A word meme with white text on a blue background which says: If we as parents and educators truly embrace the neurodiversity paradigm, and accept that there is not one correct way for children to move, focus, plan or think, then we have to remove 'deficit' and 'disorder' from ADHD. - Briannon Lee

What if we changed the Ds in ADHD?

What if we changed the Ds in Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) from Deficit and Disorder to Difference and Diversity?

Children (and adults) with ADHD are terribly stigmatised in our society. ADHD is seen as either a fictitious invention of modern life, or a disorder in children needing treatment.

The neurodiversity paradigm* disputes both of these perspectives. Neurodiversity, the diversity of human brains and minds, is a fact. Autism, dyslexia, bipolar and ‘ADHD’, are not fictitious inventions, but words that describe and group different brains and minds. There is no ‘ideal’ brain or correct style of neurocognitive functioning; all are valued.

There is not an ideal or correct way for children to move, focus, plan, or think; all are valued.

If we as parents and educators truly embrace the neurodiversity paradigm, and accept that there is not one correct way for children to move, focus, plan or think, then we have to remove ‘deficit’ and ‘disorder’ from ADHD.

As a person ‘with ADHD’, with children with similar attention-focus-energy differences, here’s my suggestions for changing those Ds from a disorder and deficit perspective to valuing diversity and difference:

1. Change the words we use

Words are powerful. They shape our perceptions of ourselves, and the way others see us. We have to find alternatives to ADHD and Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. I have been trying out Attention/activity differences or Focus/energy differences (or divergent for identity first language).

We should also change the negative words associated with these differences, such as: distractible, impulsive, inattentive, hyperactive, disorganised, inconsistent, forgetful, and hyperfocussed. Try instead – intuitive, creative, involved, persistent, focussed, moving, energetic, spontaneous, and enthusiastic.

2. Improve environments

This is one of the most powerful steps we can take at home and in schools. Provide lots of opportunities to fidget, pace, jump, wriggle and climb safely in your school and home. Add lots of ways to move, jump and climb outside too.

Don’t forget our restless brains! Having easy and free access to technology, puzzles, various art mediums, books, and creative inspiration is good for us.

3. Shift expectations

Families that expect children to never interrupt, be quiet, sit still, and listen to parents are very difficult for children with attention-focus/energy differences. Schools that expect children to learn through oral instruction and seated desk work, work on single tasks, be quiet, sit still, have few movement breaks, take turns, line up, never interrupt and follow instructions are very difficult too.

We must appreciate and value children who need to move, be spontaneous, multitask and focus as they want, create, work iteratively on projects, and eat, play and learn in enthusiastic bursts or while moving.

4. Medication is OK. Support and accommodations are important!

Children and young people have a right to have their needs met at school and home. Flexible education that includes various modes of instruction and learning, and values creativity and child-directed learning is valuable. Parents and educators can provide support with planning and remembering tasks, and scaffolding to support energy and movement differences in play with peers and siblings. Giving lots of opportunities for unstructured physical activity and participation in sports or dance can be valuable. Inspiration and stimulation for busy brains is important too!

It is OK to make informed decisions about medication, especially if you or your child are experiencing distress or significant impacts on your daily life.

5. Celebrate neurodiversity

Appreciate and value the unique strengths that people with attention-focus/energy differences bring to relationships, communities, work and civic life. For example creativity, spontaneity, discovery, intuition, energy, expressiveness and leadership.

Furthermore, appreciate and value your own unique brain. Exploring your own differences might help you identify something really important about yourself, and will definitely help you relate to children and young people in your life!

<3 Briannon


*For more about neurodiversity, the neurodiversity paradigm and movement, please see Nick Walker’s definitions – http://neurocosmopolitanism.com/neurodiversity-some-basic-terms-definitions/

For those who prefer visual presentation of information, Michelle Sutton’s neurodiversity infographic is a great primer on neurodiversity – http://michellesuttonwrites.com/66-2/the-basics-of-neurodiversity/

4 replies
  1. Cassandra Oakdown
    Cassandra Oakdown says:

    I think that unless the condition is pathologizing the person themself, “Disorder” should be changed to “Dynamic.” For instance, I say “Autism Spectrum Dynamic” but “General Anxiety Disorder” because having anxiety does make my life a lot more difficult, whereas being Autistic is a source of pride and community.


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