Are 'ADHD' and 'Mistakes' Synonymous?

And how should one handle "you should be able to do better than this?"

Posted Dec 11, 2015

Having ADHD is all about being inconsistent and making more than your fair share of mistakes.  As a child that might mean doing your homework but leaving it at home because you forgot to put it into your backpack or making social 'errors' because you have trouble reading non-verbal cues.  Adults might zone out and drive past interstate exits, put their car keys in the fridge, forget to do that task they promised they would do, and much more.

The issue, though, isn't about making the mistakes in the first place.  The issue is how a person with ADHD handles the 'fact' of his or her inconsistencies.  Many adults who know they have ADHD have only been recently diagnosed — in fact some estimate that almost 90% of adults with ADHD are still undiagnosed.  These adults grew up, therefore, in a world of 'you should be able to do better than this' without understanding what was getting in their way.  Trying harder — the way that the non-ADHD majority handles reducing the number of mistakes they make — turned out to be almost impossible to sustain. The chronic distraction, poor planning and insufficient time management skills they struggled with due to their ADHD would eventually reassert their dominance without the treatment these adults didn't know they needed.

How did the typical person with ADHD handle all of these mistakes that never seemed to slow down?  Over time, the result was very low self-esteem for many adults with ADHD.  If they made so many 'stupid' mistakes that others didn't seem to make, the thinking went that they just couldn't measure up to their peers.

A diagnosis of ADHD — if you have it — is a marvelous and wonderful thing.  Not only is ADHD one of the most treatable mental health issues out there, the ADHD diagnosis provides a reason for all the inconsistency and poor follow through.  Mistakes will still get made, but now the ADHD adult can understand why this is happening, as well as learn about tools that actually work for lessening mistakes when you have ADHD.  'Trying harder' doesn't work well for those with ADHD, but 'trying differently' in ways known to work for people with ADHD, does.  Reminders, external structures, mindfulness training, treatment to improve focus, exercise, and more can play an important role in improving consistency.

So if an adult with ADHD either doesn't know about the ADHD, or sees an ADHD diagnosis as an excuse for continuing on as he or she always has, then 'ADHD' and 'mistakes' will continue to go hand-in-hand.  But those who understand that ADHD is a reason for things that disturbed them in the past, but not an excuse to continue, will find that there are now many tools to help them become more consistent.

As it turns out, ADHD and 'mistakes' do not need to go hand in hand, after all.