Understanding the Lesser Known Challenges of ADHD: What Teachers Need to Know

ADHD encompasses far more than just inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. In fact, a difficulty with attention, excess energy and impulsivity is not what most find challenging about ADHD. What is truly challenging, especially as a child is the near constant wonder about yourself. ⁣

⁣Why am I so sensitive? ⁣

Why do I feel like everybody hates me?⁣

Why can’t I just make a decision?⁣

What happened to my leg?⁣

Thats not fair!⁣ Why can’t people just be fair.

Why doesn’t my mind ever stop?

How come I could do all this yesterday, but not today?⁣

Why am I always so bored. ⁣

Where is my….? ⁣

Many late diagnosed adults feel great relief when these challanges are finally explained to them. ⁣Wishing more than anything “someone taught me this when I was a kid“. ⁣

As someone who has experienced these challenges both as a child and an adult, I understand the importance of helping others comprehend the lesser-known struggles that individuals with ADHD face.

In this blog post, I aim to expand the understanding of some lesser-known yet common characteristics of ADHD while also highlighting the positive aspects they bring. This post will provide educators with valuable insights of lived experience with “hyperfocus”, “time blindness”, “decision paralysis”, “doom piles”, emotional dysregulation” ” rejection sensitivity ” and “thought storms”.

It is important to note that every person with ADHD is unique, and your student may not necessarily exhibit all of these challenges. However, by understanding these common characteristics and seeking to focus on the positive aspects, educators and caregivers can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for individuals with ADHD.


While the stereotype suggests that individuals with ADHD struggle to focus, there is another side to the coin called hyperfocus. It is a period of prolonged intense concentration and productivity, where the rest of the world fades into the background, and distractions are completely blocked out.

During hyperfocus, individuals with ADHD can accomplish tasks with incredible precision and dedication, often working well beyond their typical capacities. We forget to eat, drink and even push stopping to use the bathroom to the limits.

Hyperfocus is not within the control of the user. It is typically not well-timed, lacking the consistency that school requires.

Educators should be aware that this intense focus can be both a blessing and a challenge for students with ADHD. Students may become hyperfocused on something, making it incredibly difficult for them to transition or shift their attention. The inconsistency in productivity and perceived dedication to work often confuses educators, essentially creating and perpetuating the misunderstanding that the student “can do better if they simply try harder“.

It is essential for educators to understand that what they witness when a student is hyper focused does not represent sustainable performance. If it did, my house would be Pinterest worthy clean and organized, I would have three PhD’s and a two story addition built all on my own.

Educators and caregivers can validate the student’s experience, help them identify their most productive work times and spaces, and avoid shaming them for inconsistencies that are beyond their control.

Time Blindness

Individuals with ADHD often have CONSISTENT challenges with staying aware of time, and considering the future in the present moment.

It is not that we don’t understand the concept of time; it’s that our perception of time passing is skewed. We often feel as if we never have enough time or we have plenty of time (when we don’t).

At a young age, I learned to overcompensate for my time challenges by always being early, I am never late, but this comes at a cost. Any appointment set mid-day can easily derail my productivity for the entire day as I anxiously wait for time to pass, fearing I may be late.

Any and all time bound deadlines, schedules, and appointments require substantial effort and systems to manage, leaving me feeling perpetually overwhelmed. Even when I am looking forward to the event.

In the classroom these children are often late, unprepared for long term projects, distressed that something is over ALREADY, or distressed that something will take ” FOREVER”.

While time blindness can lead to signifiant challenges in a time bound world, it also allows individuals with ADHD to fully embrace the present moment. We have a heightened sense of spontaneity and the ability to immerse ourselves in experiences , some without awareness of the ticking clock.

Educators and caregivers can celebrate the child’s spontaneity and ability to enjoy the moment while validating the students perception and helping them understand that time can be slippery. We can provide tools and systems to externalize the passing of time, including using reminders, analog clocks and timers. To learn more about strategies for time blindness check out this post.

Thought Storms

Thought storms” are like fireworks of ideas going off in my mind without an off switch. It is the best way I have found to describe the near constant flow of thoughts, associations, and tangents that can make it difficult to concentrate on one thing at a time.

“I think more thoughts before breakfast than most do in an entire day.”

Many people with ADHD have minds that never stop thinking. And all the thoughts and ideas are of equal importance. This makes it challenging for some students to stay on topic. The common DSM cited tendency to interrupt and blurt out stems from the sheer volume of thoughts constantly coming in. Waiting to express a thought could mean losing it entirely.

Educators should recognize that thought storms showcase the incredible capacity for generating innovative ideas. The whirlwind of thoughts allows individuals with ADHD to make unique connections and see possibilities that others might miss.

We can support students by teaching strategies for organizing thoughts and providing tools to effectively capture and organize their ideas, harnessing the power of thought storms to foster innovation.

We can encourage regular ” brain dumps”, where we verbally record or write a list of all the things floating around in our heads, effectively capturing them for later. A small notebook or a post it note pad on the desk can help curb the blurt.

Decision Paralysis

The paradox of choice hits hard for individuals with ADHD. Making decisions, even seemingly simple ones, can be an exhausting and overwhelming process. The fear of making the wrong choice or missing out on something better can lead to analysis paralysis and excessive time spent researching options. As an adult this looks like spending hours reading Amazon reviews but not actually making the purchase.

