How should you treat someone with ADHD? Really, just the way you’d treat anyone else – with respect and empathy. Don’t be a jerk and you’ve already done 90 percent of the hard work!
But if you want to go the extra mile in being sensitive to the challenges of your friend, partner or coworker with ADHD, here are some good places to start.
1. Don’t judge them for their ADHD symptoms
Looking at ADHD symptoms from the outside, it’s easy for people who don’t have ADHD to write these symptoms off as laziness, character flaws, or a lack of caring. One way you can be supportive of someone with ADHD is by not jumping to conclusions when they do things that could be explained by their struggles with inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. In other words, don’t take their symptoms as a reflection of their character.
2. Ask questions
I wouldn’t expect anyone who’s not medically trained to have an extensive knowledge of ADHD, or even a basic knowledge necessarily. I can’t speak for everyone with ADHD, but personally I think it’s great when people ask me questions along the lines of “why do you do such-and-such behavior?” or “how does such-and-such symptom affect you?” It shows that they’re genuinely interested in understanding how ADHD affects my life.
3. Recognize that you have different experiences
When we’re trying to empathize with someone, it’s natural to want to talk about similar experiences we’ve had. Many ADHD symptoms parallel the moments of disorganization, inattention, procrastination, and so on that everyone has sometimes, so when someone with ADHD talks about their symptoms, it can be tempting to say “oh, that happens to me too.”
The thing is, if you don’t have ADHD, it probably doesn’t happen to you. Some ADHD symptoms sound like things everyone experiences at times, but in ADHD, these symptoms are more frequent, more impairing, and harder to control. No matter how well intentioned the “I have that too” comments are, they come across as trivializing a mental health condition.
Ultimately, the best way to support someone with ADHD (if you don’t have ADHD) is to understand that what they experience is different than what your experience and that you probably can’t understand all of their experiences by referencing your own experience.
4. Don’t think that you know more about ADHD than they do
Chances are that unless you have medical training, you don’t know as much about ADHD as most people with ADHD. And even if you do have medical training, you don’t necessarily understand the firsthand experience of living with ADHD.
It’s totally fine if you know next to nothing about ADHD – just don’t pretend like you’re an expert. There’s always that guy who once read an article about how ADHD isn’t real and wants to share his insight with people who have ADHD. Don’t be that guy.
Similarly, try to not to go overboard with giving advice. As someone with ADHD, I’m confronted with my symptoms constantly. Chances are I’ve already thought of or heard about all the basic organizational strategies you think might solve my problems. So if you have advice on how to manage my symptoms, please keep it to things I really might not have heard about (like a new organizational app that’s just come out) or coping strategies that are truly creative.
5. Hang out with them while them do boring stuff
If you’re up for meeting me at a cafe to do work or keeping me company while I clean, I always appreciate it. People with ADHD struggle with self-motivation and self-discipline, especially when it comes to tasks they aren’t enthusiastic about. These things have a tendency to get put off for way too long.
But doing these tasks with other people can make them more bearable. So while “want to hang out and do boring stuff together?” may not seem like an especially enticing invitation, it’s not one I’m ever likely to turn down.
This list isn’t the final word on being supportive to people with ADHD. No doubt there are all sorts of things, both big and small, that you can do to support someone with ADHD. If you can think of some more, please share them below!
Image: Flickr/Andrew Clarke