I heard yesterday that ten percent of people are left-handed. And then I thought, “Whoa. That’s about the same number of people who have ADHD.”
Okay, there’s a margin of error there. The sites I linked to above, which were the first I found on a Google search of each, say that 10-12% of people are left-handed, whereas 5-11% of children are diagnosed with ADHD. So it’s not exact. But I’m going to go with it. Because there is no longer any stigma about being left-handed, where as ADHD is something that is “diagnosed.” And that’s what I’m writing about.
Think about it. If ADHD is as prevalent as left-handedness, then maybe we need to take the word “disorder” out of the name. Maybe “treating” ADHD so that kids can succeed in school is akin to tying down left arms so that kids can learn to write right-handed. Will the kids learn to function in the way we want them to? Most of them will. But will they reach their full potential? Will they feel proud of themselves while they do it? And are we doing them lasting harm in the process? No, doubtful, and quite probably.
I can’t remember if I’ve written about my ADHD, but I only got diagnosed last year, and I mostly diagnosed myself, although it’s since been corroborated by actual professionals. I have Inattentive Type ADHD, which is mostly internal, and doesn’t include hyperactivity. It’s not at all uncommon for girls with Inattentive Type ADHD to remain undiagnosed. Looking back, I can see that my ADHD was an issue for me in school. Teachers observed that I was disorganized and that I sometimes failed to follow directions correctly. I fell down the stairs fairly regularly. And my social skills were delayed. But I wasn’t disruptive or disrespectful, and I was smart, so I was able to get good grades.
And here’s the thing. When I was diagnosed, I realized that a lot of the things I could never explain to KPD about the way my brain works turn out to be elements of ADHD. The way I notice sounds and smells that KPD can’t detect. The way I can keep track of all the dogs on the street while we’re out walking Harpo, and therefore make good choices about when to greet a dog and when to avoid one. The way I solve work problems in the middle of the night, or find a place to buy a hedgehog within 48 hours of KPD mentioning that we should get a hedgehog, or read an entire book in one sitting without remembering to eat. These are superpowers. And the problems we’ve had because of ADHD are mostly not caused by ADHD. Sure, there are times when it genuinely causes problems, like when I get a migraine because I was reading a book and forgot to eat. But most of the time, ADHD isn’t the problem.
There’s a reason kids have much more of a problem with ADHD than adults, and it’s not because people grow out of it. People mature, gain skills, and learn how to cope, sure. But the other thing that happens is that people finish school. Adults choose their homes, their jobs, and their friends. We decide what we eat and when. We pick our own bedtimes. We can use coffee and alcohol to regulate our moods and behaviors. Kids, however, are all expected to go to school. And all schools, when you get down to it, are pretty much the same.
So if ten percent of the population has ADHD, maybe it’s time we stop treating that 10% like there’s something wrong with us. There isn’t anything wrong with us, any more than there’s something wrong with left-handed people. We need to find a way to make school work for kids with ADHD, instead of making kids with ADHD conform to school. Just like left-handed kids need to learn to deal with right-handed notebooks ink smudges on their hands, kids with ADHD need to learn to cope in a world that may not be designed for them. But they won’t learn it by being medicated and shamed. They need to learn the skills that will help them succeed in life. ADHD makes people creative, and hard-working, and decisive. So teach the kids to make decisions, and lead, and negotiate. Teach them to fight for what they believe in. Teach them to try and to fail. Teach them to identify a good idea and follow it to its conclusion, and teach them to identify a bad idea and let it go. Teach them to ask for help when they need it, and that making mistakes is okay. Show them that their superpowers, properly honed, can make them great.
UPDATE: I should be clear that this isn’t a screed against medication for ADHD. The world is the way it is, and if medication helps you, you should take medication. I would like the world to change. And I would also like parents and teachers in this world to make sure kids who are medicated know that the medication is just a tool, like glasses. Far-sighted people have and advantage at hunting. But maybe they can’t read without glasses. So they should wear glasses in school so they can read. But if they’re playing baseball, maybe they take their glasses off so they can see the ball better. Medication for ADHD should be used just as thoughtfully.