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The ADHD Owner's Manual for Grown-ups

The wild and wonderful minds that live in a neurotypical world.

Key points

  • Those with ADHD have a unique, interest-based nervous system, that is vastly different from that of neurotypicals.
  • ADHDers were born into this world with a neurotypical owner's manual that hasn't worked, and now as grown-ups they need rules that work for them.
  • Clinicians need to shift away from a deficit-based to a strength-based perspective, to prevent the feelings of shame that accompany ADHD.

Approximately 8 percent of adults in the United States have ADHD, which therefore means that 92 percent do not. Basic math. We live in a neurotypical world governed by neurotypical rules. This does not mean that they are more normal (whatever that is) or better than we are; however, it does mean that their ways of thinking are not only accepted, but expected, and endorsed.

From the outside looking in, neurotypicals just seem to inherently know how to be grown-ups. They can make it to appointments, balance checkbooks, pay bills on time, remember to get the car inspected each year, and so on. They can even sit at a desk all day without completely losing their minds. And, they make it all look so easy.

Photo by Fauxels/Pexels
Source: Photo by Fauxels/Pexels

This is largely because for neurotypicals, being interested in a task, finding this new and exciting, or even challenging might be helpful, but it is not essential. It is a bonus and not a prerequisite. In fact, they have a three-step checklist for their action plan that involves the concepts of importance, secondary importance, and rewards. First, the neurotypical grown-up will evaluate whether or not they should get said task done. Next, they are motivated by authority pressure, meaning that someone they respect (spouse, professor, or boss) deems the task important and would like it completed. Lastly, they are moved to the completion of the said task by rewards such as a grade, promotion, approval, or punitive consequences for not completing the said task (Dodson, 2020).

For adult ADHDers, we get what’s important, too, and we like rewards and understand punishment. It’s just that we don’t find dangling these in front of us all that motivating. What motivates the rest of the world we find annoying, or at best, insignificant.

We are motivated from the inside-out because we are driven by our very curious, interest-based nervous systems. ADHDers chase shiny objects because they are new and exciting. Then, once they cease to be shiny, we cease to be interested and move on. This seeming inability to use the concepts of importance and rewards to motivate us has had a huge impact on us trying to navigate an adult in a neurotypical world (Dodson, 2020).

Because of this, we are often perceived (and labeled) as immature, irresponsible, and reckless. Neurotypicals wonder if we will ever grow up. Hopefully not, but thank you for asking.

Neurotypicals can find this frustrating, because they are trying to motivate us according to their rules, the Neurotypical Owner’s Manual. They keep trying and it keeps not working. This is because when we were born, we were given the neurotypical owner’s manual also, only this didn’t make any sense to us so we threw it out. Hence, the disconnect.

We ADHDers, or better yet, members of The Fast Mind Club, need to write our own rules. We need to create an owner’s manual that is better suited to our wiring, one which is clear and paves the way to success.

Here it is:

1. The Fast-Mind disclaimer. The ADHDer’s Owner’s Manual is for those with unwavering curiosity and a natural ability for creativity, problem-solving, and innovation. It is your birthright to embrace this.

2. Positive self-talk. You are fun and spontaneous, not immature and irresponsible.

3. Embrace your child-like spirit. Being playful is okay and healthy, even as a grown-up. Set a good example for neurotypicals. They’ll live longer.

4. Don’t focus on where you fall short; focus on where you shine. Evaluate what excites you versus what drains you. The Strengthscope assessment can help with this. Then, move towards jobs and tasks that you naturally find interesting and exciting. This cannot be forced as we don’t operate that way. We're about passion.

5. Feel the charge. Once you get in the ADHD zone, stay there, and feel the charge of operating at this remarkable level. Feel the electricity, the flow. This will make it more familiar and easier to enter into the zone next time.

6. If you need a competitive environment, find one.

7. Most importantly, surround yourself with really good people. We are not talking about mere tolerance or even acceptance. We need people to value and embrace our wild and wonderful minds. Think of this as making the cut for a sports team. The judgers can have a seat on the bench. We’ll let them know when they get a chance to play.

8. We don’t want to be neurotypicals. No offense. We just like ourselves exactly the way we are so stop trying to make us be like you. Thank you.

Most of all, the world at large needs to realize that ADHD is not disorder, but rather a difference in cognition. Once we become aware of which triggers we need to pull to align our unique, interest-based nervous systems with what excites us, we are off and running. This is when we write that novel, movie script, start a business, invent something amazing, and find the solutions to problems everyone else missed.

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad/Pexels
Source: Photo by Rakicevic Nenad/Pexels

In fact, I find it difficult to even refer to something as a disorder that has so many accompanying positives. By shifting away from the current deficit-based model, and to instead move towards a more strength-based model, those of us with the gift of ADHD will be free to share our very natural gifts of creativity and innovation with the world (Dodson, 2020; Hallowell & Ratey, 2006).


Dodson, W. (2020). The secrets of the ADHD brain: Why we think, act, and feel the way we do. ADDitude Magazine. Retrieved from:…

Hallowell, E. and Ratey, J. (2006). Driven from distraction: Getting the most out of life with attention deficit disorder. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.