Back to Basics IV – Succeeding with ADHD?

We’re going to finish this month of ADHD Awareness by talking about success. What is success? Why do some people seem to achieve success while others struggle constantly? Is success really possible with ADHD?

In order, my short answers are: that depends; it’s all about support; and yes, but.

So let’s get into it.

What is success?

suc*cess noun 1 the accomplishment of an aim; a favourable outcome (their efforts met with success). 2 the attainment of wealth, fame, or position (spoiled by success). 3 a thing or person that turns out well. [Latin successus (as succeed)]

The Canadian Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.

Society tends to consider the second definition the only type of success that matters; I would say that the third is the most important, because it is about a person’s character rather than their material gains.

But the reason I say that success doesn’t have a single answer (that’s what I mean by “that depends”) is that first definition. “The accomplishment of an aim” is individual. You decide on what you want to accomplish, and you put in the effort to achieve that goal. Which means you get to define your own success.

I encourage you to think about what kinds of things you truly care about. What does success really look like for you? Maybe it is that second definition, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe “success” for you is having lots of good friends who know they can depend on you and who you can depend on in times of need. Maybe it’s being a good parent and raising children that meet that third definition. Maybe it’s much smaller than any of that and it’s simply about living each day the best you can and treating others with kindness and understanding. That’s the point: success is subjective, and you get to decide what it is for you and your life.

Why do some people achieve success while others struggle?

You know that old saying, “Behind every successful man is a woman?” Well, that’s what I mean when I say that it’s all about support. Not that women need to support men to succeed; rather, I mean that all people require support from others in order to succeed. That’s why we stan rags to riches stories: people who rise above their starting place, especially without lots of support, are our heroes.

The fact that everyone needs support for something is an important one to remember, though. It’s not wrong or bad to need support, it’s human. It’s just that some people need more support than others for specific things, and unfortunately the stuff ADHDers struggle with—executive functions—tend to be things that contribute to success, particularly as the world defines it.

It’s also totally possible that people the world considers to be unsuccessful have actually achieved the success they wanted. You don’t know if you don’t ask.

Can ADHDers succeed?

Yes, ADHDers can be successful in business, in life, in love, etc.


ADHD means we’ll probably have to define success to mean something specific and personal to us, that takes our particular flavour of ADHD into account.

ADHD means we’ll need to adapt our road to success based on our particular interests, skills, challenges, and strengths.

ADHD means we’ll probably need people to support us in our less-than-stellar executive functions.

If you look at the ADHDers touted as successes, you’ll see a few commonalities, and if you really dig you’ll probably realize the following:

  1. They’re successful in a field they reliably hyperfocus on; and
  2. They have people around them who handle the stuff they aren’t good at, from Executive and Personal Assistants to manage schedules and tasks, to cooks and cleaning staff (or a spouse who is good at those things).

So define success for yourself, and then think about ways you might get there. Your path doesn’t need to be linear. It doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s path. Your success also doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s success. Figure out what matters most to you, and make it happen.

This week’s printable has been around for a couple of years at this point; it’s a worksheet designed to help you work on this very thing. It actually goes with a couple of YouTube videos I did on the topic of ADHD and life dreams, so go watch those, too.

I look forward to learning about your definition of success and how you’re going to achieve it!


Back to Basics III – Treatments for ADHD

So far this month, we’ve talked about what ADHD is and looked at executive dysfunction—both the good and the bad.

Obviously, we’re looking at more bad than good. One clearly-defined criterion for psych diagnoses is the requirement that symptoms cause distress/make it hard or impossible to accomplish necessary activities of daily living.

But once you have the diagnosis, or once you think you might have ADHD, what can you do about these challenges? Russell Barkley says that ADHD is the most treatable disorder, but what does that really mean?

Pinnable image for this post, with illustrations of a bunch of different types of treatment for various medical conditions.

The Big Four

The first things to look at when considering your ADHD symptoms are diet, exercise, sleep, and stress. Keeping these within healthy ranges will generally help your brain and body function at their best, and that will give whatever treatments you attempt the best chance at helping you manage your symptoms.


A good diet that has lots of protein (not like ridiculously high, just higher than average) is important for good brain function. Other important components here include Omega-3 fatty acids (found in eggs and fish, for the most part; vegans can find it in walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and edamame) and plenty of vegetables, as well as complex carbohydrates (e.g., whole wheat bread and pasta, beans, potatoes).


