Living With Someone With ADHD
A rambunctious kid faces his punishment after he answers the teacher’s question without raising his hand. Fidgeting, a middle-aged man bounces up and down as he attempts to focus in the workplace. A restless young woman welcomes the sleep she knows she probably won’t get any sleep tonight. These people all share a commonality known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Perhaps one of the above descriptions depicts you, your partner, or your child. Either is reason enough to learn of ADHD and its symptoms, so you are aware of what to expect when living with someone with ADHD. This article will focus on what is it like living with someone with ADHD.
Living with someone with ADHD: What is ADHD?
ADHD is the medical abbreviation for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which is a common inherited mental condition caused by changes in brain development. The disorder is characterized by deficits in executive functioning skills—working memory, organization, planning, managing emotions, and flexible thinking. According to the American Psychiatric Association, ADHD affects the lives of 2.5 percent of adults and 8.4 percent of children.
Living with someone with ADHD: Symptoms of ADHD
All symptoms of ADHD fall under one of three categories: inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity.
- Short attention span
- Restlessness or fidgeting
- Easily distracted
- Difficulty focusing
- Mood swings
- Learning disability
- Repetition of words or actions
- Decreased listening skills
- Excessive talking
Living With Someone With ADHD: What To Expect
There is undoubtedly a shift in household dynamics when there is someone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The newly diagnosed are uncertain as to what friends and family will encounter with the presence of the disorder in their lives. Without experiencing ADHD firsthand, most without the condition do not know what to expect. To successfully manage ADHD, keeping realistic expectations is critical.
Living with someone with ADHD: Impulsiveness VS. Spontaneity
Think of your fondest memory. Was it planned down to the minutest detail, or was it spur of the moment? The occasions we have the most fun are often spontaneous. Spontaneity is definitely not a negative trait; however, there is a fine line between that and impulsiveness.
Those with ADHD display varying levels of impulsivity caused by the disorder.
“Impulsiveness is defined as a predisposition toward rapid, unplanned reactions to internal or external stimuli without regard to the negative consequences of these reactions to themselves or others” (Moeller et al., 2001).
Impulsiveness manifests in numerous ways. Take the child at the beginning of the article as a prime example. He got into trouble for interrupting the class by impulsively responding to the teacher’s question without raising his hand. The classroom setting is not the only environment where ADHD can interfere. Impulsive behaviors range from poor financial decisions to casual sex and drug use. Adolescents are especially prone to impulsiveness, but adults with ADHD are susceptible too.
Living with someone with ADHD: Mood Disorders
Mood changes are secondary to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). While the majority of mood changes arise from the impulsiveness of saying things you regret, ADHD frequently leads to serious secondary psychological disorders. Changes in mood last weeks to months at a time for reasons not fully understood. Experts recently attribute such effects to alterations in the brain, as well as a part of coping with a chronic condition.
Living with someone with ADHD: Depression
Depression is a severe mental disorder that causes feelings of sadness persisting over two weeks. The National Resource Center on ADHD claims that up to 70 percent of ADHD patients will eventually receive treatment for depression. The inattentiveness in ADHD especially contributes to episodes of depression. The inability to function normally in society is frustrating. That, alongside lack of sleep or trouble excelling in work and school from not staying focused, triggers a depressive cascade. Symptoms overlap, so consulting a physician is key to managing both disorders.
Living with someone with ADHD: Bipolar disorder
Studies also prove that 70 percent of people with bipolar disorder have ADHD. Bipolar disorder results in drastic fluctuations in mood. Exceeding regular mood swings, patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder go from depressive to manic. Manic episodes are sudden with pronounced irritability followed by becoming inappropriately ecstatic. Those with bipolar disorder and ADHD are apt to experience narcissism and behave as if detached from reality. It exacerbates the already prominent symptoms such as increased energy, impulsive behaviors, and increased hyperactivity. After evaluation, there are mood stabilizer medications that treat ADHD with a comorbid bipolar disorder when paired with psychostimulants. Knowing the signs is the initial step to obtaining treatment.
Living with someone with ADHD: Outbursts
While technically not a mood disorder of its own, outbursts are prevalent amongst the ADHD population. Impulsivity interferes with emotional expression, and verbal outbursts are the development of improperly conveying emotions. In ADHD, energy is poorly channeled. Patients hyperfocus on their wrong emotions like anger. When further fueled by irritability, those with ADHD neglect to think before they speak and their reactions to conflict are disproportionate to the situation.
However, it is important to differentiate outbursts from bipolar disorder. Medical professionals confirm that outbursts are brief, lasting minutes, whereas bipolar mood swings occur for longer durations and are increased in frequency.
Living with someone with ADHD: Acknowledge Distractions
A limited attention span due to distractions is a hallmark symptom of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Focus and attention tend to be aimless, disorderly, and ricochets from one subject to the next. Distraction disrupts two specific executive functions: listening skills and staying on task. While living with someone with ADHD and acknowledging that there will be distractions is helpful to cope with the disorder.
