I’ve wrestled my whole life with the question of “is ADHD a thing”, is it a product of the psychiatric and pharma world.
Some observations and conclusions:
1. Every country has different rates of ADHD— which means one of two things: 1) it doesn’t exist in those countries 2) its diagnosed less in those countries.
The question is, why would it be diagnosed less?
ADHD is classified as a “disorder”. This diagnoses is applied when psychological factors inhibit the ability to function within typical situations: problems learning, working, relationships. What our society or the DSM classify as normal or appropriate is entirely dictated by normative values: this is good, this is bad.
Every society has different values, etiquette, normative behaviors that it expects from its citizens. Some societies are more accommodating to differences in thinking, others want strong conformation.
You are only diagnosed if you have problems and go to the doctor. If you don’t have problems, you don’t get diagnosed.
That being said, the USA has a corrupt pharmaceutical industry. Over prescribing people with drugs for profit dilutes the diagnoses. A Dr can diagnose ADHD by identifying behaviors outlined in the DSM handbook, or by administering an IQ test. You must pay for an IQ test. Barely anyone does this. Most people just report generic symptoms and the Dr prescribes.
This over diagnose does a terrible service to those who genuinely struggle. It creates a general social skepticism of ADHD in general.
2. IQ testing is one quantitative measure that reveals cognitive mechanisms that explain attention related problems. World wide the IQ markers of ADHD are consistent across country populations.
3. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t think Dyslexia is real. Or Autism. It’s just the symptoms and problems are much more measurable and obvious when you’re mixing up letters, words, etc. Or completely socially inept.
Attention seems so much more within our control. The bottom line is that, these layers of complex cognitive mechanisms exist to various degrees whether we are conscious of them or not, and the severity of deficits exist on a spectrum that can be hard to select for. Plus, some people are fortunate to learn coping mechanisms early on, and some are not. So while the severity may be equal, the life challenges two people have due to ADHD may differ dramatically.
Often cognitive deficits are only obvious when it’s a severe divergence. Switching letters around is a hard, tangible symptom. May happen to anyone from time to time. But for dyslexics, it’s most of the time.
Similarly, paying attention for anyone may be influenced by zillions of environmental reasons. Some situations may be easier than others.
For most typical people, attention is a reflection of interest. Not interested, not paying attention.
For ADHD, interest and attention may or may not be related. I may really be interested, and really want to pay attention. But I can’t. It’s not as simple as just focusing. It’s almost beyond control. Peripheral noise just creates chaotic fireworks of thoughts, completely obscuring the focal point of the intended attention. Yes, you can learn coping mechanisms. But it isn’t as easy as “tuning in”.
The reality is, for some individuals, the brain may be wired differently, so that attention regulation is inherently inhibited, on a physical or chemical level.
4. Yes— We get what we give. Sometimes we choose our environment, and sometimes we don’t.
Sometimes we choose the games we play, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes environments are conducive to ADHD or Dyslexia, and some are not. I know for a fact that I would not do well in some occupations. Maybe I could get by, but I’d struggle. That’s the case for anyone. Some people are fluid in math, some in verbal. Is this genetic or environmental? It seems obviously genetic when you have a mathematical savant, or a prolific artist who pens or paints divine works as if the gods were minding their hands.
There’s obviously environmental factors that help or exacerbate our otherwise genetic disposition.
But that psychological genetic disposition exists nonetheless, and it is to a large extent, beyond our control. Just like the physical.
5 . ADHD is a feature, not a bug. Some people are short, some are tall, some are fast, some are slow, some are strong, some are weak. Some areas you can improve, some you can’t.
I don’t think it’s helpful to feel helpless or complain about the cards you’re dealt. It’s not helpful to identify with your strengths or weaknesses in general.
However, it’s important to acknowledge what they are. Otherwise, you’ll become frustrated. You won’t learn how to work around them, you won’t learn ways to improve them.
I think it’s important to acknowledge where you excel and where you don’t. I just don’t think it’s helpful to make it apart of your identity. That’s what leads to learned helplessness. I do think we can always improve.