If you’re reading this and you don’t have ADHD, you’re probably not thinking about the bird chirping outside your window or the smell of pizza from the cafeteria or the way your socks feel on your feet or the new text notification that just popped up on your phone. That’s because your brain automatically filters out most of the non-important information it receives so you can focus on one thing at a time.
But if you do have ADHD, your brain thinks everything is important, all the time: this article, but also the bird, the pizza, the socks, and the text. If that sounds overwhelming, it is. “If I made a pie graph of all the things that I think about in a day and all the things most other people think about in a day, I’m pretty sure my pie graph would be a lot bigger!” says LeAndra Booker, who has ADHD. That’s why it’s so easy for kids like LeAndra to get distracted. With all those thoughts competing for attention, it’s hard for their brains to pick just one and stay with it.
So what exactly is ADHD? Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a medical condition that affects the brain’s ability to solve problems, pay attention, and practice self-control, explains Adiaha Spinks-Franklin, a pediatrician who specializes in ADHD. “In a person with ADHD, the brain cells don’t communicate the way they’re supposed to,” she says. “Messages that help the brain complete tasks get interrupted. That’s why it’s hard for a person with ADHD to be able to complete a task like getting dressed in the morning, solving an equation, boiling an egg, or anything that has multiple steps.”
But just because someone has ADHD, that doesn’t mean they can’t focus long enough to accomplish anything. In fact, with help from things like therapy, medicine, and even phone apps, people with ADHD can do anything they choose. Here, three teens share what ADHD feels like for them, how they cope—and what they wish people without ADHD knew about their condition.