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Yes, we can focus: ADHD Myths

Updated: Jan 22, 2022

Myth #3: : People with ADHD can't ever focus. Myth #3 reflects the problem—in part.  Of course, ADHD people can focus.  But why do a lot of people think we can’t?  And why do many people with ADHD think our ability to focus is “impaired”. I say “many”—but not all. I have ADHD and I don’t think my ability to focus is impaired.  Quite the opposite. Again, it is psychological “science” that has much to answer for. Take DSMIV  : which defines Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, as a neurological impairment.  “Deficit” means we lack the ability to pay attention—which is not the case at all.  Rather, we have a surplus of attention.    As I said elsewhere, we pay attention to things that interest us or are relevant here and now.   Our “distractability” comes from high levels of situational awareness, which means we are globally attentive – a great asset if you are a hunter in a forest or, in a more modern context,  a fighter pilot,  but not so much in an office,checking spreadsheets, and trying to screen out background noise, random tooth-sucking, telephones ringing, and Mr. Jones’ poorly disguised farts.

For the record, I have done jobs like this-- including a job as an accounting clerk.  I lasted just two months. And it was sheer hell.  “Why do you go to the bathroom so often” said my boss. 

“Oh, urinary problem”, I said. “Oh, I understand”, she said.  Chronic cystitis is a problem for long term chair sitters.   I made sure that didn’t happen to me.   I left and applied for a job as meter reader.  After four hours of tests, which I tried hard to fail, I was told I had scored too high and was over-qualified.   I thought of the police but there was no way I could score low enough on their tests! So it was back to digging ditches with my buddies from Corrections – the (ex) burglar and (ex) car thief.  They introduced me to another job…but that is another story….  One thing about ADHD is you are often accepted by people you wouldn’t expect.  Other outcasts. I digress.  That’s what we do?  

Does it bother you?  If you truly have ADHD, it shouldn’t because your mind likely works vortically-- in loops -- too. What we have is actually “multiattentionality”– as I said, a kind of global consciousness, which is mediated by intuition rather than so-called “executive function” which raises the levels of “latent inhibition”, filtering out realworld information, such Mr Jones’ farts—and permitting us to do ‘bot’ work.      Circling back to fighter pilots, the greatest fighter pilot of all time (arguably) was Col. John Boyd, known as "40 second Boyd" for his standing challenge that he could defeat any fighter pilot in mock combat in 40 seconds.

He never lost, not even once.  He had both ADHD and Asperger’s and was a creative polymath who devised the US’s winning aerial strategy in the First Gulf war and helped design the country’s must successful fighter jet –the F16. He said, “you have to make a decision: to be or to do.”  “Doing” means prioritizing results.  “Being” means fitting in. Boyd’s theory of dogfighting was summed up as the “OODA Loop”, now often taught in MBA schools, despite the fact that no one who teaches it actually seems to understand it. 

OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.  And it’s a Loop so you return to the beginning to do it again.  It is Fibonacci in military terms.  ADHD people are attentive to their surroundings, That’s the Observe part.  If something in the surroundings is relevant, they Orient to it.  Then they Decide what it is likely to do next and what they can do.    Then they Act.  After that they start again. It's a loop. They are results oriented. But the next loop may have different results.  To do this well, requires practice, preparation, knowledge,and imagination. So we tend to hyperfocus on things we are interested in, looking at every aspect – from every angle –often when we are supposed to be doing something else. Organizationally mandated foci, such has school course materials and corporate tasks are often narrow, one dimensional, static, and abstract.  ADHD HyperFocus open-ended, multidimensional  and dynamic.  What we see is always framed by a global perspective rooted in emotion and reality. We can focus as normals do—we just don’t want to. Its tap water. We want wine.    Myth #4.   All kids with ADHD are hyperactive.  Once again, the misunderstanding is inherent in DSMIV – and it’s use of the diagnostic term, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.     In fact, less than half of ADHD people are physically “hyperactive” beyond “normal” limits – and certainly not all the time.  In fact, our “hyperactivity” is often natural enthusiasm since we are multiattentional and results oriented. From our point of view, we are alive in a world that wants to eat our brains and make us zombies. 