Regular exercise (especially cardio) is amazingly good for your brain! It wakes up your entire body and keeps dopamine in your system, which is great since dopamine is one of the primary neurotransmitters involved in ADHD. When you exercise regularly, you also make it easier for those dopamine levels to remain higher for longer periods of time.


When we sleep, our bodies do a bunch of things like healing and rejuvenating. Our brains do that, but they also work through all of the events of the day, committing things to long-term memory and stuff like that. We need to make sure we’re getting at least eight hours of sleep per night to make sure our brains are functioning at their best.


Stress, even positive stress, increases cortisol in the body and makes it harder to function normally. Keeping yourself on an even keel can actually help your symptoms a lot, as long as you don’t let things also get boring!

formal diagnosis required

Most of the things you can do to help you manage your ADHD symptoms don’t require a formal diagnosis, but some things do. Namely, accommodations at work or school, and medication.


Medication is still the first (and sometimes only) place people turn. It’s very well-researched, and its effects are fairly well-known. There are many different types of medication available for ADHD treatment, so don’t stop after one failure. There is a fantastic chart linked in the sidebar that outlines the different applicable medications, their typical doses, and expected side effects. It doesn’t go in-depth, but it does give a solid base to work from. I recommend you share it with your doctor.

A good treatment plan will not involve medication only. If you ever have to stop taking medication, you will require strategies to help you maintain your lifestyle. It’s better to establish those strategies while you’re taking effective medication than to wait until you don’t have that support.


Accommodations are things that help you succeed. For example, wearing noise-cancelling headphones if you work in a cubicle so that you can focus on your work; having extensions for school assignment due dates; writing exams in a private room; or bringing a Tangle (quiet fidget toy) to work meetings. You do need a formal diagnosis of ADHD to access accommodations, and you will need to register with your school’s resource teacher (for grade school) or disability centre (for post-secondary), or discuss needed accommodations with HR. None of this guarantees you accommodations, but it is more likely.


Neurofeedback needs to be individualized and administered by a trained practitioner. It uses a variety of computer-based activities to retrain your brain in specific areas of functioning. I do not have personal experience with it yet, but I know a few people who have had good results and hope to finally get the paperwork in so that I can do it soon.

No Diagnosis Needed

The rest of your options can be accessed without a formal diagnosis. I’ve listed them here with what my experience has shown is most effective at the top. That doesn’t mean that the options lower on the list won’t be helpful for you, it just means that I didn’t find them useful.

ADHD Coaching

ADHD coaches help you learn, develop, and implement strategies that work for you, so that you can better manage your ADHD symptoms and be able to do well if you have to stop taking medication. Do be careful about who you hire; coaching is not a regulated profession, so look for someone who has a good track record and has done training in life coaching as well as education in ADHD.

Talk Therapy

Sometimes you have a lot of stuff you need to work through, so this can be very helpful, whether you see a counselor, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Many professionals in this field will use elements of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is a type of behavioural therapy where the practitioner (a psychologist or social worker with training in CBT) helps you think through your behaviours and come up with better ways to react to different situations.


If you’re able to meditate, this can be really helpful in getting your mind centred and teaching your brain to actually concentrate or focus on what you want it to.


Mindfulness is about getting us to focus on the actual now and the immediate future, rather than dwelling on the past or thinking really far into the future. Being truly present in the moment instead of jumping ahead in conversations or tuning out because something else caught our attention.


Krill oil (or other fish oil), rhodiola, reishi, and other supplements can be helpful in promoting optimum functioning. Dr Amen also has some suggestions in his book Healing ADHD. (This is the only thing I would suggest Dr Amen for. Many of his ideas, including the many types of ADHD, are fringe.)

Disclaimer: I am not a medical or other type of health care professional. This post is meant to serve as an overview of the different treatments available to ADHDers, not a recommendation or endorsement of any one course of treatment in particular.

There are probably other treatments that I’m not aware of yet. Please comment with anything you’re aware of that isn’t covered in this post.

This week’s printable is a long one, but it’s designed to help you keep track of your various treatment attempts and how they affect your symptoms. It’s fillable, so I recommend saving it before you start filling it out, and name it whatever treatment you’re going to be tracking. You can also print it and keep it in a binder, and bring it with you to your appointments.