This challenge is often observed in the classroom, where students struggle to make decisions, whether it’s choosing a marker color, a partner, or treasure from a treasure chest.

We most often see decision paralysis impact writing . Often misunderstood as avoidance, some students appear resistant to writing simply because they can not for the life of them choose their favorite ice cream flavor.

Decision paralysis, however, reflects a willingness to explore every option thoroughly, highlighting the incredible natural capacity for divergent thinking and considering diverse perspectives.

Educators can foster a supportive environment that encourages students to embrace their divergent thinking while offering support by decreasing the amount of choices and providing guidance in decision-making processes .

Educators and caregivers can be mindful of writing prompts and open ended questions that may be more challenging than the lesson plan intends. Often students have less difficulty writing about someone else’s choice or a hypothetical choice than their own personal choice.

DOOM Piles

Stemming from difficulty with decisions, many individuals with ADHD tend to accumulate substantial clutter. Papers, books, and random objects have an uncanny ability to accumulate into what is affectionately termed “DOOM piles,” . DOOM stands for “Didn’t Organize Only Moved.

When we attempt to organize our clutter, difficulty with decisions, (where to put it, will I need it ) quickly overwhelms. Without support, consistently organized desks and tidy backpacks may be a lofty expectation. For many individuals with ADHD, piles become a way of life.

Amidst the chaos of doom piles , we can appreciate this child’s creativity. Many of the things they are holding onto have an extremely creative intended future use.

Educators and caregivers can offer organizational strategies, visual reminders, and systems to help students maintain a semblance of order in their academic lives. Educators can schedule regular desk, binder and backpack clean out times, provide labeled ” homes” for supplies and use digital when possible to reduce paper clutter. Less is more.

Mystery Bruises

Ah, the mystery bruises! It sometimes feels like I’ve become a magnet for furniture corners, door frames, and other seemingly innocuous objects. For some individuals with ADHD, impulsivity, inattentiveness, and difficulty with interoceptive awareness may result in unexplained “mystery bruises”.

Educators should approach these incidents with understanding and be mindful of the physical challenges students with ADHD may face. Students with ADHD may be more prone to dropping things, bumping into others, and having difficulties with spatial awareness. For these kids “slow down and pay attention to where you are going” is not as simple as it sounds.

It’s important to acknowledge that these incidents on repeat add up to feeling quite terrible about yourself. Educators can create a safe space by validating and commiserating with these physical misadventures, offering gentle support. We can appreciate how resilient these children truly are, because every time they fall, they also get up !

Emotional Dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation is now considered part and parcel of ADHD. Emotions can be intense and unpredictable for most individuals with ADHD. Small setbacks can feel devastating, while moments of joy can be euphoric. It is important to note that these emotions are typically appropriately matched to the situation but magnified. We feel things, all the things, in a big way.

While coping with big emotions is a challenge for both children and their caregivers, we can appreciate the passionate nature that these individuals possess. When we experience emotions with great intensity, it allows us to fully immerse ourselves in experiences and relationships.

Educators can help by validating these big emotions, no matter how disproportionate they may seem. The student does not need to hear that “they are overreacting”, because according to their nervous system, they are NOT. Their reaction is perfectly proportinate to their perception of the input. The student needs time and space, coregulation and modeled coping strategies.

For more about emotional dysregulation read this post.

Rejection Sensitivity

Rejection sensitivity is undoubtedly one of the most challenging characteristics for many students with ADHD. Criticism or perceived rejection can hit them like a tidal wave, amplifying their emotional response to an overwhelming degree.

These are the students who struggle to tolerate any form of feedback. What may be intended as constructive criticism is painfully processed as harsh criticism. They may cut you off when you try to explain something, insisting that they already know and can do it.

Grades can feel like a killer, and learning from mistakes becomes nearly impossible. Navigating social relationships can also be challenging. The mere hint of rejection or criticism can shut down the frontal part of their brain, leaving them unavailable to learning.

Recognize that these students foster a deep sense of empathy and compassion. They are often acutely attuned to justice and equity making them highly perceptive and understanding individuals.

To support these students, educators and caregivers need to check in with these students frequently , establish trust and validate their feeling of perceived criticism or injustice. We can be mindful when providing feedback as to not derail learning. We can sandwich feedback between positive comments, involve the student in determining methods of feedback that may work for them. and acknowledge their unique sensitivities.

If They Only Understood Themselves

ADHD is a multifaceted condition that extends far beyond the core characteristics  of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. By delving into some of the lesser-known challenges of ADHD ,educators can gain a deeper understanding of their students’ experiences. 

Each individual with ADHD is unique, and not all students will have the same challenges. Hyperfocus, time blindness, decision paralysis, mystery bruises, rejection sensitivity, emotional dysregulation, thought storms and even DOOM piles all have their silver linings.

Understanding common characteristics and seeking to view the positive within them can make a significant difference. By fostering a deep understanding of these characteristics and wholeheartedly celebrating the strengths they bring, we empower our students with ADHD.

Understanding someone is one of the greatest gifts you can give to a child, but enabling them to understand themselves…that is a game changer. 💕

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