The challenge of being friends with someone who is diagnosed with ADHD is that if you take his or her behavior personally, the relationship may be hard to sustain. What looks standoffish can be distraction. An ADD adult impulsively makes commitments he may have trouble keeping. An ADD adult needs to be stimulated but can’t always connect, if too distracted.
Dan, a reader of my book The Gift of Adult ADD, wrote me about his struggle with his ADHD friend: "I don't tend to risk beyond the kinds of people who are able to offer mutuality, who can sustain emotional ties and resonances with ease. This man falls into a different category and the growing edges are tough. I am at times, tired by our dynamics together."
Dan stepped out of his comfort zone. He risked intimacy and shared his feelings about ADHD with his friend by saying: "However this ADHD manifests, it does not change the way I feel about you,” and "I wouldn't ever want to do anything to hurt you."
I was deeply moved by Dan’s correspondence with me. It's hard to imagine more comforting words that show deep acceptance in the face of otherwise troublesome traits. I can also imagine it provided the safety for his friend to not hold back out of fear of rejection, to allow his true self to emerge since so many adults with ADHD have experienced such harsh judgment and tend to cover up.
The most important “Do" in a relationship with a friend with ADHD is to focus on the positives. My book, The Gift of Adult ADD, identifies several positive aspects of ADHD including creativity, intuition, exuberance, sensitivity, and being connected to nature. Your positive vision of your friend can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Dan shared his own “do’s and don’ts,” all of which show a high level of sensitivity to the symptoms of ADHD. The idea of picking a place that will not be too distracting, or timing the invitation so that it will be remembered, and finding a place that will not be too boring for a stimulation-seeking person are all incredibly thoughtful and responsive to the symptoms of ADHD.
- Work Around Impulsive Commitments and Time Blindness: When planning an activity, (e.g. a dinner), it is good to do so via email so that it allows the person to respond in his/her own time and react accordingly without the pressure of having to respond to something in person. I tend to invite ahead of time but probably not too far in advance. For dinners, I offer a few days in advance to a week.
- Work Around Their Trouble Organizing Activities: In this person's case, I always ask: 'What would you like to eat?' and allow him to make suggestions, but I will offer to pick the place, which rids him of the pressure to make an on the spot decision.
- Work Around Them Becoming Easily Bored: So, he might say: "I'd like a burger." But I will pick a place that is different from where we have dined previously which serves burgers. In being sensitive to my friend who has ADHD, I will pick a "new" place that will offer stimulation and something different because boredom can set it quickly.
- Work Around Their Difficulty Sustaining Attention: So, in this case, I chose a place that was a place he had not been. We picked a quiet, out of the way alcove where we could talk and after, there was a nearby promontory where we could walk (which gave him exercise) and a lovely view of the city.
What strategies have you used to be responsive to the unique promises and pitfalls of an ADHD friend? Feel free to share in the comments section below.
I was struck by the depth of reflection Dan shared with me. It gave me pause to contemplate what feels like a culture of disposable friendships. When people accumulate friendships and measure them by counts on social media sites, we have to ask ourselves what is lost? Dan struggled with a friendship with an ADD adult for all the reasons anyone would; his friend was bored easily, hyper, forgetful, and seemed not to return the attention he was offered. Dan’s conclusion was that friendship with someone with ADHD was a call for him to “love more.”
Dr. Lara Honos-Webb is a worldwide ADD expert and offers ADD coaching.