ADHD is not an attention deficit

The term attention « deficit » is tremendously confusing. For starters, the term implies that the person is unable to concentrate at all or only for a very short period of time. However, when we focus on the internal functioning of a person with « ADHD », the attention is on the contrary, not lacking, nor disturbed in its modulation.


There is no single, unique nor universally good way to focus. Thom Hartmann has made an interesting comparison to illustrate the distinctive attention of people with « ADHD ». Their attention works like a radar scanner. Compared to neurotypical people, for whom attention more so compares to a projector.  Thus, the observation of the environment, an object or an image is achieved point by point. They are fully aware of their entire environment. We are talking about a multifocalized attention. Whilst the attention of a neurotypical individual only focuses on one point at a time.

People with this multifocalized attention are hypersensitive and perceptual. Thus, they have the ability to perceive the overall picture of a situation including all of the details, even those that usually go unnoticed for the majority of people. Therefore, it is extremely difficult for them to perceive only one thing at a time and to concentrate on it, if there is no relevant interest in doing so. To use the analogy of the psychologist Diane Dulude in her book ADHD, a Power to Rebalance, they constantly see the portrait in figure-ground perception*, without interruption. These people perceive the global nature of their environment in a very complex way. They are sensitive to ambient noise, light, people’s movements, etc. They see and feel everything, constantly. As psychologist Diane Dulude points out in her book, they have the ability to perceive different perspectives. This can represent a great strength and also a challenge to compensate for.

It is therefore wrong to believe that the person with « ADHD » does not perceive, nor pay attention to the details. In fact, it is the complete opposite. Also, when we have this ability to perceive all the details of a given situation, it becomes extremely difficult to remain focused on one specific thing at a specific time.

The difficulty that this type of attention represents lies mainly in the fact that the environment, particularly the school environment, is poorly adapted to this type of neurology. Teaching strategies and classrooms are designed considering the norm: the ‘’projector’’ type of attention, in other words: a single angle.

This perceptive hypersensitivity and intelligence leads them to be more easily decentered by their environment and it is on this particular aspect on which we can work with them.

Based on the model of attention deficit, the strategies that are commonly used serve to overcome this « false deficit ». Thus, these strategies, in addition to misleading the understanding of « ADHD », are not at all adapted to this neurology type. Rather than teaching the person how his brain works and respecting its functioning, we are working against his neurology in a compensatory mode. The behavioral methods currently used frame the person in a strict manner. We often set up a reward system to motivate the child, we impose limits, schedules to respect, we try to maximize his overall structure. However, at the root, « ADHD » is not a behavioral disorder, so there is nothing to correct or improve on. Behavioral methods also try to compensate for the « attention deficit », with the objective of getting the person to have standard (normal) attention rather than understanding how their attention works.

If, on the other hand, we teach the person with « ADHD » how his brain works, we can adapt to his approach to school work for example, daily tasks, social relationships, etc.

People with « ADHD » are best placed to understand their own way of learning. It is therefore essential to trust them, even if at first it may seem uncommon to do so. It is by focusing on their preferences, their creativity, giving them the opportunity to explore what suits them best that they will be able to not only better define themselves, but also understand their neurology and benefit from it.

When the person has a better defined self-conception and personal interests that arouse passion, his or her incredible motivation arises and she can use her high concentration ability to immerse herself in new creative ideas. Hyperfocalization is an incredible force often trivialized and at times even ignored when dealing with ADHD.

We can give the person tools so that they can improve autonomously their attention, without being constantly scattered. We can also accompany him in clarifying his self-conception by helping him to become aware of his interests and passions.

We cannot speak of attention ‘’deficit’’ since it is neither absent, nor inferior, nor deficient. All that there is, is one brain that works in a different way: a genetic variation in the treatment of information.

Being focused on one thing at a time is not the only way to perceive our world.


Mélanie Ouimet

Translation: Tanya Izquierdo Prindle


*figure-ground perception



Théorie du chasseur-cueilleur:

Le TDAH, une force à rééquilibrer : Le trouble de l’attention avec ou sans hyperactivitéDiane Dulude, PH.D, Les éditions du CRAM et les éditions Porte-Bonheur.  And translation : ADHD, a Power to Rebalance


1 thought on “ADHD is not an attention deficit”

Laisser un commentaire

Votre adresse de messagerie ne sera pas publiée. Les champs obligatoires sont indiqués avec *