Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is still incredibly misunderstood. As previously admitted, even I still had some common misconceptions about ADHD until my boy’s diagnosis. More often than not symptoms are still mistakenly perceived as bad behaviour, lazy, disrespectful, rude, careless and self-absorbed. So how can we help an adult or child with ADHD.
Being the partner, parent or carer for someone with ADHD can be frustrating at times, so take a minute to imagine being the one who is constantly being misunderstood and judged unfairly. Imagine having to (over) explain when what you have said or done has been misconstrued, or people not believing you when you try to explain. It can be helpful and really worthwhile taking a little time to learn more about those behaviours that frustrate you. Meaning you can build a stronger relationship with that someone you care for, a family member or a loved one that has ADHD.
1. Visual reminders and Post It Notes
Forgetting things is one of the most complained about behaviours from those who live/work with individuals who have ADHD. My sons and I are continually losing shoes, keys, phones, and bags. They forget homework, and I forget appointments and bills to pay, much to my husband’s dismay.
Using visual aids really help an ADHD brain, and multiple reminders, not just one. Post It notes can be great to use around the desk, laptop and door, whilst technology such as phone alarms etc. can also be great. Technology can also be used to locate things such as phones, keys, air pods etc. For older children, and adults then Direct Debits and Standing Orders are a great way to help ensure bills are always paid.
Routine is essential, as it’s the working memory that makes it harder for us to remember every little thing. So the more it becomes part of a routine, the more likely we are to remember it. Ensure you all have a specific area in the hall/bottom of the stairs for bags, coats etc. Named coat hooks and/or baskets to place your things when you come in, meaning they should always be there again in the morning when you need them.
2. Try not to interrupt or make requests
One of the central executive function issues with ADHD and behaviour, is working memory. Working memory is the skill that allows us to retain small amounts of information in our brain, whilst completing another task. For example, driving and remembering directions; cooking and remembering ingredients, instructions and timings. It helps us maintain a train of thought.
When you are interrupted or questioned mid-sentence or during the conversation, it can be extremely frustrating and overwhelming for someone with ADHD. It means the train of thought is lost and sometimes can never be retrieved.
Funnily enough, this is also the exact same reason why we might interrupt you. We are so worried that we might lose our train of thought and not remember what we want to say to you, that we can end up blurting it out whilst you are still speaking.
I use the silences to try and figure out the best way to repsond. So often we react, but actually giving the boys the time to say what they need to say, also gives me the time to remember how to best reply, rather than react.
3. Break things down
A lot of the time tasks can overwhelm those with ADHD, so it can really help to break each task down into separate smaller tasks. For example, instead of asking for a child to ‘Get ready for bed’, break it down:
- Have supper
- Get on PJ’s
- Brush teeth
- Get glass of water
These are much more manageable chunks. Ask/remind them about the first task, then do not mention or ask about the next task until the first has been completed, and so on.
That way, as each task is completed it can be ticked off, which gives a real boost of dopamine (ADHDers thrive on it) and also a chance for you to praise them (this works especially well for children) which helps.
Recognition Responsive Euphoria (RRE) is something a lot of those with ADHD experience. Individuals feel positively euphoric after receiving a compliment or recognition for hard work. So praise after even the smallest of tasks can make a huge difference.
4. Expressing thoughts and feelings
Impulse-control is a trait of many of those with ADHD. Sometimes individuals can be unfairly labeled as insensitive, or unaware of the feelings of others. Far from it, ADHDers are some of the most empathetic people around, they just sometimes struggle to communicate clearly. It’s also really common for us to struggle to find the right words when trying to explain ourselves.
Don’t assume anything! Personally I think this is a huge life lesson that everyone should follow. It is really useful to ask those with ADHD questions to clarify what they have just said, in order to be sure.
5. Group social situations
Group situations can be extremely overwhelming for those with ADHD. Imagine trying to visually process all the information/people you see when you arrive or are in a group situation. Add in to that trying to focus on listening and following the conversation, whilst also filter out any other conversations or distractions happening around you. Think about whether you are making enough eye contact, or too much eye contact. And whether you are talking too little or too much. Think about trying to remember what you want to say and not interupting the conversation.
Overwhelmed? Welcome to the ADHD club, and that’s before we even touch on the likely anxiety being caused by the gathering itself, and making sure we can do all the above. Please go easy on your ADHD frineds, colleagues and kids. Sometimes they just don’t have the energy to join in or stay so long at gatherings.
6. Listening might not look like it
More often than not we assume that listening involves maintaining eye contact, sitting/stadning still and using visual cues to show we are listening. Those with ADHD couldn’t listen more differently. It is scientifically proven that fidgeting and movement can improve and increase the focus of individuals with ADHD. A lot of us (me included) find maintaining continual eye contact distracting and over stimulating. Therefore we avert our eyes so as to be able to concentrate on listening, and not to be distratced visually. So it may look like we aren’t listening, when infact we are working hard to ensure we can.
7. Organised Chaos
Quite often you find that those with ADHD need organisation and clarity to function, but the flipside is that we quite often have ‘messy’ areas in our lives. A pile of clothes in the bedroom that is always there, a messy desk, or cluttered car. Believe it or not this is an orgnaised mess and quite often it can have a ‘purpose’.
It may seem like a nice thing to do to help organise the mess or tidy up the clutter, but it’s best left alone. If it is causing conflict then why not suggest an alternative location for the pile, or offer to help sort through with them. But don’t force it!
8. Time management
A 2019 review found that children and adults with ADHD exhibit issues with time management due to their perception of time and executive functioning deficits. The inability to perceive time can cause a host of problems at school, home, or work. Being continually late, taking too long to get ready or waiting till the last minute to start tasks can effect every day life.
Visual time reminders work really well, setting reminders and using timers on phones etc. are a perfect way to aid those with ADHD.
ADHD is already associated with sleep issues. Individuals with ADHD can really struggle in maintaining a ‘typical’ sleep pattern, with their brains and energy levels being at their most productive late in the evening. Think of an ADHD brain being a little like a teenager, a nightmare to wake up inh the morning and not wanting/being able to go to sleep in the evening. Then imagine having a teenager with ADHD!
However those with ADHD can also get incredibly tired. The energy required just to function every day (masking, coping strategties, just doing what others take for granted) is massive, and so consequently some days we just don’t have the energy to function.
If you see energy levels depleting then suggest taking a break or a quick nap, or maybe having a snack. Maybe taking 5 mins out to do an activity we are passionate about to help refuel and restore our energy levels.
10. Emotional Sensitivity
I touched on RRE earlier, the flip side of this is RSD or Rejection Sensitivity Disorder. RSD is an emotional dysregulation symptom of ADHD. It is increasingly common, although it is not listed as one of the 5 official diagnostic criteria for ADHD. Individuals with RSD don’t handle rejection well. We get very upset if we think someone has shunned, critisced or rejected us, even if that’s not the case.
Individuals with RSD tend to react in two ways. We either become people pleasers or withdraw from situations, abandoning our goals out of fear of failure. The idea of trying and failing or being rejected is so painfull we simply don’t risk.
Be aware of how you actions or words can effect ADHDers. Simple constructive critisicm can be taken to heart and ruminated on for some time. Try where possible to be honest and clear in any conversation, as any ambiguity or glossing over a situation can actually makes things s whole lot worse for someone whose mind is already sensitive.
ADHD and behaviour
I hope this gives a little insight into the behaviour of those with ADHD and how you can help us work to our best. What little things have you found that help, I’d love you to share in the comments!
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