How Do You Explain A.D.D. To Non-A.D.D.ers?

H ere are two ways to explain it.

From Dr. Hallowell:

Many metaphors come to mind to describe it. It’s like driving in the rain with bad windshield wipers. Everything is smudged and blurred and you’re speeding along, and it’s reeeeally frustrating not being able to see very well. Or, it’s like listening to a radio station with a lot of static and you have to strain to hear what’s going on. Or, it’s like trying to build a house of cards in a dust storm. You have to build a structure to protect yourself from the wind before you can even start on the cards.

In other ways it’s like being super-charged all the time. You get one idea and you have to act on it, and then, what do you know, but you’ve got another idea before you’ve finished up with the first one, and so you go for that one, but of course a third idea intercepts the second, and you just have to follow that one, and pretty soon people are calling you disorganized and impulsive and all sorts of impolite words that miss the point completely. Because you’re trying really hard. It’s just that you have all these invisible vectors pulling you this way and that which makes it really hard to stay on task.

Plus which, you’re spilling over all the time. You’re drumming your fingers, tapping your feet, humming a song, whistling, looking here, looking there, scratching, stretching, doodling, and people think you’re not paying attention or that you’re not interested, but all you’re doing is spilling over so that you can pay attention. I can pay a lot better attention when I’m taking a walk or listening to music or even when I’m in a crowded, noisy room than when I’m still and surrounded by silence. God save me from the reading rooms.

Source: What’s It Like To Have A.D.D.

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It’s like having Robin Williams in your head.

But the Robin Williams in your head can be a trickster. He can play games with you you’re not aware of, reversing letters on a page, turning bed to deb, or dog to god. He may reverse the orders of words. It’s fun for the Robin Williams in your head. But the rest of the world calls this dyslexia. Many people with passive ADD have dyslexia or dysplaxia, a similar problem with math.

Other people try to face down the Robin Williams in their heads. They argue with him. They try to become like him. Their heads become very busy places, and they may not have much time for what’s outside them. If you’re a boy and you have Robin Williams in your head, you will likely be diagnosed as having ADHD. You don’t know there’s anything wrong. You see the whole world from the inside out. You may have great trouble interacting with other people, or suffering other, slower people, like teachers.

Source: The Robin Williams In My Head

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  • onebigrhino

    I always explain as like static on a spit screen TV. When I take my meds I can have it on one clear channel at a time and change stations when I want to.

    ADD/Dyslexic CEO
    (No Relation to Jeff the blogger)

  • Jeff

    The problem may be that the screen is split multiple times. ;)

    My favorite metaphor is that A.D.D. is like having a radio that tunes all stations simultaneously. They come in at equal signal strength and, therefore, at the same volume. Each station tries to command your attention. The daily struggle of the is to concentrate on one station at a time.

    • john kirkhart

      i used to work in warehouse and i just couldnt seem to concentrate because i had a broken t.v. in my head that kept changing stations. And no matter how hard i tried i couldnt see to focusit kept running alll together

      • Jeff

        Ah…yes…I know the problem quite well. Though I've gotten much better at tuning the mental TV to a single station, still, I can hear the others in the background. There are always some days when they all come in equally strong and all I can do is mentally bounce from station to station. Enough about me. Have you been able to get this under control? Usually exercise and medication make it possible to get a handle on it.

  • katidid73

    Often times, the curse is that if you hear what is being said, you process it…you just don’t know it yet!

    It’s like a computer that has a bunch of data and it never gets defragmented…there is all of this information, it just might take a little longer to process or call up that information!

  • Betsy Davenport

    It is like a really terrific racehorse, trained, practiced and ready to go… but the jockey didn’t show up.

  • Betsy Davenport

    ADDis like a working window fan with a cord that is just a few inches too short. And when you move it closer to the outlet, the cord is still too short.

  • Jeff

    I love the racehorse metaphor. And I would modify the “window fan” metaphor to this: “ADD is like a working window fan with a cord that is just a few inches too short. When you move it closer to the outlet and plug it in, the fan falls out of the window.”

    • Veronica Fraga

      Oh yeah — that’s me, every Monday morning. The poster child for Murphy’s Law.

      • Jeff

        Sometimes we *ALL* feel like a poster child for Murphy’s Law.

  • Scott Hutson

    Great metaphors! The “Robin Williams in my head,” hits a grand slam for me. The “Window fan” is something I do(actualy physicaly) with my tools alot. I can temporaraly repair the damage, but they will always have that bruise on them, and not work as good, or be as nice as the tools the other guy has.

  • Betsy Davenport

    You’ve built a very complicated block tower and suddenly a two year old walks into the room and knocks it down.

    And the two year old is you.

  • Betsy Davenport

    Or, you could say, ADD is like a typewriter with its keys always jammed. You just get them unjammed, tap another couple of keys in the sentence you are writing, and before you enjoy success in that essentially simple enterprise, they jam again.

  • Betsy Davenport

    Like a teapot, into which you keep pouring, and in time, you are filled up with water.

    On the stove, as teapot, your water gets bigger and bigger and hotter; you just boil over, no one takes you off the burner and you can’t get off the burner yourself (um, you’re a teapot) and whistling and no one coming to turn down the heat.

    Worse, you can’t control yourself and no one can control you.

