How much do you know about neurodiversity? How about race, gender, sexuality, class, or ableness?
I wasn’t “officially” diagnosed with ADHD until college, in the late 90’s.
At that time, much less was known about ADHD, and far less was shared openly. The methods of treatment on offer could be boiled down to a handful of medications, all of which seemed to have the same goal of “correcting” my brain to be more “normal.”
It wasn’t until many years later, after several unsuccessful rounds of medication that I found what worked for me: embracing the gifts of ADHD, acknowledging and communicating my weaknesses, using systems to stay on track, and putting myself into environments that worked along with my strengths and weaknesses.
The real story, however, is about the 20+ years between my first realization and the present day.Discrimination, Gaslighting, and Erasure
Throughout my life, people have told me -- to my face -- that “ADHD is not real,” suggesting instead that I was merely lazy or undisciplined. Some have acknowledged that ADHD is real but usually speak about it as little more than a punchline about short attention spans.
“Oh man, I’m so ADD right now. LOL”
Throughout my formal education, teachers would note my inability to sit still. So many of my teachers would say the same things. These phrases haunt me to this day.
“Jeffrey is very smart if he would only just apply himself. I’m afraid if he doesn’t learn to sit still or follow directions, he’ll never reach his full potential.”
At work, I would receive praise for my creativity and strategic insights, my willingness to stay late, and my ability to perform at a very high level with little preparation. Yet, I would also receive warnings with threatening undertones that if I didn’t start showing up on time, checking my email more frequently, or managing my tasks with greater consistency, that disciplinary measures would be taken.
Time and time again throughout my life, people have wanted the benefits of my mind without any of the drawbacks. When I’ve chosen to share the things I struggled with, I’ve often been met with dismissive comments, being told I’m making up excuses, difficult to work with, or asking for special treatment. All of this made me question whether or not I really was just lazy, undisciplined or stupid. I chose instead to hide who I am, under the mask of normalcy.
This is my story, but this is a story that is far more common than you may realize.The Five States of Awareness
While this post has so far explicitly focused on my neurodiversity, the following framework applies when thinking about and discussing other intersectional identities including race, gender, sexuality, class, ableness, and more. One of the first steps in creating a kinder, safer, and more equitable world, is to understand the impact of various states of awareness. You simply are not in the conversation for positive change until you locate yourself on an awareness spectrum.
Here’s how I think of it…Unawareness
For the sake of this framework, I’m going to use Unawareness as the most neutral point possible on the continuum. This is a person who is 100% completely oblivious and unaware about a particular issue.
In my case, this would be someone who has never heard the term ADHD in their life. While this person may cause harm, it would be completely unintentional.
The moment this person is made aware at all, they have a choice of which direction of go but can no longer be considered unaware.Passive Awareness
This is a person who is passively aware of something, has heard about it but doesn’t really understand it, or seek to understand it because it doesn’t affect them personally. Because of this, they may not understand the challenges or problems associated with this issue and as a result may unintenti