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ADHD and Shame

One of the main components of ADHD, like many other neurodiversities, is the impact on executive functioning. Executive Function is the organization center of the brain. It helps us to plan, set goals, use working memory, focus, sustain attention, regulate emotion, shift attention and so much more! Everyone has executive functions and everyone is working on improving their executive functions. However, most, if not all, diverse needs and disabilities have some impact on executive functioning, especially Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In fact, ADHD is often called executive functioning disorder because of its significant influence on this system.

When someone has ADHD they can be easily distracted, have hyperactive movements or impulsive thoughts, and have difficulty attending to tasks, activities, or other events in the environment. Typically, ADHD is diagnosed when a child is young, but there are also adults with this diagnosis, likely having it their whole life but self-managing. ADHD often impacts a person across all areas of their life including how they function at work or leisure and in their daily routines and relationships.

girl wearing a cape around her neck and mask on her head stands with her hands on her waist

The difficult part of ADHD is that it is quite unsteady and unpredictable, just like many other neurological difficulties. Characteristics of ADHD may come and go. A person with ADHD may be able to be super organized and do certain tasks really well and then the next day or the next moment, those same tasks can be really difficult to execute and disorganization can seep into every routine. The ADHD-er can be really focused, mentally deep into a project, and crushing their to-do list OR they can move from thinking about their grocery list to the last time they had bananas to the fact that monkeys like bananas but do any other animals really like a certain food and then it becomes totally necessary to research animals with really specific food preferences.

The fact of the matter is that being a participant in the life of someone with all this going on can be frustrating, confusing, and overwhelming. That someone can count on a person with ADHD to do their part in one project is wonderful but not if they forget to do their part in other projects for weeks. Perhaps one day you are having a good conversation with your friend and then next they are overreacting to something you said and seem quickly upset. This can be unnerving and difficult to navigate. We can unintentionally make the person with ADHD feel our frustration and negative experiences. But imagine you are the person with ADHD who experiences all of this firsthand and the majority of its impact under the surface where most people can't see? It is frustrating, lonely, and overwhelming to say the least.

Each opportunity for executing a daily task now comes with fear, embarrassment, or an emotional outburst. Someone with ADHD may feel like they are a burden on those around them. While ADHD doesn't entirely define a person, it is a significant part of who they are. When others show frustration with those parts of the person with ADHD or make comments about having difficulty with certain skills, it creates a sense of shame for who they are and their ability to do things that come easily to others. The person with ADHD may feel guilty for always letting people down but unable to change how they function.

The best way to support someone with ADHD is to stop, refocus, and be patient. Communicating in clear, start phrases (phrases that explicitly identify actions) will help the person feel supported and autonomous. Keep interactions positive and ask about their own strategies for self-regulation and self-organization. Have open and authentic conversations about how both can win. Present things in a multi-modality format so that it really sticks to memory when doing things that require automaticity. Remember that the person with ADHD isn't trying to intentionally make your life difficult but is having some trouble managing their executive functions. And most importantly, show compassion and love in all your interactions.


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