What Does It Feel Like to Have ADHD? Experience a Simulation!

Watch or Experience a Simulation of Life With ADHD

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Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about ADHD. As a result, children with ADHD are often labeled as unmotivated, lazy or problem children. What if those without ADHD could experience what it is really like to have ADHD? Perhaps perceptions would change. They would be more empathetic. They would become better informed, and as a result, they could more effectively implement strategies to help these children succeed.

Jill Stowell, M.S., director of the Stowell Learning Center in Diamond Bar, California, explains: “Too often children with attention challenges are pegged as ‘not trying’ or as behavior problems. They distract themselves and others in the classroom, they disrupt the teacher, they take forever to get their homework done because they are constantly getting distracted by other things, and they take a tremendous amount of their parents' time and energy.”

Stowell acknowledges that many people know the symptoms of ADHD, “but since we react emotionally before we react intellectually, children with attention challenges are constantly frustrating and disappointing their teachers and parents.”

The Attention Challenges Simulation

The Attention Challenges Simulation was developed by Drs. Joe and Carol Utay of Pittsburgh, to help address this issue. The Simulation actually enables parents and professionals to understand emotionally what it feels like for a student with attention challenges to get through school.

As the creators of the simulation say: “Until we ‘spend time in their shoes,’ it is hard to understand the amount of effort and energy students with attention challenges have to expend in order to sustain and shift their attention.”

The ADHD Experience

Stowell provides more information about the Simulation:

“People who attend the Attention Challenges Simulation participate in six typical school activities set-up in such a way that they actually experience them as a student with attention challenges. They get to experience firsthand the kinds of things experienced day in and day out by students with attention problems: things such as missing important details in written instructions, feeling confused and ‘lost’ when listening, struggling to complete a timed quiz because of distractions, and the frustration of not knowing what is expected socially.”

“After each experience, there is a brief discussion, and at the conclusion of the simulation, participants are invited to share what it was like for them and how they feel they can use what they learned.”

Participants' Reactions

Stowell says that participants typically find the experience to be quite emotional and highly insightful. “Parents are amazed at the energy that it takes for their children to focus and perform in school. These are parents who are highly involved and highly supportive of their children, but who express that they understand for the very first time what their kids are going through and why they behave the way they do.”

Parents aren’t the only ones to have found the experience enlightening.

“Teachers ‘recognize’ students in every activity and come away with a completely different take on the problem,” says Stowell.

Not only do these parents and professionals develop an enhanced understanding of the children’s frustrations and challenges, all who participate in this hands-on experience walk away with a greater sense of empathy, as well. Video of the simulation is available on Youtube, and parents in California can sign up for the real-world experience.


Jill Stowell. “Interview Request.” Emails to Keath Low. 20, Jan. 2008 and 22, Jan. 2008.

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