“Proper Boxes”: ADHD & Anti-Authoritarianism

Theory & Analysis

11th June 2022

Content Warning: Oppression, social justice, armed conflict, neurodiversity, anarchism

There's been quite a shift of the Overton window over the last few decades with regards to ADHD and how we collectively talk about it. Those of us who were diagnosed early, as kids, might remember trialling (or rather having trialled on us) several types of medication, as well as homespun theories that we were consuming too much sugar and watching too many cartoons. At the time I was diagnosed, ADHD (then called ADD) was, in a nutshell, being a hyper kid with trouble focusing and the tendency to fidget.

By writing this article, I would like to explore the correlation between anti-authoritarianism and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. Although this is written in solidarity with all divergents worldwide, I will primarily be writing through my experience as an American immigrant with ADHD living in the UK.

It wasn't until a year or two ago that I searched social media for content on ADHD and found a plethora of new information. Many of the same kids who experienced early diagnosis of ADHD in the early 2000s have become fully grown adults with well-rounded thoughts and opinions on the matter. Quite a few of these adults have even entered the medical field and are becoming specialists themselves.

Concepts like stimming, masking, time-blindness and rejection-sensitive dysphoria have all put a face to the collective experience that fill up the daily lives of young students and even adult workers with ADHD, but, for several years, these aspects were unknown to me, and I assumed I was simply not trying hard enough - or, even worse, inherently not clever enough at life in general.

One of the most liberatory concepts that I learned about after stumbling upon this renaissance of ADHD knowledge was that of neurodiversity, a concept coined in 1998 by sociologist Judy Singer, who, with the help of journalist Harvey Blume, brought the idea into mainstream discussion.[1] The basis is simple: people with Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, etc., do not think incorrectly; rather, we just think differently. Though this was initially focused on Autistics, the sentiment resonated and became applicable to further kinds of stigmatised groups.

The world hasn't only changed with regards to ADHD. Since I was diagnosed as a child all the way to today, movements such as Occupy Wall St., Black Lives Matter, MeToo and School's Strike for Climate have challenged the status quo, critiqued capitalism as a whole, raged against patriarchy and made us question the western world's current neoliberal trajectory.[2] Whilst the early 2000s focused largely on reforms, inclusion and helping those who have been oppressed have the best path possible to success, the current climate seems to focus on questioning if that path is even a legitimate one to pursue.

This is, of course, not the first time alternative political thought has come to the surface. Look, for example, within the popular music scene - both the late ‘70s, and again in the early ‘90s, saw an abandoning of corporate, polished, agreeable dance music in exchange for loud, messy, aggressive DIY punk rock and grunge. Suddenly, imperfection was not only acceptable, but it was even desirable to the average listener. [3]

History has shown us time and time again that there is more than one way to peel a fruit (I’m using the less speciesist version of this popular expression), and yet, as much as we keep saying this, binaries such as “right vs. wrong” and “imperfect vs. perfect” continue to harm countless amounts of people, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community.[4] There’s even a “right vs. wrong way” to challenge/protest the status quo (according to its defenders). [5]

As bureaucracy and paperwork continues to flood society more and more, the burden of proof now seems to have been shifted towards us. Our lived experience as divergents must fit into proper boxes to be checked off before taken seriously. It’s worth mentioning that not everyone was diagnosed as a child like myself - many have only recently received a diagnosis, and some haven’t received one at all, either through lack of healthcare (USA) or incredibly long NHS waiting periods (UK).[6]

On top of the stigma and challenges that come with being neurodivergent in a neoliberal world, we must first jump through several administrative hoops to achieve state recognition of our neurodiversity. Even with regards to the controversial topic of pharmaceutical medications, there lies a binary of “good vs. bad”, with very little nuance or autonomy granted to personal choice.

So what do you do when you are gaslit, patronised and stigmatised by the powers that be? You of course begin to question those powers all together.

As the years have gone by, more and more children and adults have been diagnosed with ADHD. Simultaneously, we are seeing a significant rise in this generation’s radical rejection of the state apparatus and status quo. I believe these two phenomenons are directly correlated.[7] It’s as if, after two recessions, armed conflicts/invasions, and a global pandemic, many of us don’t want to change ourselves anymore to fit a system that continues to be, at most, actively harmful and, at the least, arbitrary and unnecessary.

To have ADHD is to inherently be at odds with the very institutions that keep promising us security and success. It’s to witness from a young age that authority figures are imperfect and that tyrants are chaotically scared individuals - they know that the way things are currently done can just as easily be done differently, and that’s what scares them.

Would ADHD still exist in a stateless/utopian society free from the domination we see today? Yes, I believe it still would. But the amount of care, solutions and discussions produced from that kind of world would be unlike anything we see today.

Andrew J. Boyer

[1]: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-neurodiversity-202111232645
[2]: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk,
https://thegeopolitics.com/the-global-impact-of-the-black-lives-matter-movement/ ,
[4]: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1745691620902442
[5]: https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/civil-rights/309140-everything-wrong-with-the-black-lives-matter-movement (example of a status quo defender)
[6]: https://medical.mit.edu/my-mit/internationals/healthcare-united-states
[7]: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08854300.2019.1841711

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