Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wearing “ADHD Eyeglasses” with Care

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.