Back to Basics II – Types of ADHD

There are three types of ADHD: Inattentive Type (ADHD-I), Hyperactive/Impulsive Type (ADHD-HI), and Combined Type (ADHD-C). Is it really as simple as this, though? Well, sort of. Let’s talk about it.

Pinnable image for this post, featuring a person running up a flight of stairs towards a light bulb.

The first thing to remember is that ADHD is diagnosed based on observed behaviours. The second thing to remember is that the division between the types is really kind of arbitrary. The third thing to remember is that which kind you’re diagnosed with has nothing to do with what treatments will or will not be helpful for you, because regardless of what type you have, it’s still all caused by a problem with your executive functioning.

ADHD-I Symptoms

  • Makes careless mistakes/lacks attention to detail
  • Difficulty sustaining attention
  • Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • Fails to follow through on tasks and instructions
  • Exhibits poor organization
  • Avoids/dislikes tasks requiring sustained mental effort
  • Loses things necessary for tasks/activities
  • Easily distracted (including unrelated thoughts)
  • Is forgetful in daily activities

ADHD-HI Symptoms

  • Fidgets with or taps hands or feet, squirms in seat
  • Leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected
  • Experiences feelings of restlessness
  • Has difficulty engaging in quiet, leisurely activities
  • Is “on-the-go” or acts as if “driven by a motor”
  • Talks excessively
  • Blurts out answers
  • Has difficulty waiting their turn

If you are a child, you need to show at least six of the symptoms of a given type for at least six months, in multiple settings; if you are an adult, you need five. They also need to be evident prior to age 12. For ADHD-C, you need to meet the criteria for both ADHD-I and ADHD-HI.

But what if we look at these again, through the lens of executive dysfunction?

ADHD-I is then characterized by difficulties with:

  • Attentional Control;
  • Cognitive Flexibility;
  • Cognitive Inhibition;
  • Goal-Directed Behaviour;
  • Organizational Skills;
  • Planning;
  • Self-Monitoring; and
  • Working Memory.

Meanwhile, ADHD-HI is characterized by difficulties with:

  • Cognitive Flexibility;
  • Goal-Directed Behaviour;
  • Inhibitory Control; and
  • Self-Monitoring.

ADHD-C, then, is characterized by difficulties with everything.

But, well, I don’t know about you, but I see an awful lot of overlap on the executive functioning issues. In fact, what I see is that the thing that distinguishes ADHD-I from ADHD-HI is that ADHD-I has trouble with Attentional Control, Cognitive Inhibition, Organizational Skills, Planning, and Working Memory, while ADHD-HI has trouble with Inhibitory Control. Both types have difficulty with Cognitive Flexibility, Goal-Directed Behaviour, and Self-Monitoring.

This means that it would be incredibly strange for someone to have “pure” ADHD-I; some of the criteria for ADHD-HI are likely to show up at least some of the time (and more often than they would for someone who doesn’t have ADHD) since they’re caused by issues with the same executive functions. Same goes for “pure” ADHD-HI.

Okay, this post is getting a touch maudlin, so I’m going to take us in a new direction.

Last week’s printable was about identifying areas where you need supports. That’s important to know as you’re looking to develop systems and materials to help you manage your symptoms and your life; the thing is, nobody is made up of only deficits. We all have some strengths, and it’s really important to know what yours are.

For example, I was diagnosed with severe ADHD-C, and I honestly do struggle with an awful lot of things I “should” be good at as a stay-at-home-mother. At the same time, I have some strengths that help me get by, and I’m hoping I can find ways to harness them moving forward.

