PART ONE: THE BASICS
ADHD isn’t a character flaw. It’s a developmental disorder of the brain. Some of the symptoms of adults with ADHD are:
- Trouble completing and organizing tasks
- Frequently losing important belongings
- Forgetfulness and distraction
- Restlessness and Impulsivity
- Difficulty following details
- Strong, sometimes inappropriate emotion
- Obsessive behaviors
- Poor memory
ADHD, anxiety, mood disorders, autism, and other conditions are not single or simple disorders.
They all have multiple types. ADD affects many areas of the brain and can manifest in many different ways.
Experts agree there are about 7 main types of ADHD.
This brings us to…
Type One: Classic ADD
This is the most commonly understood type. Most likely to be diagnosed in children and the easiest to recognize. Think of the boy in class who legitimately cannot sit still. Primary symptoms are inattentiveness, distractibility, hyperactivity, disorganization, and impulsivity.
Type Two: Inattentive ADD
This type is associated with low activity in the prefrontal cortex and low dopamine levels. Symptoms are short attention span, distractibility, disorganization, procrastination. People with this type are not hyperactive or impulsive. They can be introverted and daydream a lot. Girls have this type as much as, or more than, boys.
Type Three: Over-focused ADD
Includes all of the core ADD symptoms, plus great trouble shifting attention. They get stuck or locked into negative thought patterns or behaviors. There is a deficiency of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Those with type three have difficulty shifting from thought to thought, task to task, and being flexible.
Type Four: Temporal Lobe ADD
The Temporal lobe, located underneath your temple, is involved with memory, learning, mood stability, and visual processing of objects. People with this type have learning, memory, and behavioral problems, such as quick anger, aggression, and mild paranoia.
Type Five: Limbic ADD
Limbic ADD looks like a combination of dysthymia or chronic low-level sadness and ADD. Symptoms are moodiness, low energy, frequent feelings of helplessness or excessive guilt, and chronic low self-esteem. It is not a mood disorder. This type is caused by too much activity in the limbic part of the brain (the mood control center) and decreased prefrontal cortex activity, whether concentrating on a task or at rest.
Type Six: Ring of Fire ADD
Ring of fire ADD symptoms include: hypersensitivity to the environment — especially noise, light, touch; periods of oppositional behavior; unpredictable moods; talking fast; worrying and obsessiveness. The entire brains of those with this type is overactive. There is too much activity across the cerebral cortex and many of the other parts of the brain.
Type Seven: Anxious ADD
People with this type have hallmark ADD symptoms, and they are anxious, tense, have physical stress symptoms like headaches and stomachaches, predict the worst, and freeze in anxiety-provoking situations, especially where they may be judged. When the brain is scanned, there is high activity in the basal ganglia, large structures deep in the brain that help produce dopamine. This is the opposite of most types of ADD, where there is low activity in that region.
PART THREE: MISUNDERSTANDINGS
There are a lot of common misunderstandings about ADHD. Let’s get into them, shall we?
ADHD is a Problem for Children
ADHD doesn’t just go away when we grow up. We learn how to deal with it.
About 5% of adults have ADHD and many adults were never diagnosed as children (especially if they don’t have type one. I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and others before finally landing on ADHD.) Some people are able to overcome their symptoms as children, only to find that the demands of adulthood make it harder.
Also, different symptoms can manifest in adults than in children. Adults are less likely to have hyperactive symptoms than children, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have ADHD. While some of them were diagnosed as kids and never “grew out of it,” others didn’t get the correct diagnosis until they were well into adulthood (that’s me), and some are simply unaware that they have ADHD at all.
People With ADHD are Lazy and Using it as an Excuse.
It may look to you like we’re unmotivated and unwilling to work, but it’s really that we have trouble staying focused enough to get the work done. Or our depression, anxiety, OCD, etc. is setting in. A task that you see as “not that hard” could actually be a SWARM of tiny tasks overwhelming us. You don’t see these tiny tasks because they’re second nature to you. Not for us ADHD folks.
It’s tough for us to stay on top of things.
People with ADHD often describe their lives as feeling chaotic and out of control. We might seem careless because we’re scrambling to find our phone or to pay that bill, but really, we’re overwhelmed.
People with ADHD are Always Hyper
Your friend with ADHD may actually be the most mellow in the group. Mainly those with type two have trouble paying attention and focusing. People with this type of ADHD are more prone to making careless mistakes, losing things, and not being able to follow through.
