Perceptual Differences in ADHD

ADHD continues to gain interest throughout those who do and do not have the diagnosis alike. Why is interest in this neurodevelopmental disorder gaining traction? Likely, it is a confluence of events, namely the movement toward neurodiversity, increasing acknowledgement of adult-diagnosed ADHD, and a continued normalization of mental health, in general.

As one of the most well-researched diagnosis, ADHD has been one of the first to lose some of its mental health stigma; however, this movement has been, in part, a result of a growing understanding that ADHD is not solely about difficult behaviors in children but also differences in information processing in adults (i.e., neurodiversity).

One of the hallmark features of these differences in perception between those with ADHD versus neurotypical individuals is an altered sense of time. Time perspectives, put extremely simply, different preferences in where people typically orient their attention in time, such as being future-oriented or past-oriented (see Philip Zimbardo writings for more on time perspectives).

While typically individuals have one that is preferred over the other time perspectives, Dr. William Dodson puts forth the notion that those with ADHD are immersed in the present. Thus, ADHDers have difficulty, likely at the expense of excessive working memory, to differentiate between time perspectives, such as being able to disentangle future events into categories like short-term, intermediate, and long-term future states. Conversely, the past is loosely structured, if at all, in typical time structures of memory and, collectively, the present is somewhat mixed together with the past and future. Dr. Dodson describes this state of time perception as being curvilinear, which is defined by Dictionary.com as “consisting of or bounded by curved lines.”

While this definition doesn’t clarify much more of what is meant by having a curvilinear perception of time, Dr. Dodson’s usage of the term is in respect to the point that people with ADHD have a skewed sense of time, and it’s particularly skewed toward the present. Therefore, this bias in time perspective could substantiate Dr. Dodson’s conception that ADHD makes it difficult to distinguish, or parse out, the future and past from the present moment.

If this is the case with ADHD, then it would help to explain ADHDers’ challenges with learning from past mistakes and effectively planning for the future. One extension from this idea is it’s likely also the case that ADHD impacts spatial processing, since space and time are interrelated. Collectively, it would stand to reason that the ability to conjure and manipulate mental representations may be a central aspect to the symptoms present in ADHD; moreover, this inability or deficit may be a transdiagnostic symptom of other psychiatric diagnoses.

Reference:

Hallowell, E., MD, & Ratey, J., MD. (2022, January 10). ADHD Needs a Better Name. We Have One. ADDitude. https://www.additudemag.com/attention-deficit-disorder-vast/?fbclid=IwAR3dvgGPAykYKUdsAiDqPRSv97fF1XV7SdmRVv_sUH-G_GXW0W_QlzjDc4g