Executive FunctionDefinitionExample of Strengths
Attentional ControlThe ability to control what you pay attention to. It’s basically being able to concentrate.Hyperfocusing on important projects or topics.
Cognitive FlexibilityThe ability to change your behaviour and thought processes based on changes in your situation or gaining information.Understanding different points of view.
Cognitive InhibitionThe ability to tune out unrelated stimuli and stay on task or follow a train of thought.Hyperfocusing on a special interest to the exclusion of all else.
Goal-Directed BehaviourThe ability to control your behaviour so that you’re working towards achieving goals.Hyperfixating on a topic or activity such that you become an expert in a short amount of time.
Inhibitory ControlThe ability to stop before you act so you can choose the most appropriate way to behave in a given situation. It’s got a lot to do with self-control.Recognizing which fidgets or stims are inappropriate in certain settings, and choosing alternatives that are more appropriate.
Organizational SkillsAll that sorting, putting things away, etc.Setting up solid organizational systems.
PlanningThe ability to think ahead and to break goals down into smaller steps.Breaking down large tasks or projects into small steps.
Self-MonitoringThe ability to keep track of what you’re doing and how you’re coming across, as well as notice things like hunger, thirst, fatigue, pain, the need to use the bathroom, etc.Realizing that you always get hungry or thirsty at a particular time of day, and making sure you have a water bottle and snacks on hand.
Working MemoryThe ability to hold information in your mind so you can use it to make decisions and complete tasks.Keeping a notebook and pen on hand so you can write stuff down instead of having to remember it.

Note that these examples of strengths aren’t necessarily strengths in executive functioning; often we develop solid coping mechanisms in response to our struggles, and we should absolutely consider those mechanisms strengths that we have in those areas.

This week’s printable is a reproduction of this chart, with the example column blank. This is your opportunity to think about what you’re good at in each area of executive functioning, including ways you’re dealing effectively with your deficits.

You’re good at stuff, it’s just hard to see sometimes.

Back to Basics I – What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that primarily affects executive functioning. In simpler terms, the brain of a person with ADHD develops differently from that of a typically-developing brain, and those differences make it harder to control our attention and our behaviour. I recently had a bit of hyperfocus on ADHD-related stuff, so this post is going to explain why, as a result of what I learned, I’m more convinced than ever that ADHD is primarily a disorder of executive functions, just like Russell Barkley says.

A pinnable image of a cartoon therapist talking to a child. Text in the bottom right corner reads “Back to Basics: What is ADHD?”

 * Most of this information came from Wikipedia or the Canadian Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.

The diagnostic criteria for ADHD in the DSM-5 are categorized as either inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity.


Inattentive SymptomsRelated Executive FunctionsExamples
Makes careless mistakes/lacks attention to detailAttentional Control Self-MonitoringUncorrected typos in essays and reports
Difficulty sustaining attentionAttentional Control Cognitive InhibitionDaydreaming during meetings or class
Does not seem to listen when spoken to directlyCognitive Inhibition Cognitive FlexibilitySpacing out during conversations
Fails to follow through on tasks and instructionsWorking Memory Planning Goal-Directed BehaviourStarting a task and leaving it unfinished
Exhibits poor organizationOrganizational SkillsMaintaining a chaotic living space, desk, locker, etc.
Avoids/dislikes tasks requiring sustained mental effortAttentional Control Goal-Directed BehaviourPostponing homework as long as possible
Loses things necessary for tasks/activitiesOrganizational Skills Goal-Directed BehaviourSearching daily for shoes, toys, keys, etc., often multiple times a day
Easily distracted (including unrelated thoughts)Attentional Control Cognitive InhibitionGoing off on tangents during conversations and in written work
Is forgetful in daily activitiesWorking Memory Planning Goal-Directed BehaviourWalking into a room and not knowing why

Attentional Control is the ability to control what you pay attention to. It’s basically being able to concentrate.

Cognitive Flexibility is the ability to change your behaviour and thought processes based on changes in your situation or gaining information.

Cognitive Inhibition is the ability to tune out unrelated stimuli and stay on task or follow a train of thought.

Goal-Directed Behaviour is about controlling your behaviour so that you’re working towards achieving goals.

Organizational Skills are all that sorting, putting things away, etc.

Planning is the ability to think ahead and to break goals down into smaller steps.

Self-Monitoring is the ability to keep track of what you’re doing and how you’re coming across, as well as notice things like hunger, thirst, fatigue, pain, the need to use the bathroom, etc.

Working Memory is the ability to hold information in your mind so you can use it to make decisions and complete tasks.