Living with someone with ADHD: Listening Skills
Adults and children with ADHD are distracted by their thoughts, feelings, and the environment surrounding them. While someone is in mid-sentence, their mind might wander to a thought that had their attention earlier or they interrupt the other person in a conversation. The repercussions of poor listening skills are damaged relationships and failure to complete tasks at work and school. After all, you cannot write that paper when you do not hear the professor’s instructions.
Taking notes, paraphrasing, and asking for key points during a conversation are methods to build better listening skills. If you are living with someone with ADHD, be patient. I promise you they are not purposely ignoring your demands or comments. Their listening skills suffer as part of their condition, but they are striving for improvements.
Living with someone with ADHD: Staying on Task
Those with ADHD possess an undeniable urge to move. Incessant movement causes them to have trouble staying on task. Distraction cannot be eliminated entirely, but decreasing the frequency is possible if you expect it. Retreating to a workspace without extra stimuli reduces distraction. Current research is studying the effects memory training games have on improving the focus of ADHD patients, thus allowing them to stay on task.
At times, people with ADHD do the opposite—they hyperfocus on tasks they find interesting and are so absorbed on the said task that they disregard the world around them. The hyper-focus characteristic is confusing to loved ones, colleagues, and figures of authority who expect distraction from ADHD.
Living with someone with ADHD: Children
Households across the globe are living with someone with ADHD. The average age of diagnosis is 7 years old; however, symptoms begin around age 3. These families go through the fundamental developmental stages with the disorder shaping their lives.
Living with someone with ADHD: The child with ADHD
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has a significant impact on the child with the condition. Parents, siblings, friends, teachers—ADHD impairs conflict resolution, and the child with ADHD is apt to experience disagreements. The child’s impulsive and hyperactive behaviors alter their response to conflict. Anticipate bouts of disobedience to include verbal and physical tantrums, like yelling or throwing a shoe in anger because they cannot regulate their emotions.
A child with ADHD carries an extra emotional burden. Relating with peers their age is difficult, as they do not readily express empathy and other emotions that foster friendship. Children with ADHD are seen alone on the playground, playing make-believe because their behavior is off-putting to the other little boys and girls. Peer rejection influences their self-esteem. They also face rejection from their teachers, weary from their ADHD student’s hyperactivity ruling the classroom.
Children with ADHD yearn to be treated as an ordinary kid. Confiding in a fellow ADHD patient or a trusted adult guides them in the effects of the condition.
Living with someone with ADHD: The siblings
Siblings of someone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are impacted by the disorder. Their siblings with ADHD receive special care. To maximize attention they receive from their parents, the healthy siblings act out.
Depending on age and financial burden of the family, the siblings are stressed from the responsibility of caring for a brother or sister with ADHD. Parents work a traditional 9-5 job, leaving the sibling responsible for administering medication, supervising hyperactivity, and helping with homework. This closeness makes the sibling a target for ADHD behaviors. Sibling bickering is at a new level, yet they are pressured to be “the good kid.” Scientists Mikami and Pfiffner evaluated 91 participates and sibling relationships in the ADHD group had significantly higher levels of conflict than the control group.
Through the frustration, they care deeply about their sibling with ADHD. Suffering is not what they wish for their sibling. Unable to spare the effects, they feel guilty they do not have the condition or that they are unworthy of a normal life.
Siblings with ADHD can peacefully coexist. Setting aside “me time” is advantageous for quelling caregiver stress. Repairing the sibling relationship also necessitates bonding time. Connecting through a fun activity is optimal. If the relationship is strained, start with supervision until comfortable to interact alone outside of ADHD cares and concerns.
Living with someone with ADHD: The parents
Parenting a child with ADHD calls for a shift in perspective. Parents typically blame themselves for their child’s disorder, but ADHD is not the result of their parenting skills. Although it never rids of the disorder, parenting techniques have positive benefits.
Disobedience is a natural response to maturing. Parents cannot expect perfection from their child with ADHD, nor from their child without the condition. Children with ADHD will behave differently than their healthy siblings. Recognize willful disobedience and avoid punishing ADHD behaviors outside of the child’s control. Immediate, reactive discipline rarely has a good outcome. Parents should contemplate effective forms of punishment for the undesired behavior and cater it to the child’s needs. Impulsive reactions are already a struggle in ADHD. When parents further model impulsive decisions, it teaches the child that it is okay.
In a multi-child household, invalidate suspicion of unfairness by establishing equal rules. Treat each child as a unique individual, as it lessens sibling rivalry. Notice their strengths and have them work together.
Early intervention from parents is essential for the child with ADHD. Parents should remain proactive in their child’s education at home and school. Inquire about resources available at the school. Hold a meeting with teachers and school faculty to discuss your child’s progress. Address issues and devise a 504 accommodation plan based on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. As a parent, you are your child’s advocate.
