Having ADHD and executive function challenges is hard. Help is not easy to get. The executive function skill deficits and social-emotional and communication skill challenges that are a part of having ADHD are most often invisible or are hard to discern as lagging skills. Instead, they are perceived as a lack of motivation or effort, or they present as behavioral and discipline challenges. Those who are in positions to support people with ADHD and who have the best of intentions in their effort to support them – parents, teachers, siblings, peers – simply don’t always perceive the lagging skills, or they don’t understand how someone can’t just get started, or do what is the logical thing to do, or have the discipline to do something that isn’t interesting, or get something done before a deadline. So, instead of providing compassion, empathy, and support in a way that helps the person with ADHD build skills, they instead impose punishment or consequences that result in the person with ADHD feeling shunned, ashamed, defeated, and incapable of being successful no matter what or how many times they try. A pattern of learned helplessness can sometimes ensue. So what are we to do with all of this? Is it possible for something to change and if so, how and what can we do?
Well, change begins with understanding and acceptance, followed by a commitment to learning and then doing things differently. But, how do we start to understand something that we don’t experience? Well, Gav Safarian wrote a beautiful commentary on www.firstpersonscholar about the game, Deficit, which I challenge everyone to read and then play. The game provides an opportunity for those of us without ADHD to experience life through the eyes of someone who has ADHD. As the author points out, the game is not a comprehensive example of what life is like, since the way ADHD presents can be so variable, but it provides a start and a way for us to begin to understand the way in which people with ADHD experience the world and the struggles they face.
In addition to this wonderful resource, there is of course a world of information out there about neurodiversity, ADHD, and executive function skills: youtube videos like How to ADHD, podcasts like the Neurodiversity podcast, articles like this one about an individual’s lived experience with ADHD, reputable organizations like CHADD and ADDA, and informational websites like ADDitude, or the books, What Your ADHD Child Wishes You Knew, Differently Wired and Normal Sucks, to name a few.
But even if you don’t have time to read, watch or listen to those resources, I challenge you, in whatever role you have, to look beyond the behavior that individuals, both children and adults, have and before responding, ask yourself what might be at the root of the behavior; it may just be that the root of their behavior and their struggle has nothing to do with motivation, discipline, or willfulness, and instead has everything to do with lagging executive function, social-emotional and/or communication skills; and, if we respond with compassion and support and look deeper, we might just find that when we provide these struggling individuals with the understanding, compassion, empathy, support, and instruction that they want and need, that they themselves will develop increased awareness, acceptance, understanding, and ultimately, new skills that will lead to growth and success that everyone involved hopes for and wants.
In closing, I offer and encourage you to listen to a parent share her story about change and the ways in which her need for and willingness to change (through the support of parent coaching at EEC ) not only saved her relationship with her son but also transformed both of their lives.