Hyperactive/Impulsive SymptomsRelated Executive FunctionsExamples
Fidgets with or taps hands or feet, squirms in seatInhibitory Control Self-MonitoringClicking a pen, chewing on a pencil, constantly adjusting sitting position
Leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expectedInhibitory Control Cognitive Flexibility Goal-Directed Behaviour Self-MonitoringPacing while thinking or talking through an idea
Experiences feelings of restlessnessSelf-MonitoringAlways wanting to be in motion or to move on to a new job or living situation
Has difficulty engaging in quiet, leisurely activitiesGoal-Directed Behaviour Self-MonitoringPlaying loud games, talking loudly when indoors
Is “on-the-go” or acts as if “driven by a motor”Inhibitory Control Self-MonitoringMoving constantly, particularly the whole body
Talks excessivelyInhibitory Control Self-MonitoringTalking more than others in a group
Blurts out answersInhibitory Control Cognitive Flexibility Self-MonitoringAnswering questions in class without raising hand first
Has difficulty waiting their turnCognitive Flexibility Goal-Directed Behaviour Self-MonitoringGoing straight to the head of the line without being invited
Interrupts or intrudes on othersInhibitory Control Cognitive Flexibility Goal-Directed Behaviour Self-MonitoringStarting to talk during a conversation before someone else is finished saying their piece

Cognitive Flexibility is the ability to change your behaviour and thought processes based on changes in your situation or gaining information.

Goal-Directed Behaviour is about controlling your behaviour so that you’re working towards achieving goals.

Inhibitory Control is the ability to stop before you act so you can choose the most appropriate way to behave in a given situation. It’s got a lot to do with self-control.

Self-Monitoring is the ability to keep track of what you’re doing and how you’re coming across, as well as notice things like hunger, thirst, fatigue, pain, the need to use the bathroom, etc.

Obviously some executive functions interact with each other more than others, and that is probably what makes the difference between what type and how impaired we are. Granted, this is just conjecture, but it makes logical sense to me.

Of course, to the general public, ADHD is still just hyperactive little boys, and all of these issues we have are just signs of poor parenting, laziness, etc.

The printable for this post can be found here. It’s a copy of the symptom/executive function charts with definitions and examples, plus a blank version you can use to write down examples of your own executive dysfunction. I hope it’s helpful for you in figuring out just where you’re struggling, since knowing that can help you figure out supports.

G is for Getting Diagnosed

The diagnostic process can be stressful or simple, and it varies from clinician to clinician.

It can be as simple as an interview or as complicated as complete neuropsychological testing.

It can be as easy as describing your difficulties in detail to the first clinician you see or as difficult as explaining yourself fifty times to as many clinicians.

The reasons you might be denied a diagnosis are many.

  • You might be (or appear to be) female.
  • You might be a person of colour.
  • You might be autistic.
  • You might have other psychiatric diagnoses already.
  • You might get (or have gotten) good grades in school.
  • You might be Predominantly Inattentive, rather than Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive.
  • You might be poor.
  • You might have parents who don’t believe in ADHD.
  • You might have parents who don’t want you labelled.
  • You might have parents who don’t want to deal with the stigma of having a child who has “something wrong with them.”

And that is just a partial list (and the most common ones I see).

The choice to try to obtain a diagnosis is not simple. There are a lot of factors to consider, from how the diagnosis might benefit or hinder you, to your history with psychiatric professionals, to your financial means.

It’s okay to get a formal diagnosis if you just want to know for yourself that you aren’t imagining things, and there’s a real reason why you struggle with so many things.

It’s okay to avoid a formal diagnosis if you have a history of trauma at the hands of medical and/or psychiatric professionals.

It’s okay to get a formal diagnosis if you aren’t struggling as much as someone else.

It’s okay to avoid a formal diagnosis if you can’t afford it and can’t access funding to pay for it.

It’s okay to get a formal diagnosis if you think treatment will help you better manage your life.

It’s okay to avoid a formal diagnosis if you think it will negatively affect how people treat you.

What matters is that you make an informed decision and explore your options. Just remember, the label doesn’t change who you are as a person.

It just helps to explain some of why you are who you are.

F is for Fidgeting

The kid who squirms in his seat during class.

The teen who jiggles her leg under her desk while writing a test.

The young adult whose post-secondary lecture notes are covered in doodles.

The working adult who clicks pens during meetings.

The stay-at-home mom whose feet twitch constantly while she’s reading a picture book to her preschooler.

It’s annoying to other people. Sometimes it’s annoying to us. It makes people think we’re nervous. It makes them think we want to be doing something else.

It’s fidgeting.

