Pick a disorder, any disorder, that you do not know much about. Find someone with that disorder and I’ll bet they wish you would understand the issues they are dealing with a little bit more. They may even wish that you would walk in their shoes for a day or two.
The thing about educating the public about ADHD is that it can be so different for each and every one of us. ADHD is a neurobiological disorder with a spectrum of symptoms. Truly understanding ADHD can be mind boggling just for us, not to mention there’s so much disagreement in our community on how we should talk about it, perceive it and respond to it.
Then we have the media that shouts out to the public the latest research and statistics about ADHD, but doesn’t really tell folks how people deal with it on an individual basis, each different and each in their own ways. Some cope with medication, some with therapy and some with both. There may be 20% of people having difficulty in a certain area that gets the headlines, but no one thinks about the other 80% in that instance. It’s all so confusing.
Recently someone asked me to share some of their videos about ADHD. When I researched the videos I found that they were from a marketing agency and they were directed towards medication. On their site they tell how they work with pharmaceutical companies for marketing purposes. That’s not a bad thing, but that gave me the impression the videos had a specific message while sharing personal stories. They are not just personal messages, they are specially designed commercials. Again, this isn’t wrong, we see them all the time, but it is a good example of how messages are sometimes spread to the public.
Quite frankly, we expect too much from the general public. They have to try and interpret so many mixed messages out there about so many conditions. But: What is out there for the sake of marketing? What did the latest research involve? What messages are unabridged and direct? Even I don’t always know. How much can I really expect Jane Smith down the street to know, much less take the time to dicipher it all?
I didn’t understand what mononucleosis was until I had it and have been dealing with it, then researched it myself. Have you ever had mono? How well do you understand it? If you’re sick for three months or longer, you may want people to know why and understand why you can’t take any medication for it. Same with ADHD, like I said in my first book, I didn’t pay any attention to it until I was diagnosed with it! Each condition, syndrome or disorder is fighting for public understanding, it’s crowded out there and the bombardment of information is confusing.
If we want the public to be educated about a specific condition, then we have to start with ourselves. We have to learn everything we can for ourselves. We must also accept the brutal truth that it is near impossible for everyone to completely understand our disorder, much less our personal circumstances. Every person with a disorder is battling an uphill struggle to get the public to understand. I believe we have to narrow our focus and start in our own communities, with our family and friends, with our peers, but even before that, we have to understand it as well. But then, how many really want to go outside and start saying “Hey, I have ADHD!”? It’s not as straight forward as we would like, is it?
Most importantly, it doesn’t help us to get upset about the public not understanding ADHD better, because, really, there’s a lot we are still learning about ADHD. Ideally, we have to start right here, at home. ADHD has dominated the public attention compared to so many disorders, but unfortunately the messages have been so mixed that most people are more confused about it than they were before it starting making headlines.
If you are interested in the general public understanding ADHD better, then here’s the best question to ask: “What can I do to help raise awareness about ADHD?” If we are not willing to step out and tell our stories, unabridged and direct, then we cannot ever truly expect the general public to understand, much less, care. I know the risks in stepping out, I have taken those risks and I have not gone unscathed, but let me assure you, at least for me, it has been worth it.
The alternative is to leave public awareness to the news media and marketing agencies. However, I am not so sure that’s the best way to get our personal messages about ADHD out there. Well, who else is going to do it? You and me, my friends, you and me. We can do it! Starting right where we are.
In some cases it’s okay to let others spread awareness. If you’re going to do that, pick who’s going to do the spreading wisely, and then, support their efforts. Expecting public understanding isn’t the answer, helping others to better understand, is.