How to Tell Someone They May Have ADHD

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adhd,adult adhd,overwhelm,procrastination

Recently I received an email from a woman who heard me speak at a business conference and who felt that her sister had all the symptoms of ADHD. Given the struggle her sister was dealing with at work, she felt that investigating the possibility of her sister’s ADHD might explain her sister’s difficulty and help her provide a solution. The problem was how do you tell someone you think they have ADHD in a way that she won’t feel attacked.

Here’s what I answered:

Telling someone they have ADHD, which may have very negative connotations, requires love and empathy. Your sister likely already knows that something is going on. She may suffer deeply, thinking that it’s her fault or that there’s something wrong with her. Her self-esteem is likely affected by her inability to manage it.

Remind her that you love her and that you want what’s best for her. Tell her without judgment about the “symptoms” you see her exhibiting and that it must be painful for her to struggle with these. Explain that you’ve heard something that could explain her difficulties. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) is a difference in brain wiring that requires a differing approach to doing things and that learning specific strategies can not only allow her to minimize or eliminate her struggle but also reap the upside of ADHD.

The important thing is to ensure that it be done with compassion and without judgment and that she know that she doesn’t have to struggle anymore. Most ADHDers are relieved upon hearing that it’s ADHD and that they are not lazy, crazy, or stupid. Once she gets a formal diagnosis, it’s imperative that she gets the help she needs to manage it. ADHD is an explanation but can become an excuse if you don’t do anything to improve your situation.

Defining Adult Attention Deficit Disorder


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When my prospects, who are adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD), call me they usually know about one or two symptoms that affect them. They think that ADHD is about being inattentive, impulsive or hyperactive. While I learned a lot from my ADHD coach training, the lights went on when I read the following definition:

“ADHD is a genetic, neurological difficulty of engagement with life activities on demand in which an individual’s performance, mood, and energy level are solely determined by that individual’s momentary sense of interest, challenge, novelty, and sometimes, urgency.”

Understanding this can help relieve a lot of the blame and shame. ADHD is a genetic neurological difficulty, which means it can’t be “cured” and is not a moral failing.

The difficulty of engagement with life activities on demand explains why at times you can’t concentrate while at other times you’re able to pay such attention that you can’t “disengage yourself”. You may not be able to concentrate on paperwork but when it comes to doing something that you have a lot of interest in, you’re able to “hyperfocus”, that is focus on this interest in such a way that you do at the exclusion of everything else.

Finally, the last section: your “performance, mood, and energy level are solely determined by [your]momentary sense of interest, challenge, novelty, and sometimes, urgency” gives you clues as to how you can manage your ADHD. When a task is boring, you can create interest or challenge or novelty to make it more likely for you to accomplish it. For example, you could improve your chances of completing a boring task by listening to music or changing where you complete it.

Unfortunately most ADHD adults use urgency by waiting until the last minute to complete these tasks. This may have worked in individual programs when you were 16 or 17 but when you work with teams (most work environments work with teams) and as you get older, using urgency is not a healthy way to work.

Tell me what have you done to make a boring task more interesting? With your amazing create out-of-the box thinking, I’m sure the suggestions can be very interesting