I have wasted so much time trying to orient myself while traveling. My iPhone battery is a precious resource when I have to constantly check its GPS. I try to inform others that I have a terrible sense of direction, but many still seem surprised at my incompetence (ADHD: Better Late Than Never?). Recently, I wondered if these poor navigation skills were a symptom of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A few experts list “poor sense of direction” as an effect of adult ADHD, but the connection between ADHD and the ability to navigate is more complex than I realized.
Sense of Direction and ADHD May Be Connected
Is my experience unique in the ADHD community? According to a number of forums and article comments, no. Quite a few people with the condition note that they easily become lost, and one commenter claims that her ADHD medication improves her sense of direction. However, others say that their sense of direction is average or excellent, showing once again that ADHD is a highly diverse spectrum.
From what I can tell, an underdeveloped sense of direction has to do less with the diagnosis of ADHD and more with the conditions that frequently occur with ADHD. Navigational skills depend on the memory of where you’ve been and where you are in relation to other objects. People with ADHD can have incredible memories for things that capture their interest, but they can forget what they just did.
Conditions Comorbid with ADHD Impact Your Sense of Direction
Some call the inability to competently navigate “directional dyslexia.” A high percentage of people with ADHD have learning disabilities including dyslexia, a disability in which many confuse left and right. Still, dyslexia has to do with reading rather than navigation. But, dyspraxia, a developmental coordination disorder, also often overlaps with ADHD and can include having a poor sense of direction.
The hippocampus is a part of the brain that stores memories, including spatial memory and recognition, and it can create internal maps. One of my theories is that a part of one’s brain needs to be aware of the environment in order to record it, a focus that many with ADHD might lack. People with ADHD also struggle with working memory, the ability to not only absorb and retain information but to draw on it when necessary.
You Can Improve Your Sense of Direction, ADHD or Not
The good news is, even though some (including quite a few ADHDers) are born with an incredible sense of direction, navigation skills can be greatly improved with practice. A study shows that the hippocampi of London cabbies, people who frequently navigate maps, are larger than the average person’s (see “Why Do You Always Get Lost?” in sources). Using compasses to navigate and studying maps before stepping outside are first steps in improving one’s sense of direction.
Please let me know in the comments if you or someone you know has an astounding—or astoundingly terrible—sense of direction and if it occurs with ADHD or another condition. It seems as though there have not been many studies done on this subject, and I would like to know more about others’ experiences.
- Bates, Michael. “Directional Dyslexia.” Dyslexia Reading Well. http://www.dyslexia-reading-well.com/directional-dyslexia.html
- Kuchinskas, Susan. “Why Do You Always Get Lost?” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/brain/features/why-do-you-always-get-lost
- Lapkin, Emily. “Skills That Can Be Affected by Dyslexia.” Understood. https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/skills-that-can-be-affected-by-dyslexia
- Taylor, Janet. “Dyspraxia in Adults.” The Dyspraxia Foundation. https://dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk/dyspraxia-adults/
by Noelle Matteson
via Living with Adult ADHD – HealthyPlace