October was ADHD awareness month, though it is a salient example of a neurotype that many people are “aware,” but few actually seem to understand. Discussions of ADHD from those who are aware of ADHD but lack nuanced understanding tend to be riddled with buzzwords like “big pharma” and lamentations of “overdiagnosis.”
Those who are more familiar with the intricacies of ADHD advocacy, however, recognize that one of the most considerable concerns within the ADHD community is how many children (and later, adults) with ADHD are not regularly getting their needs met.
Many who receive a diagnosis receive some supports amidst an unhealthy dose of behaviorism. Expectations seem to leave little room for kids to be themselves and perform within the realms of their capabilities. This statement is especially true for neurodivergent children, who are frequently subjected to rebukes and “reminders” for behaviors that speak less to a child’s intentions and more to whether or not they have been set up for success in the task at hand. For a child whose sensory and movement needs are unmet, a reminder to “stay in your seat” does not mitigate the barriers to doing so. Rather, it communicates to the child that meeting others’ requests and meeting their own needs should be mutually exclusive events. Imagine the impact that message can have on a child’s self-esteem, susceptibility to coercion, and trust in the leadership they encounter.
Another major problem impacting the ADHD community is actually stark underdiagnosis. As with other forms of neurodiversity, women and people of color are more likely to slip through the cracks of perceptions and criteria that have been normed on white boys. These marginalized groups may receive other, less accurate diagnoses instead – or no diagnoses at all! In a world in which supports are often tied directly to diagnosis, those who go undiagnosed are often labeled as “difficult,” creating frustration for all involved.
While advocacy and spreading of correct information is always important, the enormous disparity of those who qualify for an ADHD diagnosis and those who will receive one is unlikely to be bridged in the time between now and next October. The vast numbers of children (and, by extension, adults) who go undiagnosed indicates the importance of support availability regardless of diagnosis. Visual schedules and calendars serve a wide variety of children well and support executive functioning. Sensory tools that are available to all children give any who need them increased power to meet their own sensory needs. As with all children, regardless of neurotype, our job as adults is to give children with ADHD the experiences and supports they need to learn about their own needs and how to meet them.