I invite you to join me in the coming weeks at Northern California CHADD meetings (Marin, 4/21; Sacramento, 5/3) to explore this topic: “Adult ADHD Symptoms or Poor Coping Strategies? Clarifying the Confusion for Adults with ADHD and Their Partners.” The public is welcome; the suggested donation for non-CHADD members is $5.
Here is an excerpt from my book (Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? Stopping the Roller Coaster When Someone You Love Has Attention Deficit Disorder) that explains why we even ask the question, “Symptoms or poor coping strategies?”
There’s a whole lot more to understanding ADHD and its broad effects on behavior than reeling off the list of symptoms. “I used to think, what kind of disorderly disorder is this?” Grace recalls. “Just when I thought my husband would zig, he’d zag.” She couldn’t understand what was ADHD and what was personality or family conditioning—or, for that matter, where ADHD ended and jerk began. “It took a few years to piece together the puzzle, but I’m glad we did,” she concludes. “Our relationship and our family life is one thousand percent better now.”
It’s true. Trying to understand ADHD can feel like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. Even within one person, the traits can appear slippery and shape-shifting over time or in different circumstances.
Typically, the first step in “nailing it” comes in understanding that ADHD’s core challenge involves difficulties with self-regulation, as explained in Chapter 2. That is, adults with ADHD typically have trouble achieving balanced behavior and instead zigzag between one extreme or the other.
Then too, we’re discussing individuals, each with their own particular family and socioeconomic background, generational references, and education—not to mention subtype and severity of ADHD symptoms and possible “traveling companions” (such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder). These factors and more affect how well the person can manage ADHD-related issues, and they form the design features and flourishes of your own particular roller coaster.
“Adults with the diagnosis of ADHD are not a homogeneous group,” confirms psychologist and ADHD expert Robert Brooks, an assistant clinical professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and former director of McLean Hospital’s Department of Psychology. “Their cognitive style, thoughts, and behaviors that led to their being diagnosed with ADHD do not define their entire functioning or existence.”
People are complicated, whether they have ADHD or not. You’ll never know exactly what makes someone tick, and that keeps life interesting. But when you’re ready to begin fostering positive changes in your relationship, Brooks advises that you try to start distinguishing essential ADHD challenges from common “red-herring” attitudes and negative mindsets. In other words, most adults with ADHD have lived for several decades not knowing they have ADHD; consequently, they’ve usually developed some counter-productive coping skills and distorted explanations to explain their challenges.