How to explain ADHD: 21 of our favorite analogies

21 ADHD analogies that aren't about sports cars and bicycle brakes.

A squirrel standing on a wooden fence. Photo by Brett Sayles.

If you’re an adult with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD), you’ve probably spent some time trying to figure out how to describe your neurodiverse brain to others — especially if they don’t face the same challenges as you. Analogies are useful in this respect, as they take a familiar or visual situation and compare it to something that’s less familiar — in this case: ADHD.

On the flipside, analogies can be a great way to validate our own mental health experiences. For example, a popular ADHD analogy from Dr. Edward Hallowell goes something like, “having ADHD is like having a ferrari with bicycle brakes”.

Of course we don’t literally have a ferrari (shout out to my trusty Mazda!), nor do we have bicycle brakes; however we can at least resonate with the sentiment that once our brains are moving at a fast pace, it’s hard to slow them down.

Finding a unique and relatable analogy that actually fits our own perspective of neurodiversity is more difficult than it might sound. That’s why we took to ADHD Twitter and asked the community to share their best ADHD analogies. We selected our favorites with the hope that you will be able to resonate with at least one of them.

Our favorite ADHD analogies

Note: all analogies below have been paraphrased. To see the original wording of replies, you can view the Twitter thread here. Any original analogies cite their creator.

Familiar warm-ups

1. Having an ADHD brain is like constantly flipping through TV channels, but someone else has the remote.

2. My ADHD brain is basically a bee’s nest.

3. ADHD is like having 20 badly tuned radio stations playing in your head at the same time.

4. Having ADHD makes me feel like I'm Dug from Up. I can be talking or thinking about one thing, but if something interrupts my flow, I go chasing after that thought instead. Squirrel!

ADHD analogies for tech aficionados

5. Having ADHD is like having an awesome CPU, but with a really sketchy and limited RAM and HDD. (@ExistentialYawn)

6. ADHD is like running Google Chrome with too many open tabs. You forget what some of the tabs are for, you’re constantly opening up new ones (sometimes I even have more than one for the same website), and if you use too much RAM, it freezes.

7. ADHD is like having too many tabs open on my browser (several of which are playing music), but I can’t close any of the tabs or figure out where the noise is coming from.

Analogies for ADHD gamers

8. ADHD is like playing an obviously powerful CCG/TCG (collectible/trading card game) deck with the worst mana base possible, and all anyone suggests for fixing it is that you add more copies of Discipline. (@DeeAiZee)

9. Having ADHD is basically like playing SpaceTeam.

10. My ADHD brain is like a pinball machine. The brain cells bounce all over the place while I try to score enough motivation points to do things. (@ThatDoodleBunny)

Planes, trains, and automobile analogies

11. Having an ADHD brain is like having Grand Central Station in your head and all of the trains running at once.

12. Having ADHD is like trying to navigate 20 lanes of traffic, but without any traffic lights or lines on the road.

13. If neurotypicals have a train of thought, then people with ADHD have a roller coaster of thought — really fast with lots of loops and twists. (@patrice_marie13)

14. With ADHD, it’s like I’m pedaling on my bike as hard as I can, but never getting anywhere because the chain is broken. (And the bike is my brain.)

15. Having an ADHD brain is like having an exhausted engine in your head — it’s whirring and clicking, but it won’t turn over.

Abstract and original ADHD analogies

16. I think of it as monkey bars. Neurotypicals have the typical configuration: one rung after another. With ADHD, the rungs are more like a 4-dimensional branching lattice. (@raeverie )

17. Having ADHD is like looking through a mental kaleidoscope. (@clarabellum)

18. I think of it as a mental “table”. Every person has one that can hold “items of focus”, but ADHD folks have smaller tables, so they run out of space for their stuff more quickly. And then they usually end up putting their focus items elsewhere, which makes it harder to keep everything organized. (@Leia1912)

19. I like to think of my ADHD as a hydra. I finally find a way to cope with one ADHD symptom, but then three more pop up, and every head makes fun of me the entire time. (@adhdandquills)

an illustration of a 3-headed hydra, each of the heads labeled with an ADHD symptom: Impulsivity, anxiety, and brain fog. There is small text in the background that reads "lol", "laughing our heads off", and "hahaha". At the bottom is the hydra quote from above.

20. Having ADHD is like being an octopus (with eight legs). If I’m not occupied, individual legs will pull me in all directions. If given stimuli, such as appropriate background music, maybe 3 of my 8 legs are occupied. So now I only have to wrangle 5 of them. (@junofive)

The self-referential analogy

21. And finally - my personal favorite. This paraphrased version of a painfully relatable ADHD analogy came from @JuandaL_ogout:

It's like trying to write an excellent ADHD analogy on Twitter, and 20 of them pop up in your head. And at the end of the tweet, you realize that you just described the exact situation without using an analogy. And instead of just being satisfied with it, you kinda have a mini anxiety attack…

...and you still don’t have the words to describe the exact feeling.

Looking for support?

Inflow can help you thrive with ADHD and reach your full potential. Start your journey now by taking our quiz.

Take the quiz