One thing most people with ADHD can agree upon is that ADHD is not so much about not paying enough attention to something but rather too much attention…to everything!
Why is that?
Well, for starters, our environment is rarely stimuli-free. As I sit here and write, I feel like I’m in a vacuum with only the clicking sound coming from my keyboard. But if I really stop and think about it, I can hear a whirring in the background coming from the air conditioner, which is in the other side of the house. There’s also the faint sound of my son and his buddy playing basketball outside. Looking around, I notice what’s left of my tuna sandwich; it’s a little smelly, I suppose. And now that I think about it, I’m really hot; it’s a very hot day.
When you have ADHD it might look more like this. I’d be sitting here wanting to write an article but the sound of the air conditioner and the sound of the kids playing could easily distract me from my thoughts. If I had ADHD these sounds would be just as front and center as my nails clicking on the keyboard. The leftover lunch and the heat on the back of my neck might drive me crazy. So, instead of sitting in peace writing away, I could be getting up from my desk to throw out the sandwich. While in the kitchen, I might get some water to cool myself down. Next, I’d be in the refrigerator and thinking about how I really need to go to the grocery store. No telling where this might go…
The takeaway? With ADHD attention is captured by interest and curiosity. It can also be hijacked. Of course, with ADHD I could go back to writing. I could consciously tell myself, ignore the sounds and the smells. But that takes a lot of effort and that’s the point to understand.
- Without ADHD, all of this is automatically assigned to the background of the mind by the brain, specifically, the executive function, which is located in the Pre-Frontal Cortex.
- With ADHD this has to happen consciously with effort.
Sometimes people say that ADHD creates a very flat landscape and that only what sticks out for them capture’s their attention. Like something shiny, beckoning them to come and investigate. Things they become curious about engage them in a way that’s completely different from someone without ADHD.
You see, without it, things you’re curious about can easily become fleeting thoughts. Yes, I’m curious how much I weigh at the moment because I’ve been dieting, but that’s not motivating me to get up and weigh myself! Maybe that’s a bad example. (Haha) I’m also curious about what’s playing at the movies, but I have to sit here finish this article. The search for flicks gets subconsciously filed under, DO LATER. It’s hardly a blip on my radar.
So, the next time you see ADHD seemingly “take away” a person’s attention, look around and listen, what is it they are noticing? What is it that they have to assign to background intentionally, with energy and effort? And how can you help make it a little easier? Perhaps, you can put a spin on an activity so that it does tap into the person with ADHD’s interests and curiosity. Please feel free to share your thoughts below.