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of Lived Neurodiversity
The Neurodiversity Project
The Neurodiversity Project is an illustration series by Sara Tang, in collaboration with those with lived experiences of neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity refers to the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population.
I want to clear up some misconceptions about ADHD.
The DSM definition doesn't really even scratch the surface of what living with ADHD feels like, so it's hard to imagine what it's like just reading clinical manuals.
ADHD is an executive functioning disorder. So, the part of your brain that is in charge of planning, executing that plan, managing your time, motivation, etc.
Without medication battling your executive functioning feels awfully similar to trying to force a stubborn toddler into doing something they don't want to do. Imagine a toddler wanting to wear a snowsuit in the middle of summer. They scream, cry, have a huge tantrum, kick their legs... Many times you have drag them while you are repeatedly getting beat up just to get them in weather appropriate clothing. Other times, you are just too exhausted and the battle isn't worth it. It's a draining experience for everyone involved and sometimes you wish they would just cooperate for once.
But, my brain can't "just cooperate for once," just as a toddler isn't developmentally able to. For my brain, there is a fog in the way inhibiting its ability to do so.
To further the toddler analogy, when your brain is interested in something, it can feel impossible to pull it away (something we call hyperfocusing). So, while you may really need to go to the store, your toddler is suddenly extremely interested in the toy train you bought them a year ago (you know, the one they didn't care about it until right this second). So, they kick and scream as you drag them away from the toy. You remind them that it will still be there when you get home, but they either don't believe you or don't care. That's the ADHD brain when it comes to researching the history of socks, the Jonestown massacre, or how we came to discover that Vitamin C caused scurvy. It can be hard to shift focus and attention. Sometimes it feels virtually impossible.
ADHD also affects emotional regulation, sensory processing, and the ability to delay gratification (in other words we are emotional, overwhelmed by our environments, easily bored, and impulsive). Have you ever noticed that person who struggles with letting others finish their sentences? It's because their brain finished the sentence for you and got bored waiting for its turn to respond. It honestly takes me a lot of deep breathing and focus just to let people finish their sentences. Which must sound immature to most people, but it's rather exhausting when your brain wants so badly to do its own thing.
I think the most common misconception is that we are just high energy people who get distracted when they see a squirrel. Sometimes people think I would be good at cleaning, for instance. They think I must have boundless energy due to my ADHD diagnosis.
The squirrel thing isn't 100% inaccurate, but it doesn't touch the depth of what it means to have an executive functioning disorder and the energy it costs to be in a constant battle with yourself. Most of us struggle at keeping a clean house because of that executive functioning dysfunction. It takes a lot of planning and energy to carry out seemingly simple tasks and then those tasks build up. For those of us who are mothers, the tasks pile up quickly and children continually add to them. What's left at the end of the day is a chaotic house and no energy to tackle it.
One thing I am continually growing in is how to nourish and develop my neurodiversity while also striving to overcome my challenges. This world was created by the neurotypical, which is fine, but it can be easy to live in constant frustration with yourself when you feel like a square peg trying to be shoved into a round hole.
But, there is beauty in being different as well. I'm still learning how to unlock my full potential and grow every day. Every plant has its beauty and sometimes I feel like a plant who is still waiting to see what her merits are. But, there is hope as research continues to grow, of a world where we celebrate the ADHD mind and all the gifts it brings.
~ Amanda, 2019