Unlocking ADHD Writer, Hana Cheng, ponders about zebras and horses and how this relates to having ADHD in a neurotypical world.
Is a zebra a horse? It turns out that zebras are not horses, but belong to the same Equidae species. Dr Emily Anhalt, a clinical psychologist who also has ADHD, shared about the findings of her doctoral research at a TedX talk, “The Trouble with Normal: My ADHD the Zebra.”
Dr Anhalt used the analogy of ADHD being like a Zebra in a Pack of Horses, because while ADHDers may look the same as everyone else, they often stand out in striking (and sometimes not so positive ways).
During her school days, Dr Anhalt was seen as a ‘nuisance and disturbance to teachers, who removed her from the classroom rather than shift their methods to address her way of learning’. She stood out in a way that resulted in punishment and scolding. Fortunately for her, a much more understanding teacher later taught her to embrace her individuality (i.e. her zebra stripes) and found ways to maximise her learning process.
The effect of this was transformative – she began to see herself as someone who was capable of learning and someone worthy of being taught. It is simply remarkable to see what accepting and making use of our uniqueness can achieve, both as a morale booster and as a skillset.
Dr Anhalt’s doctoral research found that successful people who are unmedicated attribute their success to having been given the room to experiment and appreciate their quirks and strengths instead of wholly conforming to the constructs of a neurotypical society.
Similarly, Dav Pilkey, author of the Captain Underpants and Dog Man series, credits ADHD and dyslexia for his success in writing children’s books. His ADHD helped him to write stories that were not boring, and his dyslexia helped him to choose his words very, very carefully.
When he was a student, Pilkey also had his own fair share of struggles – he was often made to leave the classroom and stand in the hallway, but that was where he began to make his comics. The rest is history.
While ADHD might cause us to stand out in uncomfortable ways, it is the ADHD wiring which gives us the ‘superpowers’ to do meaningful work by unconventional means.
Embrace your ADHD Strengths – Learn about your strengths and Amplify these strengths. Be comfortable about your inner zebra and take your place proudly among the horses.