A Crash Course in ADHD

I have a loved one who has ADHD.  A lot of people, especially friends and family, do not really know what ADHD is, or the implications of it.  Even for myself, it’s taken a few years to understand it, and cope with it.  I’ve written this article to answer some common questions concerning ADHD.

What is it?

ADHD is real.  The medical community is aware of it, as well as the 10% or more of population that are affected by it.  It is an impairment of the frontal lobe of the brain, which has to do with memory, organizing, motivation and more.

It is for life.  There is no cure. Medication must be taken on a daily basis to manage the symptoms.

It affects people of all ages.  Some are diagnosed as children, and many do not find out about it till they are adults.  For the adults, many suffer also from anxiety and depression as a result of ADHD.

ADHD affects everyone differently.  “ADHD affects a broad number of functions, from distractibility to hyperactivity and can impair organizational abilities, timekeeping and much more. What works for one person, might not work for another.” (Quoted from an ADHD support group member).

What is it not?

It is not just hyperactivity or forgetting things.  People can do that all the time, and especially under stress.  Hyperactivity and forgetting can be a symptom of ADHD, if it happens in a lot of different situations, over a long period of time, and impairs daily living.

A person who has ADHD is not someone who is a jerk, obnoxious, immature, or who does not care.  Unfortunately, these are labels people use, especially if they are unaware of ADHD.  Although it is true that some behaviors stem from personality, a lot of it is affected by ADHD.

There is so much more to explain, but that’s the basics.

How ADHD plays out in social settings.

Especially for adult ADHD, it is difficult for the person with the condition to open up or share with another.  In general, adults who find out they had ADHD later in life, had to deal with a lot of negative interactions from people, thinking they were dumb, failures, or worse.  This is multiplied by how many number of years the person, and others, did not know about ADHD.

Some things I’ve seen in social settings, I did not connect with ADHD until much later. But, learning more about the condition, things made sense.  A lot of these examples are from settings at church, where we had the most social interaction.  For example:

  • The person with ADHD got squirmy, agitated, and angry during long sharing sessions in the evening.  For example, during retreats.  I really enjoyed the sharing, but my loved one had to retreat to the car to cool off.   Explanation: evening, and meds wear off.  Long sharing is not to the point and easy for person to get distracted.
  • Loved one got really angry when told cannot bring personal snowboard on winter trip, and dramatic showdown. Explanation: easy for person with ADHD to impulsively blurt out angry words, instead of using the front part of the brain to restrain them.  We all think angry thoughts, but those with frontal brain control know how to restrain them in social settings.
  • At a party in the evening, instead of engaging with others, person with ADHD sits in the corner and vegges out on the phone.  Explanation: evening meds wear off.  Media helps the ADHD brain to calm down.  Also, people with ADHD generally don’t know how to interact with others well.  Especially when ADHD was discovered later in adult life.  Put downs, misunderstanding, and failing others have been the norm for many years, and the person with ADHD does not know how to cultivate positive interactions with other people.
  • The list goes on:  the person got lost on way to camp. Instead of trying to find a way to get there, person avoids yet another failure and gives up, and goes home instead. Person looks at cell phone during a sermon.  This used to bother me until I realized, even though the person did not look to be paying attention, the person recalled more of the sermon than I did.  Media helps calm and stimulate the ADHD brain, so that it can pay attention.

You can probably guess the amount of marital strife that occurred, with my misunderstanding of how ADHD can affect life and relationships.  Compounded with my misunderstanding, was others trying to help the ADHD person improve.  What would work with a regular person (reprimands, reproofs, upping the ante on negative reinforcement) only made things worse.  So what do you do?

Generally, genuine, positive encouragement on what they did right.  Sometimes this may be difficult to find, but focusing on that really helps the person with ADHD.  (Positive encouragement is really helpful to all, but especially if the person has ADHD).  In general, people with ADHD, especially those who found out later in life, have faced many decades feeling like a failure, not knowing it was ADHD.  Genuine positive encouragement really lights them up!

Respect.  Of course, respect is something we should give to all people.  I try to even show respect to kids (not just older adults) — meaning, I don’t try to talk down to them, I try to see from their point of view, I treat them as a person.  People with ADHD — as with all people — deserve to be treated like people.  People treat others with physical handicaps with respect — what about those with mental or emotional handicaps?  Just because it cannot be seen does not mean it is not debilitating, or affects every area of their life.

Finally, ADHD is an ongoing thing, and it affects not only the person with ADHD, but everyone around them.  I could go on about all the ways it’s affected my life, but I’ll save that for another blog.

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