Fidgeting is the common word for the little things people do to help ground themselves and maintain their focus. Neurotypical people don’t do it as often as neurodiverse people do, but they do it all the same. Sometimes our stuff is more obvious than the neurotypical stuff, is all.

It’s all a type of stimming.

“Stimming” is short for “sensory stimulation” and it refers to the things we do to positively impact our sensory systems. You’ll usually see it used in conjunction with autism, because autistic people do it the most, but all people who have developmental disorders stim, and that means ADHDers stim, too.

Stimming can calm us if we’re feeling overwhelmed.

It can help us focus if we’re struggling.

It can keep our bodies in motion so that our ears and eyes can do their jobs better.

Sometimes a stim or fidget is disruptive, and that’s when we have to find other ways to get the same sensory input. It makes no sense to replace pacing with tapping your knee if what you need is the gross motor vestibular input. Rocking on an inflated rubber seat cushion would probably work much better in such an instance.

The important thing to remember is that we often don’t do these things consciously, and if we do make the conscious decision it’s because we recognize how we’re feeling and have realized that doing this particular thing makes us feel better. So finding ways to accommodate fidgeting/stimming is vital to our success.

How do you fidget or stim, and in what situations?

E is for Executive Dysfunction

Executive functions include the ability to make and follow plans; to control our behaviour and emotional reactions (not our actual emotions, but how we express them); and to manage our time and keep ourselves organized.

If you look at the diagnostic criteria for ADHD in the DSM-5, you will see a list of things that indicate that we have poor executive functions:

  • Doesn’t follow through on instructions and doesn’t finish projects or tasks.
  • Struggles to organize tasks and activities.
  • Loses important/necessary materials.
  • Forgets things on a daily basis.
  • Fidgets a lot.
  • Gets up and moves around when expected to sit still.
  • Makes a lot of noise.
  • Talks a lot.
  • Says things without thinking.
  • Doesn’t wait turns very well.
  • Interrupts in conversations.

In addition to these things, Executive Dysfunction often includes difficulty in getting started (initiation) as well as in switching tasks (inertia).

Some things can be learned: for example, ADHDers benefit from learning to use a planner and lists to keep track of tasks and to break down larger tasks into smaller steps.

Some things can be adapted, such as using a timer to remind yourself that you need to switch tasks.

But many things either can’t be dealt with independently or can’t be adequately managed, even with outside help. And that just ends up being really frustrating, for everyone.

One thing that ADHDers need from the non-ADHDers in their lives is support.

We need support to learn those things we don’t know how to do (and to find a method that will work for us, because often the linear structure of non-ADHD functioning just doesn’t work with our brains), and sometimes we need support to be able to do accomplish the things we can’t accommodate in other ways.

That might mean someone to do things with us.

It might mean someone to encourage us and keep us on task while we work.

It might mean someone to help us work out the steps for a big project.

And it might well mean someone to actually do the work for us, because we cannot do it ourselves consistently enough.

What’s your biggest challenge with regard to Executive Dysfunction?

D is for Disability

ADHD isn’t always a disability. It always causes difficulties for the people who have it, and part of the diagnostic criteria is that the symptoms cause distress in two or more areas of life. But no, it’s not always a disability.

Except when it is.

And that’s not me saying it’s horrible and evil and wrong or whatever, it’s me stating an objective fact.

If I cannot meet my work deadlines because my ADHD-skewed sense of time means I don’t start things until too late, that’s a disability.

If I don’t have clean clothes to wear on a regular basis because my ADHD-provided executive dysfunction means I almost never do the laundry, that’s a disability.

If I can’t maintain friendships because I always say the first thing that pops into my head and it usually offends people, that’s a disability.

If I don’t eat regular meals because I forget to eat even when I’m hungry, or because I forget I’m cooking food and ruin my meals, that’s a disability.

If I can’t maintain friendships because I keep forgetting to reply to e-mails, that’s a disability.

Many ADHDers are not disabled by their ADHD once they are receiving appropriate treatment and have found the thing they are able to hyperfocus on consistently enough to make a career in it.

Some ADHDers are disabled enough that they require support staff in order to maintain their homes and keep a job.

Both types of ADHDer (and everyone in between) are valid and worthwhile.

