ADHD Meaning: What is it Really?


ADHD its meaning and definition

The name Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) doesn’t do the “disorder” justice. It isn’t a disorder or attention, nor is it one of hyperactivity. I hope this page and the pages linked to it will help you understand a little about ADHD. This should be especially valuable to you if you or someone you love are struggling with ADHD. ADHD has been around since the 1800’s contrary to what you might have heard in those articles you have read on the internet. Although almost everyone in my household suffers from it, someone once sent me a book once called “There is No Such Thing as ADHD." I also read an article once about how none of the children in France have ADHD because of the way they are parented. This is simply nonsense. ADHD is a medical based disorder and it is about as genetic as height. It is not caused by how you were raised or what you eat. It is not a behavioral disorder caused by parenting! Because its  name is misleading, many people are confused about what it is. You would think ADHD means someone who has hyperactivity and attention problems. It doesn’t.

ADHD is a disorder of executive functioning. This means it impacts attention, self-monitoring and the regulating of behavior and executing tasks. Understanding these issues, rather than just believing it is a disorder of attention and hyperactivity, can help tremendously.

So How Does ADHD Impact Attention?

ADHD impacts the ability to sustain and shift attention. It is not necessarily indicative of short attention span. Because the name is misleading, many parents think that if their child does not always have difficulty paying attention it means they don’t have ADHD. Many people who suffer from ADHD have the superpower of hyper focus. However, as the need to focus on things in their environment goes up, especially challenging things come their way, or something they are uninterested in, presents itself they are unable to shift their focus. If you are an adult and workplace stress go up, or a child at school, this translates into attention difficulties, or difficulties completing tasks.

A child with ADHD might be called to dinner, and if they are playing a video game it can be very hard to shift their focus. Unfortunately, the parent may misinterpret this as defiant or oppositional behavior. It can certainly LOOK like that. And in this case, the child is just having trouble shifting their attention. A similar phenomenon can happen in the workplace. ADHD it is not a disorder of attention. Just one of shifting attention. The name really lends to confusion of the meaning of the disorder, and problems with its treatment.

Self Monitoring and Regulating Behavior

In people with ADHD working memory is often impaired.  For example, a child with ADHD is unable to hold 3 things in their mind at once when you give them a list of things to do. If you have an ADHD spouse and you tell them some things to pick up at the grocery store, they will likely not remember them all. You or your child may also have difficulty processing, accessing and recalling information due to your ADHD. Saying to an ADHD child “Go make your bed, sweep your room, and bring your clothes down to the laundry room” will never yield the outcome you desire. If you do not understand this, it can result in what looks like defiant and disobedient behavior. This can result in unnecessary stress in your house if you try to respond with discipline, and if your child does not understand their disability shame and low self-esteem. Similarly, if you yourself suffer from ADHD, and you don’t understand that your forgetfulness is a direct result of your disorder, you will suffer in the same way. 

Emotion Management and ADHD

Emotion management is an area that is also frequently impaired by ADHD. Reactivity, frustration impulsive behavior, and tantrums are often seen in children and adults with ADHD. If the the person with ADHD and the people around him or her  do not understand this illness and it's impact more problems ensure. The stress and the conflict caused by this misunderstanding will cause feelings of shame, self-criticism and alienation.Education is so important! Understanding the illness helps the person suffering from it search for and acquire the proper skills to mitigate it.  

Often people with ADHD will shut down, isolate themselves and develop low self esteem in response to this lack of understanding of their illness. This paired with the stigma associated with the behaviors that result from their illness, can lead to secondary issues of depression and anxiety. Learning skills of self-compassion can help tremendously. For parents of children of ADHD, and spouses of people with ADHD learning and practicing not responding in a judgmental way (although still setting limits) can be tremendously helpful.


ADHD is a Disorder of Planning and Self Managment

ADHD is a disorder of Planning and Self-Management

The neuroimaging studies of the ADHD brain show differences in the front part of the brain responsible for organizing, prioritizing, time management, and motivation. Not surprisingly, these are the areas people with ADHD struggle with. As a child grows into adolescence this becomes more apparent. Teens with ADHD need a lot of guidance specifically in these areas. They need school interventions, the setting of boundaries around technology and may need to delay driving. They are at a high risk for motor vehicle accidents.


Adults with ADHD will need to learn about how to help themselves and what options and interventions are available. In many cases medication may be an option and interventions are available. There are other options that are effective such as yoga, exercise, mindfulness, and neurofeedback.

People who struggle with ADHD often don't understand the meaning of their illness due to the name Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder failing to capture the multiple domains of their life that are impacted.

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ADHD meaning Sources

Webinar from ADDA. (Producer). (2019). Attention doesn't half describe it -with Doctor Mark Bertin[Video webinar]. Retrieved


Dr Bertin's website