Is Your Poor Sense of Direction a Symptom of ADHD?
I have wasted so much time trying to orient myself while traveling thanks to my attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and my lack of sense of direction. 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?). The connection between ADHD and a sense of direction 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/
Matteson, N. (2017, October 3). Is Your Poor Sense of Direction a Symptom of ADHD?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, October 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingwithadultadhd/2017/10/is-your-poor-sense-of-direction-a-symptom-of-adhd
Author: Noelle Matteson
hi, it seems like we almost shared the same conditions, i could remember faces of so many people, but when it comes to lands, directions, i never learned it unless i get lost and had bad memories on that place, i used to talk and ask strangers for directions, once that person lead me to bunch of directions, i started to feel dizzy and forgets words of direction he or she said. i couldn't even memorize the direction of the malls i have gone hundred times, sometimes i have terrible remembering names once i pronounce it wrong or named them wrong, it stuck to my mind, even calendars sometimes i get lost the sequence of days just passed, i have some difficulty to separate the reality from my dreams. and if i used to the route example from my dorm to my college, and someone ask me how to get to my college, I can't give the perfect direction,I cant picture out the places on my mind that use to go to. i i could remember the image of the buildings how they look like but to draw the direction is impossible for me. i cried several times when i get lost , that somehow makes me remember the place once i get out of it. and if you'll suggest a google map? no way i can understand it, i tried many times i still get lost.
Hi queenie, thanks for commenting. I'm sorry to hear about your struggles. Sounds frustrating! The struggles with dreams and reality sounds a bit like dissociation, and it also seems like there might be an emotional element to it (since after you cry, your head feels clearer). Can you talk to a therapist or doctor about this?
I completely relate! When I used to go in the grocery store and my family waited outside in car, they took bets about which door I’d walk out of. It’s so frustrating.
Oh no! Sounds like your family wasn't too helpful in that situation heh. And then figuring out where I parked has always been many rounds of, "Dude, where's my car?" Thanks for stopping by, though!
I got lost last week trying to go to a friends house I’ve literally been to over 200 times. They live 5 miles from me in my town. My phone broke and I didn’t have gps to get me there?
Oh my gosh! I can really relate. People sometimes ask if I've never been to a certain place before because I'm so unsure of how to get there... even when I go there very regularly. Thank you for commenting. It's good to know I'm not alone. XD
Such a relief to read this! I think I’ve been masking navigational difficulties subconsciously all my life! From being unable to find my way around the stockroom of a shoe shop when working a Saturday job as a teenager to looking at the map of the hospital before every shift when I worked as a trainee nurse as a young woman - Once I’d qualified I still struggled every day to find my way to the ward!
Thank you so much ☺️
I have ADHD and I have a really good sense of direction. I don’t know where my sense of direction came from...whether I inherited it from one of my parents, or whether it is some sort of adaptation or compensation for my ADHD. I also have a really good sense of balance. I suppose my good sense of balance may be related to my directional sense and my ADHD.
That's really cool! One of my relatives with ADHD had a great sense of direction since he was young. I wonder if it's how we process things--visually, kinetically, etc. I guess a lot of people with ADHD must have good balance since it in no way prohibits them from being athletes. Thank you for sharing!
My daughter has Add with mild dyslexia and she had problems with sense of direction and thought that London and Birmingham were near each other. She now does a job that takes her all over the country and thanks to technology she manages the job very well. My husband doesn't have a diagnosis of Add but I am sure that he has it. He recently got lost taking the dog for a walk when he was meant to be taking my daughter to hospital!! He takes wrong turns or misses important signs while driving as he isn't always concentrating on where he is going. He also has a poor visual memory and often doesn't remember where he has put things. He finds it difficult to recognise people out of context which can be embarrassing. Thankfully I have a good memory for these things and can get him out of various predicaments. There is never a dull moment in our house!
Thanks this is helpful. My husband has adhd and his lack of direction astounds me. He will think we should go north to a city 3 hours south of us, etc.
Glad it was helpful, and thanks for checking it out. Oops... sorry about your husband. I kind of understand how he feels. XD
I forgot to mention this. My husband has dyslexia, but has no problems with N/S/E/W and can read a map like nobody's business. He thinks it's pretty funny that I like to look at maps, but can't use one to get around.
Also, thank you for commenting! Makes me feel glad I'm not alone. XD
I just have to laugh. I consider myself to be directionally challenged. I know that if I'm facing north, west is on my left. See what I did there? They kind of rhyme. But I have to know where north is, first. Recently my husband and I were in a strange city. I had to do the driving while he did some navigating. He'd just had a medical procedure and was under the influence of the anesthesia, still. The sun was blinding me so I couldn't see the signs to know where or when to turn and my husband told me, "Right here! Turn east!" I yelled back, "I don't know where east is!" LOL Pretty funny now, but not at the time! I can't read a map, either, to save my life. They also require knowing that whole north/south/east/west thing. Please. Give me directions such as, "Turn left on old county road. At the second stop sign, turn right then go about a 1/4 of a mile until just past a big red barn on the right and make a left at that intersection." So much easier! And I have to actually drive somewhere new to be able to find it again later. My spatial skills suck, too. I admire people who can read a map or diagrams on putting something together. I haven't been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, but I do have bipolar 2 (heavy on the depression side) and generalized anxiety disorder along with a large dose of social anxiety.
I remember it as "Never Eat Shredded Wheat"--North, East, South, West, going clockwise. However, I have to think of that almost every time I try to orient myself. I'm more comfortable when I know which way is north, but then I get turned around so easily. I might know which way a road is going, but as soon as I step into a building or turn a corner, I forget where the road is in relation to where I am.
I suppose people with Bipolar Disorder have a high risk for ADHD, but I have no idea if that's the connection to having a hard time navigating. XD So interesting that your husband has dyslexia but obviously not "directional dyslexia." Do you like to look at maps for aesthetic purposes? Because they can be beautiful, hehe.