  • Betsy Davenport

    You’re on a horse doing cross-country competition when suddenly you come to a twelve foot high stone wall which you know your horse cannot jump, you know you should be able to jump the wall because it’s on your course map.

    So you’re stuck.

  • Scott Hutson

    It’s like having an electric panel(brain) installed by a Master Electrician with a trillion cirtuit breakers. And while the rest of the house is still being built, a disgruntled employee crawls up in the attic and clips a few wires under massive amounts of insulation , that will not stop the the sale of the house, but will only cause the homeowner confusion when he/she needs to use certain appliances.

    That just never seam to work as good as the next door neighbors do, that was built by the same builder…..49 yrs ago.

  • Bobcat665

    It’s like a jack in the box that won’t stay put! It has a nasty way of popping up with a completely inappropriate comment, or a spell of inattention, etc.

    • Jeff

      Great metaphor!

  • http://juhknow1 Juh-know

    Like being a passenger in a car full of people but you’re the only one with your head sticking out the sun roof.
    juh know 1

  • Veronica Fraga

    Having ADD is like being a contestant in one of those “Grab a Million Bucks” plexiglass wind-tunnel booths, with a gazillion hundred dollar bills blowing around me. They’re so close that I can smell the ink… but I just can’t grab on to any of them.

    • Jeff

      What a fantastic description!!!

      • Veronica Fraga

        This was in my inbox this morning. Laughed so hard, I just had to share. All but about 5 are dead-on for me. How ’bout you?

        Terry Matlen’s Checklist for Moms Who May Have ADD

        1. You paint all your walls white because you can’t decide on a color scheme.
        2. Your family’s favorite restaurant is the local hospital cafeteria because everyone can pick out what they want.
        3. You buy 30 pairs of underwear because otherwise, you know you’ll run out of clean ones. And you still do.
        4. Your wardrobe is all black and white so you don’t have to figure out what outfits go together.
        5. You’ve learned the fine art of nodding while smiling because you can’t follow conversations at parties.
        6. You freak when you’re introduced to someone with a double name, like Mary Ann, Ann Marie, etc. because you
        will never remember which part of the name comes first.
        7. You’ve lived in your neighborhood for over 10 years and still don’t know your neighbors’ names.
        8. You’re afraid to get a cat because you’re worried he’ll starve to death.
        9. Your gray roots are usually showing.
        10. There are at least 5 bottles of ketchup in your pantry, but you keep thinking you’re running out and return with yet
        another bottle from the market.
        11. You order pizza more than once a week.
        12. You can remember your 5th grade teacher’s name, but not your child’s.
        13. There are permanent dents on your fingertips from spending too many hours on the internet.
        14. You find your watch in the freezer.
        15. You have nightmares about forgetting to pick up your 4 year old from nursery school.
        16. You HAVE forgotten to pick up your 4 year old from nursery school.
        17. The definition of a scavenger hunt is looking for your wallet in your purse.
        18. You realize the milk has gone bad when you walk in the house and wonder who threw up.
        19. You open up a new checking account every 12 months because you’ve given up trying to balance your account.
        20. You find out you have three copies of The Dummy’s Guide to Organizing.
        21. The back of your hands are purple from all the reminders you’ve written on them.
        22. You own stock in Post-Its.
        23. You own an iPod, cell phone, laptop, digital camera but can’t find their chargers.
        24. You are unable to fold sheets.
        25. You don’t pay your bills even when you have money in the bank to cover your checks.
        26. Your handwriting is worse than your toddler’s scribbles.
        27. You’ve forgotten to use a colander when draining the spaghetti in the sink.
        28. Getting your eyes checked is a nightmare because you never know if “1” looks better than “2.”
        29. You call your daughter by your sister’s name. Her entire life.
        30. You’ve gotten a car wash twice in five years.

        • Veronica Fraga

          One more addition, from my own personal list of “Challenges and Creative Accommodations”:

          You set up all your bills on AutoPay, so you only have to worry about one thing — keeping enough money in there to cover them.

          • Jeff

            That’s supposed to be a good technique. However, my income is too erratic to do that. But I pay lots of things online so I don’t have to write out checks.

        • Jeff

          Making adjustments for being a Dad as opposed to a Mom…I can definitely relate to a number of these. “You are unable to fold sheets.” This jumped out at me because it kind of reminds me of my inability to wrap a gift. My wife knows that holiday time…it’s all on her. Uh oh. This one – “You don’t pay your bills even when you have money in the bank to cover your checks” – jumped out at me too. I better stop reading this list. ;)

  • anon

    Thanks for all of the metaphors! I think that will help maybe…
    Does anyone know the science behind ADD?
    Trying to explain that I have just been diagnosed with ADD to my family is a nightmare. They think that this is a Changeable Behavior, its all in my head, and that I can “Concentrate” if I set my mind to etc…. But I am pretty sure it is a Disorder and not a Behavior. Oy I just don’t know how to explain this to the old folks!!

  • Katy Rollins

    Funny. Robin Williams always reminded me of my very ADHD father. Because of his impish, frantic energy and behavior ;)

    • Jeffs ADD Mind

      A shame your father couldn’t parlay that into a career in comedy…though one might say that all ADHDers live the life of a comedy…a comedy of errors.

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