How To Explain Adult ADHD

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Topic: How to Explain What Adult ADHD is to your spouse, family, friends, boss, work colleagues. See the other Adult ADHD Issues.

Facilitator: Pete Quily

Thanks for Christopher Stanbury for taking notes

November 5th, 2013 Meeting Notes for the Vancouver Adult ADD Support Group

Warm Up: How do you explain what adult ADHD is to your spouse, family, friends, boss, work colleagues?

Explaining how it affects you, and in a way that they understand. What if they don’t?

Share how you do it and learn from other people’s examples.

People are often misinformed or unaware about ADHD, including people with ADHD. What works for you?

1. Why would we want to learn how to explain ADHD to others?

Impacts others

Avoids negative assumptions from others

Can be extremely irritating to partner/spouse

Others have a greater chance to become more empathetic and can re-assess their views.

Educates others in general

ADDers often good in crisis situations dealing with others / but not for themselves

Get support from friends & family – self-advocacy. Friends may accommodate / support

“I work well this way, that way causes me problems.”

Makes life go smoother

Would you rather a polite question, or a nag?

You may be worried about being labelled if you go public with ADHD but what you may not realize is that people are already likely labelling you and possibly with labels a lot worse than ADHD

Several factors whether you go public or not. There are several pros & cons of going out of the ADHD closet or staying hidden inside it. Do not make a decision on that impulsively

An alternate step to going public is saying something like, Here is where I function well. Here is where I have problems and specific supports can be helpful

Going public with your employer could turn out to be either positive or negative.

Go to – category on the right

What would it take to go public with ADHD?

If you go public emphasise the strengths of ADHD, as well as the challenges of living with ADHD.

See the 151 positives of ADHD. How many do you have?

Books for women with ADHD by Kathleen Nadeau, Sari Solden, Terry Matlen.

2. A few ways to explain ADHD to other [non ADHD] people

A. What ADHD is or

B. What is one aspect of ADHD?

Possibly start with ‘It is a neurobiological condition that interferes with functioning in one or more contexts, i.e. work, relationships, personal life. Primary problems are related to attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity

Try to explain the importance of the benefits of ‘to do’ lists in order to be more organized.

This is more important than for the average [non-ADD] person.

ADHD is the #2 genetically inherited condition in the world. Height is #1.

ADHD is a brain-based condition, it affects not just various neurotransmitters but much more. There are structural differences in the brain, it affects different parts of the brain, cerebral glucose metabolism, volumetric differences in the brain, abnormalities in cortical, striatal, callosal, and cerebellar regions. For more see multiple clinical evidence of ADHD as a real condition and ADHD and your brain.

There are negative AND positive aspects of ADHD. It’s not 100% pathology or 100% gift.

Not everyone with ADHD has all the symptoms of ADHD.

I know some professional organizers who have ADHD. I’ve coached project managers who have ADHD.

There is often a wide degree of difference to which one is affected with ADHD, mild to severe and many stages in between

Hyperfocus can be useful – if it’s on the right topic or project.

3. How do you generally explain ADHD?

There are many common traits, but not all apply to everyone.

It is a neurobiological disorder. It is not a behavioural disorder.

It is not a moral disorder. Though many closet ADDers in denial often go projecting on the condition like it is

It is NOT a personality trait.

Affects executive functions of the brain as well as many other aspects of the brain

Need constant stimulation / reminders

One aspect of ADHD is a dopamine shortage – We’re understimulated, don’t have enough dopamine so we require more stimulation than non-adders

One can have healthy or unhealthy self-medication:

I.e., drama, conflict, booze, illegal drugs, gambling, etc. (as opposed to ADHD medications, exercise, being kind to others, music, sex, work and hobbies you like, a challenge you enjoy etc)

We work at things differently – hyperfocus or non focus

Sometimes the harder we try, the worse it is

Often we’re not ‘in the moment’ – thus not thinking of what one is doing now.

‘Attention regulation disorder’ would be a more accurate description of ADHD than “attention deficit disorder”. If we’re interested in something we can hyperfocus for hours

But, if we’re not interested in something? We have a lot of problems focusing, much, much more than non-adders

Can we change public perception or way of describing ADHD?

Misdirected Attention might be a better term.

There are different levels of dysfunction

Does ADHD Really Exist? Article I did to give multiple peer-reviewed clinical evidence that it does. Plus polite & less polite ways to answer the science illiterate ADHD stigmatizers

A ton of good information in ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says – Dr. Russell Barkley. Read a bit to know more yourself and to use as ammo against the illiterates

Some people are very affected by ADHD – they cannot get or keep work.

Others manage to use it to their advantage. Most of us are in between

There are 3 billionaires who have gone public with having ADHD

There is a MENSA special interest group on ADHD with 600+ members

ADHD Meds can be useful if you’re willing to give them an honest try, i.e., it takes a while to get the right med or meds and the right dosage. Sadly few docs are trained on ADHD so they don’t establish proper expectations

ADDers are not good self-observers. We often minimize or deny our problems or we massively amplify them. We can learn to be more accurate self observers though

What (work) do you find interesting?

You can be good at something – but find it boring.

ADD is part of you – but not all of you.

Find something that you enjoy and that you can do well, that others will pay you for. No one likes doing boring jobs, but it is exponentially painful for ADHD adults

We need to minimize or delegate the ‘boring stuff’ as much as possible in terms of work and our personal life. The stuff that we can’t we need to learn specific strategies that work for us to get them done.

Fast, slow, free, structured work environment – what works for your unique ADHD brain?

Some structure is good for adults with ADHD. But not too much structure or we’ll rebel & it will backfire

4. What is a more useful approach?

How do you deal with ADHD?

Question time

Specific area of focus

For those with aggressive ignorance about ADHD and stigmatizing it try

Start off politely, try something like this first.

Sample Response to a Person with a General Lack of Knowledge of ADHD

Then if that doesn’t work try this. Sample Response to a Person Who’s Strongly Denying ADHD Exists

The Canadian Medical Association and every major medical, psychiatric and psychological association in North America says ADHD is real and does exist.

What research have you done that show’s that all of those organizations above are wrong? And where did you complete your medical degree?

ADHD stimulant medications speed non-ADHD people up, but they calm us down.

Ignorance + insecurity = aggressive idiot

Some people are so ideologically fanatical on ADHD or ADHD medications that there is no point in trying to convince them otherwise. Just avoid them as much as possible.

Three possible ways of communicating

Passiveness – ADDers are sometimes this way excessively

Assertiveness – people do not use this approach enough

Aggressiveness – ADDers are sometimes this way excessively

More articles on how to deal with ADHD stigma on my second blog,

What Does Everybody Else Know That I Don’t?: Social Skills Help for Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder  Great book by Michelle Novotni. Make sure to use the checklist in the back both yourself and someone who knows you well AND who is non judgmental.

The Weiss Functional Impairment Rating Scales (WFIRS) evaluate how an individual with ADHD is actually able to function. Created by BC psychiatrist Dr. Margaret Weiss

ADDers are not usually diagnosed for their own benefit but more often as a result of annoying someone else. This is one reason why girls & women with the inattentive form of ADHD ( & some boys and men with it) often get even more underdiagnosed then most.

Related Adult ADHD Issues Posts

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