ADHD & The False Label of ‘Laziness’: Why is ADHD So Misunderstood in the Workplace?
You’ve heard it before: “You are just a lazy worker!” or “He’s not trying hard enough”. These are common phrases used to describe those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the workplace. They amount to nothing more than a poor attempt at understanding what goes on in the brain of an individual with ADHD.
A critical view of what’s laziness
Let’s start with a few questions to help clear things up: Is a depressed person lazy? Many would argue that they are absolutely not.
Is a disabled person lazy because they can’t run at the same speed as a non-disabled person? Again, you’d probably get a resounding “no way.”
So, is someone with a unique neurobiological disorder like ADHD lazy? The answer should be obvious, but many uninformed people still consider it laziness.
Who is a lazy person?
Therefore, if ADHD individuals aren’t lazy, who then is a lazy person? According to Cambridge Dictionary, laziness is “unwilling to work or use any effort”. The most crucial point to take away from this definition is “not willing”.
Applying this to real life would mean that a traumatised child who can’t bring themselves to school isn’t lazy; they’re scared. Likewise, a child who can’t read because he’s been programmed to believe that it’s useless to attend school isn’t lazy; he’s lacking self-belief. Similarly, a child with ADHD who is willing to read, and ready to learn, but can’t focus even in a shut-off environment, isn’t lazy either.
The misunderstanding of ADHD and the subsequent labelling of laziness must stop. The definition of ADHD, according to NIMH, is “a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development”. ADHD is a complex neurological disorder that should be treated like one.
We must ensure people understand that ADHD is an actual condition, not another excuse for laziness. But the next question is, what is an example of a lazy person?
A lazy person would be someone who is not willing to put in any effort even though they can do so. Let’s take a look at a real-life example. Let’s say there is a college student—we’ll call him John—John has been assigned an essay. He’s been given two weeks to finish it. The lecture also suggested some excellent sources to help him with his research. Finally, the lecture has also given him some tips and advice on how to write a good essay. John has no neurological disorder of any category.
So, John decides not to write the essay and resorts to sleeping. This is an example of a person who had the resources & capability to do something but was unwilling to put in the effort. This is an exceptional example of laziness.
ADHD and executive dysfunction
That said, it’s essential to understand the difference between laziness and executive dysfunction. Executive dysfunction is a common symptom of ADHD that makes it hard for a person to stay focused, complete tasks, and plan or manage their time effectively. It’s not uncommon for ADHD’ers to experience frustration when attempting to perform tasks because they cannot do them as quickly or accurately as those without the condition. Therefore, it’s vital to differentiate these behavioural patterns from those of lazy people.
Let’s look at John again: John may be experiencing executive dysfunction, meaning his brain cannot sort through all the information or tasks needed to complete the essay. He may also need help organising his thoughts and staying focused on the task. This would explain why he gave up on the essay instead of trying harder to complete it.
It’s important to remember that ADHD individuals are neither lazy nor unmotivated. They need understanding & compassion from those around them and strategies to help them manage their symptoms. If you know someone with ADHD, take the time to understand what they are going through and find ways to help them.