition? Yes indeed, and now we can’t imagine how our ancestors didn’t immediately “see” the benefits of one such invention: eyeglasses.
Eyeglasses debuted in the 13th century, though crude attempts date back to ancient Rome. It took a few hundred years to perfect the design but much longer to erase the stigma. That’s right, the stigma from wearing eyeglasses. To avoid making “spectacles” of themselves, many people preferred stumbling around.
These days we call eyeglasses “eyewear”—chic accessories for those who need them and vanity items for some who don’t. Eye exams take place routinely, and nobody questions the necessity of "vision correction." More relevant to our analogy, no one suggests that if you can’t see well enough to read then you’re probably not smart enough to understand what you’d be reading. Three cheers for progress.
Vision: A Function of the Brain as well as the Eye
The example of eyeglasses offers a practical application in explaining ADHD. Consider this fact: Vision is only partly a function of the eye. Yes, the eye receives sensory input in the form of light hitting the retina. But those light patterns are then converted into electrical signals, which travel along brain pathways to a visual processing center. That’s where your brain tells you what you’ve seen and makes sense of it. Or doesn’t.
For some people, no set of eyeglasses will help to correctly process all that they are seeing. For example, some individuals with ADHD might see the words on the page perfectly but not remember their meaning or how to put them in context. They might see a car traveling in the oncoming lane but fail to process accurately its speed and whether they have time to turn left in front of it.
Other sensory difficulties can arise with ADHD, too. The brain signals relating to hearing, touch, taste, and smell—even the respiratory and cardiovascular systems—can also become “lost in translation” on the journey to the brain centers that process them. If you have trouble grasping this concept, you're not alone; many physicians don't understand it, either. Which might account for why they fail to see untreated ADHD at the foundation of so many conditions presenting in their treatment offices: obesity, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, diabetes, hearing disorders, and so forth.
As exciting as you might find your newfound ability to detect possible ADHD symptoms all around you, thanks to your new ADHD Eyeglasses, you might want to stifle the common temptation to start “diagnosing” loved ones and acquaintances or that fidgety guy ahead of you in the grocery check-out line. For one thing, you might be wrong; only a trained professional can make a diagnosis. More critically perhaps, you could be right.
Certainly, many might welcome your observation with gratitude, relieved to finally understand why their lives often seemed unnecessarily frustrating. Others, however, will greet your news with defensive walls that, once erected, might remain immoveable. Either way, the manner in which you initially share your insights can dramatically affect outcome.
Many People with ADHD Cannot See They Have it
What’s more, no matter how clearly you start seeing ADHD, it’s important to know that many people with ADHD might not see things the way you do.
The person with weak vision may not realize what they’ve been missing until trying on eyeglasses. Personally, I’ve gotten a shock when I've neglected to remove my reading glasses before ambling into the kitchen. (And here I'd thought the counters were spic ‘n’ span!) Likewise, a person with undiagnosed ADHD knows only the way life has always been. Moreover, the very “brain wiring” associated with ADHD symptoms can impair people’s ability to accurately see themselves or you.
Let’s hope it doesn’t take society much longer to start seeing that ADHD symptoms, left unaddressed or even unrecognized, can hinder individuals from accurately perceiving the world and finding a fulfilling place in it. Moreover, just as a loved one’s ADHD deficits can distort their self-image, it can also distort his or her image of loved ones. Who wins in a world full of misperceptions and distortions?
A note to this blog's readers. I apologize for my unplanned hiatus. Look for monthly posts again now.
I welcome your comments!