If you know someone with ADHD, you may be unsure of how best to help and support them. These tools can help.
From finding it hard to concentrate on tasks or conversations to feeling restless and behaving impulsively, the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be hard to manage — not only for the person with ADHD but also for those who live and work alongside them.
Your partner might have left that big painting project half-finished. Your sibling keeps getting up or talking during that movie you’ve been looking forward to watching. Your co-worker promised to get that part of their presentation done on time and you had to finish it.
If you live or work with someone with ADHD, these types of behaviors are not uncommon. It may seem overwhelming trying to support them and advocate for them.
But there are ways you can support them that are helpful and will make a positive difference.
Research shows that many people with ADHD experience high levels of self-doubt and low self-esteem, and often feel ashamed or embarrassed by their symptoms.
For this reason, it can be beneficial if those around them offer positive feedback and encouragement to help boost their sense of self-worth.
“Individuals with ADHD may have experienced punishment and criticism over the course of their lifetime,” explains Leela R. Magavi, MD, psychiatrist and regional director at Community Psychiatry.
Because of this, Magavi adds that “negative feedback could exacerbate their poor self-esteem and perpetuate the vicious cycle of procrastination and impulsivity. Consequently, positive reinforcement and validation could help individuals with ADHD find the courage and strength to persevere and modify their techniques.”
You can easily apply tidbits of positive feedback to day-to-day life.
For example, some people with ADHD have an abundance of creativity. So, next time your loved one feels low or beats themselves up over something they believe has gone wrong, you could remind them how much you loved a story they recently wrote or a piece of art they created.
People with ADHD can sometimes feel misunderstood by those around them. Their inability to focus can at times be mistaken for laziness or their hyperactivity called attention-seeking.
While you won’t be able to understand exactly how your loved one feels, you can take steps to try to see things from their perspective.
Reading articles online or information in books can help you learn more about the other side of living with ADHD.
Aside from reading articles or books, you can also take free courses online to help you learn more about symptoms and treatment options, and connect with support groups.
People with ADHD sometimes have trouble deciphering and processing what people are saying. Making sure the lines of communication are wide open and transparent can really help.
“Open communication allows individuals the opportunity to speak about their mood and anxiety symptoms due to ADHD,” she adds. “Speaking about sentiments openly as a family allows individuals with ADHD to express their emotions in a healthy manner, which decreases conflict and discord.”
But it’s not just about letting someone chat away.
We know how frustrating it is to speak and feel like the other person isn’t listening or is totally misunderstanding your point. This can even be challenging for people with ADHD, many of whom feel they aren’t being heard.
Magavi encourages practicing active listening. “This helps individuals living with ADHD remember they are valued and cared for,” she says.
We all feed off the reactions of those around us to some extent — particularly children, who are constantly learning and developing.
Consider taking a moment to think about whether your own behavior and reactions could be triggering or encouraging certain ADHD symptoms in your loved one.
Research shows that people with ADHD can see their symptoms intensify as a result of others’ actions. For example, parenting behaviors and distress have been found to significantly impact children’s symptoms.
While you may not give much thought to your regular Sunday morning grocery store trips or weekly Wednesday night dinner with your best friend, having a sense of routine can make a whole lot of difference for those with ADHD.
“Disrupted structure particularly affects individuals with ADHD, [and they] have significant issues with transitions,” Magalvi reveals. “They like to know what to expect and when to expect it. This knowledge alleviates anxiety, which often emerges due to persistent distractibility and executive functioning concerns.”
For children with ADHD, the schedule of the school day can help provide this structure, while some adults may find solace in the routine of going to work.
However, away from these times, the uncertainty can prove challenging, so add things to the calendar they can focus on — from regular trips out to chores. You can also follow these tips to help you along the way.
Supporting a loved one with ADHD can sometimes feel tiring, overwhelming, and frustrating, so it’s vital to engage in me-time.
“I strongly believe loved ones should take some time to practice self-care,” Magalvi states. “Not only do they deserve it and need it, but this is irrefutably beneficial to their loved one who has ADHD, and may be the most imperative way to support them.”
In addition to enjoying your hobbies, listening to music, or practicing mindfulness, for instance, there’s also plenty of expert-led assistance available.
The Open University offers a free online course to help participants better understand what causes ADHD, primary signs and symptoms, obtaining a diagnosis, and treatment options. The nonprofit organization Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) also provides a similar free e-learning course, along with expert-led webinars.
There are also various books available, some offering guidance for those with ADHD and others aimed at loved ones — although both can be useful for gaining different perspectives and insights. The following are just some that have garnered positive reviews:
- “Taking Charge of ADHD, Fourth Edition: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents” by Russell A. Barkley
- “Thriving with Adult ADHD: Skills to Strengthen Executive Functioning” by Phil Boissiere, MFT
- “Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder” by Edward M. Hallowell, MD, and John J. Ratey, MD
- “The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps” by Melissa Orlov
Last but not least, you could join a support group. The Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) runs a variety of online groups, while CHADD lists over 100 different in-person groups nationwide.
Although ADHD can sometimes feel isolating, it’s important to know that you and your loved one are definitely not alone.
Aside from the traditional treatment methods — such as medication and therapy — there are steps you can take every day to help support a loved one with ADHD.
From taking the time to really listen to offering extra nuggets of praise, they’re all easy to incorporate into your day-to-day life.
These simple steps can have a notable and positive impact on both the individual with ADHD and your relationship with them.