ADHD is not a problem: labels in different cultures and communities

In the series “ADHD is not a problem,” we explore alternative perspectives on the ADHD brain. Today, we delve deeper into the following thought: If we were born in a different society with different norms, values, and cultural expectations, would labels like ADHD be necessary? Or are our neurological differences inherently valuable, warranting more emphasis in the Western world?

Neurological diversity across cultures

Imagine how differently we would perceive neurological differences if we were born elsewhere. In Western societies, ADHD is a familiar term, but is this the case everywhere? Perhaps in the West, we emphasize the negative attributes associated with ADHD, whereas other cultures may not view them as problematic.

As a travel-loving woman with ADD who studied Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology for several years, I'm interested in cultural variances. While traveling, I always notice how a particular culture influences my brain and how I perceive myself. With this article, I hope to sow some positive seeds so that you, as a reader, can consider the ADHD brain in a different light.

adhd different cultures

Cultural norms in education and work

Western societies often prioritize efficiency, structured planning, and sustained attention, especially in schools and workplaces. Someone with ADHD may struggle to meet these standards, leading to feelings of inferiority. Those unable to meet these norms are labeled with “attention deficit disorder.” However, in other cultures, collective activities, flexible work schedules, empathy, and physical exertion may hold greater importance. Consequently, ADHD characteristics may not be deemed problematic in other cultures.

Harmony, support, and peaceful coexistence

In such cultures, harmony, support, and nurturing relationships within the community are central. Economic growth may be of lesser importance. Individuals with ADHD in such societies can channel their energy into contributing to collective well-being by undertaking communal tasks, supporting others in times of need, and fostering a sense of unity within the community. This is something the Western world could learn from.

Neurological Differences: Problematic or…?

This also raises significant questions about our perception of neurodiversity and how we treat individuals labeled as “different.” Should we reconsider our definition of “normal”? Should we strive for more inclusive structures and environments? A new approach could cast ADHD traits in a positive light, resulting in a large group of people in our society seeing themselves as valuable contributors, thereby enabling them to contribute more.

adhd no problem in cultures

Viewing ADHD positively in various cultures

It's fascinating to contemplate how we would perceive neurological diversity if we were raised in other cultures. While ADHD receives much attention in Western countries, elsewhere it might not even be recognized as a disorder. These cultural differences challenge us to reconsider our perception of neurodiversity.

Here are some examples.

ADHD in nomadic societies

In communities with a nomadic lifestyle, such as certain indigenous groups in Africa and Asia, traits like impulsivity and adventurousness are valued. Think of the ability to quickly adapt to changes and explore new environments. Additionally, the ability to act swiftly and respond to the group's needs makes individuals with ADHD valuable members of society.

adhd in other countries

Indigenous communities with strong community bonds

In indigenous cultures, such as some Native American tribes in North and South America, Africa, and Oceania, the emphasis often lies on collective collaboration and community support. Here, ADHD traits like impulsivity and spontaneity are seen as positive qualities contributing to the group's resilience. People with ADHD can introduce new ideas and respond quickly to changing situations, benefiting the community. Their energy and enthusiasm can also be viewed as assets to collective well-being.

ADHD and the hunter/gatherer

An interesting perspective comes from author Thom Hartmann. In his book “ADHD: A Hunter in a Farmer's World,” he uses the analogy that the ADHD brain functions like that of a hunter/gatherer in a world designed for farmers' brains. He explains why ADHD is so prevalent: people with ADHD are descendants of hunter/gatherers from prehistoric times, whereas those without ADHD more closely resemble the farmers who came later.

Hunters are easily distracted, observant of their surroundings, and able to switch tasks quickly, which is advantageous for hunting. However, contemporary society mainly favors farming, wherein focusing on one task, managing time effectively, and maintaining a steady work rhythm are the norms. In his book, Hartmann emphasizes the strengths of people with ADHD and how they can thrive better in a world that doesn't always accommodate them well. You can order his book here if you find it interesting.