Living with someone with ADHD: Relationships
30-60% of children with ADHD show symptoms into adulthood. Adults deal with symptoms equivalent to that of children with ADHD, but it does add a distinct facet to their relationships. Managing adult relationships with ADHD is complicated. However, both partners can thrive with dedication.
Living with someone with ADHD: You are the person with ADHD
The partner with ADHD experiences a plethora of symptoms that impact a serious relationship. Inattention causes forgetfulness: forgetting a date, forgetting to pay a bill, or even forgetting meaningful details. Problems with organization and planning prevent the ADHD partner from completing tasks or household chores expected of them.
They suffer blows to their self-esteem as they disappoint their partner and are overwhelmed by balancing the functions of daily life. They want to feel wanted for who they are, not for a person who would be perfect if they did not do “this, this, and this” because of ADHD.
The partner with ADHD blatantly ignores conflict. Impulsivity and outbursts are obstacles to communication. They say things they regret in the heat of the moment and then shut down.
If you have ADHD, accepting accountability for how you respond to your partner is a reaction you do have control over. Do not deflect the blame onto your partner. Request clarification from your partner for information missed in distraction. Do not communicate via phone or email. Non-verbal cues are lost when engaging in in-person communication. Practice active listening to prove to your partner that you do respect their thoughts and feelings.
Living with someone with ADHD: A relationship with someone who has ADHD
Partners without ADHD find their initial reactions do not elicit the desired response. Despite continual reminders, the ADHD partner does not follow through. They feel they are in charge of all responsibility in the relationship from finances to initiating date night, which provokes resentment. Rather than calmly disclosing their preferences for the relationship, their constant reminders are interpreted as nagging by the ADHD partner. It transforms the romantic relationship to a parent-child dynamic.
Living with someone with ADHD you have to remember to praise your partner’s accomplishments. Sit down with your partner to listen to how they are feeling without distracting interjections. Construct a plan to tackle responsibilities together: set reminders on your phones, divide chores and remain calm while communicating. Planning is conducive to the partner with ADHD for the structure strict routine and it is useful for you to reduce “nagging.”
Tips for Living With Someone With ADHD
Living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is tough. Similarly, living with someone with ADHD presents challenges. Although you may not have the condition yourself, there are tips to ensure your loved one never believes they are enduring ADHD alone.
1. Separate the Person from the Disorder
Stemming from my personal battle with health issues, “I am not my diagnosis” is kind of my mantra. I realize my illness influences who I am as a person, but I also appreciate it when others treat me like an actual human being rather than a malfunctioning body. The same applies to ADHD patients. While living with someone with ADHD, remember to separate them from the disorder. Support them in treatment or when their symptoms are flaring, yes, but offer them an escape too. They bear their ADHD symptoms day in and day out. They do not want to involve their disorder in any more of their life than they have to. Separating the person from the disorder does not have to be an intricate process. Simply inquiring about their new hobby or asking them to recount their shift at work is enough.
2. Plan Engaging Breaks
As previously mentioned, inattention and hyperactivity are the main aspects of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Completing any task with ADHD will require short breaks. If not planned, those with ADHD will inadvertently pause a project regardless as they contend with overcoming distractions. The pauses add up and discourage them from accomplishing their goals. By planning engaging breaks, ADHD patients can divert their attention productively.
For example, divide larger assignments into smaller units. Once done with the beginning section, implement the break period. They do not have to aimlessly roam a room to reroute their energy or stray from the subject of conversation with the hope of regaining attention. The break can be five minutes of stretches, which promotes physical wellness but provides them with the structure to focus.
3. Alternate Between Activities
The average schedule is hectic with or without ADHD. It seems there is constantly work to do. Alternating activities fall under the realm of planning engaging breaks. An outlet to productively apply energy without distraction is provided by rotating between high and low energy activities. Living with someone with ADHD especially school children with ADHD, education is most rewarding when teachers schedule hands-on games preceding lessons like math that require quiet concentration. Adults with ADHD can implement comparable schedules at home or work. Mentally stressful activities such as editing an article are best followed by physical chores (laundry, dishes, mowing the lawn, etc.).
4. Try to Empathize
Empathy, defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” is a laborious effort for some who have been diagnosed with ADHD. It is not that those with ADHD cannot empathize because they can. The hindrance emerges from their tendency to act impulsively, succumb to boredom, and remain distracted. Still, it does not mean they are undeserving of empathy themselves. The primary tip for living with someone with ADHD is to be a role model in empathy. Model the behaviors they struggle to exhibit, as it enhances their capacity to perform. Nevertheless, they crave the mutual support we all seek. The reassurance you will always try to understand is infinitely valuable when living with someone with ADHD.
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Cheyanne is currently studying psychology at North Greenville University. As an avid patient advocate living with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, she is interested in the biological processes that connect physical illness and mental health. In her spare time, she enjoys immersing herself in a good book, creating for her Etsy shop, or writing for her own blog.