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Talking Back to ADHD

ADHD is hard to see from the inside.

Research shows that people with ADHD tend to under-report their own symptoms compared to others, such as family members and teachers. It’s a vital difference to explore because you cannot completely address ADHD until you accept all that it does. For anyone living with ADHD, effective management relies on a firm acknowledgment that it is hard to fully see ADHD from the inside.

For someone with ADHD, its symptoms often seem as if that’s how the world is and will always be. ADHD causes someone to feel easily bored or stressed by minor logistics or to be chronically late or any of the rest its insidious impact. Habits seem ingrained, such as ADHD-related overeating, poor sleep, or never quite sticking to a workout plan. But a person is not their ADHD, and much can change when you start to explore all that ADHD effects. Define individual strengths separate from ADHD related deficits, and solutions follow.

For children with ADHD, school frequently seems hard or reading boring because, until ADHD improves, those statements remain “facts of life.” Behaviors like irritability or impulsiveness seem triggered by someone else’s actions, so what else could be done but react? ADHD affects planning, meaning kids may hardly see the need to manage not only their school work but ADHD itself, mostly because they have ADHD. Over time, as self-awareness grows, children become larger participants in their care. Early on, seeing ADHD clearly means adults typically take the lead.

For teens, proven methods for overcoming ADHD can seem annoying and intrusive. When someone doesn’t naturally track details, notice time, or organize themselves, steps like implementing a to-do list and calendar often seem burdensome. But it’s ADHD that says, I’m not the sort of a person who writes stuff down or I’m the sort of person who always does things last minute. Talking back to ADHD means realizing, I don’t want to do what’s needed because my ADHD is pushing me away from that solution.

Adults require this kind of non-judgmental awareness too: This is who I am, and this is what ADHD does, but ADHD does not define me. A job, household, or relationship become overly stressful not because of an immovable force of nature or a personality trait but because of ADHD. Giving yourself the benefit of the doubt means considering if any challenge stems from ADHD. It’s not that ADHD always relates, but as it impacts life-management skills, it potentially undermines almost anything we do day to day.

The different viewpoint from inside and outside of ADHD affects relationships. Dr. Ari Tuckman, the author of More Attention, Less Deficit, has found that adults with ADHD rate treatment as more successful than their partners. Love me because I am scattered and excitable is different than love me because of who I am, and let’s work on how ADHD affects us together. Collaboration requires seeing ADHD fully: What’s the impact of ADHD-related stress, disorganization, distractibility, and impulsiveness on both of us?

Seeking objective advice begins with recognizing that the least accurate judge of ADHD is sometimes the person who has it. Forgetfulness, losing track of time, misplacing things, or behaving impulsively, all reflect ADHD symptoms and affect life until you’ve done something about it. Pause and realize the difference between a person and their ADHD, then begin to identify where ADHD affects life.

When it comes to ADHD treatment, impairment is part of the diagnosis, meaning the only things to change are whatever is getting in the way. Celebrate differences and individuality. Talk back to ADHD by focusing on strengths and methodically defining what ADHD does, and then creating a plan for something new.

Talking Back to ADHD Checklist

  • Understand ADHD: See an ADHD symptom as an ADHD symptom. Distractibility, forgetfulness, unawareness of time, procrastination, inefficiency, impulsiveness, reactivity, and all the rest of ADHD are not a judgment. If you were wheezing, you’d get rid of the mold in your basement, make lifestyle changes, and find a doctor you trust. Around ADHD, almost any symptom can be managed by seeing it for what it is, particularly as it reflects on self-management skills.
  • Partner with someone: ADHD skills are needed to plan and problem solve. If you wanted to learn an instrument, you’d find a music teacher. If you wanted to learn a sport, you’d find a coach. Kids with ADHD require adults to create solutions. For teens and adults, find someone skilled to assist in defining and implementing a plan like a coach or a psychologist.
  • Be patient and compassionate with yourself and others: ADHD is a challenging, wide-ranging disorder. Change is hard, sometimes harder if you have ADHD, but with a clear-sighted view of ADHD, you can more fully manage its impact on life.
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