People with ADHD get Angry for No Reason
Yes, we can often lose our cool quicker than you, but, chances are, there is a reason behind the anger. More than half of people with ADHD have trouble controlling their emotions, a condition some call deficient emotional self-regulation (DESR). Seemingly minor things might set off major explosions.
When we take stimulant medications, this brain activity goes back to normal. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can also help relieve these types of symptoms.
People with ADHD are Dumb/Do Poorly in School
It’s actually often the opposite. Everyone I know with ADHD is BRILLIANT and SO creative. Most made incredible grades in school and many went on to get masters, doctorates, etc.
One study of college students found that those with ADHD scored better on tests that measured creativity, such as drama, music, visual arts, and scientific discovery. Another study in Germany found that some symptoms, such as being impulsive and able to hyperfocus, make folks with ADHD great entrepreneurs.
People with ADHD Always Have Fun and are Outgoing
ADHD does not equal extrovert. Or social. Or outgoing. In fact, many folks with ADHD have social anxiety. At a young age, we realized we don’t think or act the same way as everyone else. For me, I was called “spaz” all the time. You may not have given a second thought to social functions such as lunch, a ball game, or a sleepover. But folks with ADHD probably struggled, prepared for, and worried about that event for weeks in advance. They know they don’t fit in. They’re “too much,” “too loud,” “too weird,” “attention-seeking,” etc.
So, as a child, we try our best to imitate the other kids. We learn speech patterns, when it’s okay to laugh and butt in, and how to pretend like you didn’t tune out an entire conversation. But to do all of that, to have a simple conversation, we have to be at MAXIMUM capacity. It’s EXHAUSTING and difficult. If we slip focus even a bit, we risk messing up and “exposing” our true selves. Which teaches us to hate our true selves.
This is especially true for those who weren’t diagnosed as kids. We didn’t know what was wrong with us. After the diagnosis, we get to learn. We understand ourselves. But it’s still a process. It’s still a battle. It’s still a journey. Please be patient with us.
PART FOUR: SO NOW WHAT?
It is true that education is the most powerful form of support. There is something SO incredibly loving about someone who spends time learning about you and your ADHD. On the next page are some resources you can start with while you begin studying and learning more about ADHD.
We’re trying to listen and we hate that we have to ask you to repeat yourself again. We’re trying to get our tasks done, but they’re looming over us. We’re trying to be present, but the storm in our heads is lethal.
We’re trying. Please, be patient.
Avoid Toxic Help
By this, I mean avoid offering to “help” but demoralizing the person in the process by commenting on the state of our houses, our lives, our minds, etc. Don’t tell us you know better, just help. Don’t try to “fix” our ADHD, learn how we can work with it and around it. Help the way we need help, not how you think we need it.
Avoid Being Judgemental
We can be especially sensitive to judgment because we’ve dealt with it for our entire lives. From childhood to our teen years to adulthood we have encountered countless people who judge us because we’re different. When you call us crazy, different, or loud, we hear “inferior and unworthy.”
Learn Your Person
We are all different. Just because we have ADHD doesn’t mean we’re just like all the other people with ADHD (remember the 7 types?) If the person you love with ADHD knows their type, study those specifically. Learn what your person’s triggers are. Figure out the best way to help them stay on task. Learn how they receive love the most. Learn their enneagram or Meyer’s Briggs or Hogwarts house. Your person is unique. Treat them as such.
Stand by Our Side
If the person is having a tough time accomplishing certain tasks, offer to stay with them while they work on these tasks. For instance, you can pay bills alongside us or sit on the other side of the room watching Netflix on your computer while we finish a paper. Just having you there helps.
Point out Strengths
It’s common for people with ADHD to have low self-esteem. Even if you don’t think we do, we need to hear positives. Tell us we listened to you well, because we tried really hard. Compliment our art or writing or music because it took us twice as long to finish it and we are probably already second-guessing the quality of our work.
In sum, the best ways to support your loved one with ADHD include learning about the disorder, asking them what they need, emphasizing their strengths, participating in tasks alongside them, and not being critical.
The key is to make sure the person you know with ADHD has access to the most up-to-date treatment, so they can get the more troublesome symptoms under control and let the more positive ones shine.
There are trained professionals who can help us manage the ADHD and symptoms well. If your person isn’t already asking for help, kindly suggest it! (If that’s your place) Otherwise, consider checking out these resources and passing them along: