Can you imagine saying to someone who has cancer that you “don’t believe in cancer?”
How about telling someone with a mobility impairment that they just need to apply themselves and “try harder” to walk?
Would you ask someone who was born Deaf, “don’t most kids normally outgrow that?”
Well, those are the kinds of comments individuals, such as myself, with Adult Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) hear all the time.
Here are the facts:
-AD/HD is real.
-If simply “trying harder” worked we would all be fine (we’re not).
-According to The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, “in half or more of all cases, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder persists into adulthood and continues to cause difficulty with respect to organization, time-management, impulse and/or mood control, and the efficient fulfillment of responsibilities on the job and in the home.”
I will share some of the struggles of having AD/HD and then the good news – you can help reduce some of that struggle!
AD/HD is a serious disorder of executive functioning. It can impair all areas of a person’s life. I will use some examples from my own life since I can’t speak for everyone, but having been in an AD/HD support group I have seen that many of these issues are typical.
-Time. It is very difficult to estimate time. This causes me to be late for many things which can impact social relationships and have negative impacts at work even to the point of losing a job. It also means I might spend hours on an unimportant task I thought would take 15 minutes, leaving other important things undone, leading in turn to heightened anxiety (it is very common for individuals with AD/HD to also have anxiety http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/apa2012/anxiety-disorders-and-adhd-comorbidity-rule-not-exception).
-Understanding directions. Vague directions are extremely challenging. If my friend says something is “over there” or “on the shelf” and nods in a direction my mind starts to race “Over where? Which shelf? Did she mean in this room? Or in the study? I don’t see it! Where is it?” People tend to get frustrated when you ask them to explain things in explicit detail all the time. This can be especially harmful in the workplace where I have been accused of “asking too many questions” or not being self-directed enough.
-Managing thoughts and listening to people at the same time. If my husband is telling me a story about his day and I remember that his brother called I start to panic that I will forget to tell him. I then have 2 options. Either interrupt him which is rude, or repeat over and over again in my head “remember to tell him his brother called” until he is done talking which also comes off as rude because I look like I’m not paying attention.
-These are just a few small examples. Unstructured time is difficult to manage. Housework and other easily interrupted and tedious tasks are a challenge. I am constantly thinking about at least 8 things at once and it can be tough to separate the junk from what’s important.
Attention to detail! Individuals with AD/HD may sometimes miss the bigger picture but notice small things that no one else sees. This can be a very beneficial trait in the workplace as well as at home.
Knowledge is power! Once I knew I (still) had AD/HD and Anxiety (rather than a variety of other conditions I had previously been misdiagnosed with) everything made a lot more sense and I was able to start taking control of my life. There are proven cognitive-behavioral strategies and coping methods to help adults with AD/HD to improve their day-to-day functioning.
Acceptance is key! In situations where I feel comfortable disclosing my AD/HD I am able to improve my life and my relationships with the people around me. Recently I was able to ask that long memos please be broken into smaller paragraphs because large chunks of text are nearly impossible for me to read (or one page will take me an absurd amount of time to get though).
Here’s where you come in. If you educate yourself about AD/HD and spread your knowledge you can help to reduce the associated stigma and misconceptions. This can help reduce the stress for individuals with AD/HD brought on by the constant struggle to “pass” for normal, to be seen as productive and ambitious and not rude.
Mint is a thirty-something-year-old child-of-hippies living in Manhattan with her husband and big, adorable dog. She has the best job ever – working as an applied behavior analysis instructor teaching children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders how to do everything from reading to brushing their teeth to playing video games. She is in the process of slowly completing a Masters in Disability Studies at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. Her pastimes include sitting on the couch and spacing out and then suddenly realizing that an hour has passed, walking in the park with her adorable dog for a really long time instead of doing paperwork, and taking on more projects than she can possibly handle.