Don’t shy away from admitting that ADHD is often disabling. Don’t lie about it. Don’t add to the stigma of disability. Rise above that impulse and promote the idea that we are all worthy as we are, regardless of how much support we require. Push the narrative that “success” is as individual as we are, and that we should define our success ourselves and decide how we’re going to get there based on our personal abilities and disabilities.

Is your ADHD disabling? In what way(s)?

C is for Children

Naturally, the idea of ADHD is that it is a disorder of childhood. More attention to adults has been granted over the past couple of decades, but by and large the image is still that of hyperactive little boys. In fact, some insurance agencies don’t cover treatment for adults, and some doctors refuse to even refer adults to be assessed!

But let’s talk about ADHD in children for just a moment, shall we?

Because there are a few things we do need to discuss.

ADHD begins in childhood. Just when, nobody is certain, but the diagnostic criteria state that symptoms must be present prior to age 12 in order to qualify for the diagnosis. Given what we know about typical child development and what is impacted by ADHD, it’s not something that should really be diagnosed prior to age seven.

So here’s the why of all of that.

The behaviours that generally signify ADHD in children (e.g., extreme hyperactivity and/or chattiness, disorganization, lack of focus) are developmentally not fully in place prior to age seven. This means that it is totally possible for a three-year-old to be literally climbing the walls at preschool and not meet the criteria for ADHD by age seven.

In addition, most of what we know about ADHD and how it manifests is based on research performed on male children. It’s only recently (in terms of the science world) that research has been done on females. This means that females are often not recognized as having ADHD, because their behaviours are different from their male fellow ADHDers, even when they have the same type of ADHD.

And on top of all of that, some races and classes are more likely to get the ADHD diagnosis than others. Some are more likely to be dismissed as just being unintelligent or problem students, while others are more likely to end up with medication without a proper assessment, because it’s just easier to diagnose on the fly and get the parents/school out of your face.

All of these things mean that the world of ADHD is tricky to navigate and confusing for people who are newly diagnosed as well as for those who were diagnosed in childhood.

How old were you at diagnosis? Do you have any thoughts as to why it happened then?

B is for Behaviour

ADHD gets treated like it’s a behaviour problem when it isn’t.

That is, the behaviour can be a problem, but that doesn’t mean it should be addressed using behaviour management techniques like behaviour charts, behaviour contracts, and token systems.

See, the things we do as ADHDers are usually related to one of our particular symptoms. This means that we really don’t have a lot of control over how much we talk to our neighbours in class at school, whether or not we’re on time for work, or how well we keep our rooms clean. It’s not that we don’t care about the rules, it’s that we’re impulsive and act before thinking things through completely, we have no real concept of time (it’s fluid and not concrete at all), and we lack the ability to make and follow plans as quickly and easily as non-ADHDers often do.

So when a teacher at school implements one of those behaviour management charts for the whole class, say the kind with the clothespins that move up and down depending on the student’s behaviour, the kids with ADHD (whether or not they’re diagnosed) are going to either focus so hard on meeting those behavioural expectations that they can’t actually take in any of what they’re supposed to be learning, or they’re going to “act out” and lose points every single day but probably will learn more of the material.

Or when a manager or boss writes up an ADHD employee for being late too often and provides a list of what they need to do to correct the issue without discussing possible solutions with the employee, the ADHDer is probably going to struggle to meet these expectations and end up getting fired even though they’re doing their best.

And when a parent tidies up their child’s room when said child is not at home and throws out things that are important to the child (sometimes without realizing it’s important), it erodes the relationship between the child and parent, and it does nothing to help the child begin to look after the cleaning on their own.

What generally will work better in each of these hypothetical situations?

Well, the teacher might discuss the problem with the student and involve them in figuring out ways to be less of a disruption in class. That might mean fidget toys or a seat at the back of the room with permission to pace, or a seat at the front of the room with regular check-ins during class.

The manager might discuss the importance of timeliness with the employee and offer a couple of suggested helps, such as changing start and end times or setting timers to help get out the door.

And the parent might offer to help the child clean up their room right from the start. If the child is older, they might work together to create a map of the room and determine the step they need to follow to get the room cleaned up, and then make a checklist for regular weekly cleaning that the child can follow.

What is a way you’ve been helped by making adjustments to situations instead of struggling to meet expectations? Have you been hindered by the use of behaviour management techniques? In what way?