 Why is high school detention a punishment?  Because you are supposed to sit there doing nothing.  For ADHD kids most of high school is detention, with our teachers forcing us to sit there doing “something” that we intuitively know is “nothing”, disposable knowledge that will soon be obsolete or simply irrelevant. Fidgety?  Guess why?   


Then again how do you expect ordinary people to “get” ADHD or ASD when Harvard psychologists can’t.   The irony is that many of these so-called “normals” will become like you and me after they retire and get older.  Multiattentionality is one of the neurological benefits of the ageing process.  Myth #5.  Only boys have ADHD. 

Twice as many boys are diagnosed with ADHD.

Here, the key word is “diagnosed”. Here, the key word is “diagnosed”.Sadly, we ADHD people are often our own worst enemies. ADDiTude, a popular ADHD site says:

ADHD is a very reliable diagnosis. As a matter of fact, it is one of the most reliable diagnoses in all of psychiatry, and in particular, child psychiatry. The reliability of diagnosing ADHD is on par with the reliability of diagnosing pneumonia with a chest X-ray (an example of an objective diagnostic test). This is quite impressive. (DSM Field Trials)

Assuming that ADHD is genetically based, for which there is good scientific evidence, the fact that twice as many boys are diagnosed with ADHD -- and medicated – would indicate a massive failure of diagnosis, something that has been remarked upon by some neurological pediatricians.

First of all not all children develop at the same rate. Einstein did not start talking comfortably until 6 years old, for example. Second, there are many conditions with the same “symptoms” as ADHD. And no, there isn’t any X-ray, MRI, or blood test to detect it. ADDittude says girls are less likely to be diagnosed because, well, they are girls--quieter and more docile than boys. Genderism?

Second, there are many conditions with the same “symptoms” as ADHD. 

And no,there isn’t any X-ray, MRI, or blood test to detect it.  ADDittude says girls are less likely to be misdiagnosed, even (they say) misdiagnosis doesn't happen because, well, they are girls--quieter and more docile than boys.  Genderism? Oddly enough this regressive gender concept gives support to the argument of some that ADHD does not exist at all – that it is the exuberance of youth and typical “male” behavior, especially at sexual maturity.  Testosterone – not dopamine? However, there is a set of genes associated with a range of behaviors including but not restricted to ADHD – that is the DRD4 R7 allele—known variously as the Hunter Gene, the Nomad Gene, the Wanderlust Gene, the Longevity Gene, the Slut gene, and so on. Everyone has DRD4 genes, but the R7 allele in ADHD people and others is just more complex.    It is associated with all sorts of things as its sobriquets suggest.  For example, liberals are more likely to have these genes than conservatives.  Entrepreneurs also.  Addicts, artists and inventors.  Some (usually non-violent) criminals.  People with the gene don’t necessary show the usual ADHD “symptoms”, which complicates things. Basically the gene regulates the dopamine system which is responsible for risk/ reward,response to stress, and other neurological functions.  People with ADHD have more dopamine receptors but generally lower levels of dopamine, keeping in mind the fact that dopamine levels are a response to situations and social contexts and to synergy with hormones and other neurotransmitters, especially oxytocin (the “love”hormone!). 

Our society is what you might call a “low dopamine” society.  As a result, people with the DRD4 7R allele tend to be more physically and mentally active, take more risks, and are more engaged than those without the gene.  They also have more lovers and intimate relationships.  Such activities generate norephinephrine, dopamine, and oxytocin while moderating serotonin.   As you can see, males in most modern societies have more freedom to engage in high dopamine activities, which makes them vulnerable to being categorized as having“ADHD”.

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