Traditional societies living in harmony with nature

Even in cultures where people live close to nature, such as some tribes in the Amazon or parts of Africa, ADHD traits may be valued for their role in hunting, gathering, and survival. The hyperfocus and impulsivity of individuals with ADHD can be invaluable for making quick decisions and adapting to the natural environment.

does adhd exist in other countries?

ADHD in mountainous regions like the Tibetan Plateau

In mountainous areas like Tibet, where connection with nature, spiritual development, harmony with the surroundings, and traditional values are central, ADHD traits may also be interpreted differently. Individuals with ADHD might be seen as lively and resilient, with a natural affinity for mountain landscapes and the ability to thrive in challenging conditions. Their energy and resilience could be appreciated as valuable contributions to daily life, involving activities such as herding livestock, cultivating crops on high-altitude farmland, or guarding the community.

Moreover, the community-oriented culture in Tibet may mean that individuals with ADHD are supported by a network of family, neighbors, and villagers. Instead of being stigmatized, they are seen as unique individuals with valuable qualities contributing to the well-being of the community as a whole.

Personally, I've noticed that in countries like New Zealand, where population density is lower and surrounded by nature and mountains, my ADD symptoms sometimes disappear entirely. But even in countries like Portugal, where people (outside the cities) lead simpler lives, I experienced much less challenging ADD symptoms. Last year, I was in Egypt. It may sound strange, but in this Islamic country, I connected more with my femininity. Think of characteristics such as softness, care, sensitivity, love, connection, intuition, receptivity, warmth, empathy, flow, creativity, playfulness, surrender, and openness. This also caused my ADD symptoms to fade into the background to a large extent. It was a remarkable (unexpected) experience.

ADHD in different cultures and societies

ADHD traits in creative communities

In cultures where creativity is highly valued, ADHD traits such as hyperfocus and non-linear thinking may be seen as positive attributes. Artists, writers, and musicians with ADHD can benefit from their ability to fully concentrate on their work and generate original ideas valuable to the community.

ADHD in rural areas

In rural areas, where there is often a stronger bond among residents and a deeper connection with nature, ADHD traits may be positively valued. People with ADHD often have a natural inclination to be active, which comes in handy for physical activities such as farming. Their energy and enthusiasm contribute to community life by organizing local events or initiating community projects.

ADHD in urban settings

In cities like New York, Paris, London and Amsterdam, ADHD traits are invaluable. Whether in the thriving creative industry of Paris or Amsterdam or the technological focus in cities like New York and Silicon Valley, ADHD individuals thrive in these environments. Their energy, creativity, and ability to adapt quickly are essential in sectors such as entrepreneurship and startups, where they can inspire and motivate others to pursue ambitious goals.

ADHD in family life

Within the family, ADHD traits can make life more dynamic and loving. People with ADHD stand out for their liveliness, spontaneity, empathy, sensitivity, and flexibility. They bring creativity and new perspectives to daily life, enriching the family with adventure, love, sensitivity, and diversity.

The right approach and support

The key to unleashing the potential of people with ADHD lies in the right approach and support. Through understanding, encouragement, and appropriate guidance, individuals with ADHD can maximize their unique qualities and realize their full potential. With the right support, they can make valuable contributions to their community, career, and family life.

neurlogical differences are good

Neurological differences: Nothing wrong with them!

It's important to understand that our perception of neurological diversity is heavily influenced by our culture. In the West, we often view people with ADHD as individuals with a disorder due to our emphasis on standardized norms of efficiency and attention.

Let's reconsider our perception of neurodiversity. Perhaps it's not the brain that's the problem, but rather the limitations of our own perception and social structures. By becoming aware of these cultural influences, we can work towards a society where people with all kinds of brain functions can thrive.

Perhaps our own limitations in perception and social structures are the real problem. Let's strive for an inclusive society where everyone has the opportunity to shine, regardless of their neurological traits.

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