If You’re Wondering, “How Can I Help My Loved One with ADHD Stay on Track?” This May Help.

There are a lot of reasons that someone with ADHD may not be doing the things you think they should be doing or in the way you think they should be doing them. Now, if you’re the parent of a little one it makes sense to be concerned. If you’re the spouse or friend, you may need to take a step back and reexamine how much of this “problem” is for you to try and control versus how much is really up to the person with ADHD. Some of the reasons may have nothing to do with their ADHD. After all, no one is just his or her ADHD. There’s personality, preference, strengths and weaknesses, values, and a whole host of other factors that make up a person’s individuality. Putting those aside for now, let’s just discuss the reasons that are due to ADHD.

What are some of those? It really depends on the situation. For example, if your husband has ADHD and is responsible for filing taxes but puts it off until past the deadline, or worse, never files, then yes, this is a situation, which is primarily due to his ADHD, and it does directly affect you. For our purposes today, let’s look at its many aspects. Unless your husband is extremely interested in the whole preparing and filing of taxes, this is a very typical ADHD “problem”. Mostly, because filing taxes is a multi-step process. So, if your specific “problem” is also a multi-step process, keep reading.



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Someone who is neurotypical, aka non-ADHD, has their subconscious do a lot for them automatically. ACTIVATION is one of the executive functions that Dr. Thomas Brown has identified as being impaired in ADHD and it’s responsible for initiating actions, planning, and strategizing.[i] The brain is subconsciously processing sequence and order, “what should be done first, next, last, or should it be alphabetized?” Similarly, it considers the past, present, and future. Time estimation uses an inner sense of time and priorities are based on importance. Notice these are not the same in someone with ADHD. I don’t exactly agree that there is “impairment” but I do concede that what seems to drive the ADHD subconscious processes are interest, curiosity, challenge, and urgency and they sense now vs. not now instead of the passing of time.

So, how’s this relate to the husband not filing taxes? Well, he’s no dummy, he know taxes are important. But there’s the first clue…see, if you don’t have ADHD, importance alone can drive you into engaging with your tax paperwork. If you have ADHD, well, look for yourself, on the diagram…it isn’t on the diagram. So, he knows it’s important but importance doesn’t drive him into engagement. In fact, it takes interest, curiosity, challenge, or urgency, which is why so many with ADHD will give, if any, attention to taxes, only right at the eleventh hour. They’ve allowed it to escalate into a crisis situation thereby manufacturing urgency. Remember, this is all done subconsciously. He isn’t willfully neglecting to do the taxes, but he can’t automatically engage with them, he needs his subconscious drivers activated.

I thought about this long and hard when I was learning about ADHD. I figured if I’m right then that means that I’m not subconsciously driven by curiosity. I have curiosity about things but my curiosity does not drive me into action. For example, I’m curious about the timeline of all recorded events. I think sometimes that I probably could find that out by throwing it into Google or something but almost as soon as I say the words I also think about the other half dozen things I need to do. Important things I need to do. I see clearly, my curiosity and interest are not important to me. Entertaining them is at best, a luxury, and at worst, a waste of time. Well, for me anyway. How about you?

So, back to our sweet hubby who hasn’t filed the taxes yet and it’s March 25th. Time is creeping slowly and steadily to the due date. There’s the second clue…his sense of time is different from yours. Two weeks means “not now”. With ADHD, there’s now and not now. Remember, it’s always not now until it’s now. Again, I don’t mean intellectually. Intellectually, he knows he has two more weeks, and that seems to me like not a long time, and to him like, not now. So, you can begin to see that the ADHD wiring is not real conducive to planning. It’s great for crisis management though, because in that context, it’s always, now!

There is still another big issue that arises as a consequence of not automatically considering sequence and order. How is all of it going to get done? If you don’t have ADHD then your brain sort of automatically breaks things down into categories and sets up for you a beginning, middle, and end. You almost instinctively know what to do first. When you have ADHD these things are not obvious to you. Your brain has not sorted things into groups or categories automatically and you certainly don’t easily decipher what should happen first.

If you have ADHD any task is considered a whole. Don’t believe me? Ask your loved one with ADHD to write a to-do list and look at it. First, it will most likely have one million things on it instead of a few. Also, each task will actually be the finished product, not the little steps involved in each. For example, “Do taxes” will be on the list instead of “Find receipts”, “Organize receipts”, and “Organize bank statements”. The ADHD mind looks at the whole rather than the pieces of a whole. For them it’s often all or nothing and black and white.

If you have ADHD, you must operate in a sort of manual drive, not the automatic drive that comes from not having ADHD. So, you have to consciously think to yourself, “Can this be broken down into steps, and where should I start?” You may even start in the middle, because to you, it’s not the middle, it’s just somewhere. Making all of these conscious decisions can be exhausting, especially when there’s no interest to fuel action. When thrown on top of the situation is someone they love continually riding them about it, (that would be you) well…it’s not hard to see how many ADHD/nonADHD relationships go through a lot of stress during tax season.

The best advice I can give is to stop offering neurotypical solutions to ADHD problems. Don’t hand them a file folder and tell them to go find their receipts first. Nobody likes being told what to do anyway. In order to create lasting solutions, someone with ADHD must create their own way that makes sense to them and works with how their brain works. Besides, if they come up with it then it will have more sticking power.

As an ADHD coach, I teach how to see one another best and how to dialogue so that together you can come up with unique solutions that work for both of you. Remember, accommodating for how each of you operates levels the playing field. It gives no advantage; it simply puts you both on the same page. That’s the whole point of seeing in ADHD. Learn about and accept your differences. If you want your relationship to get better then you need to communicate better and that means more effectively with real knowledge of each other. Talk to one another and believe one another. Whatever it takes to get on the same page is the objective, nothing else.


[i] Thomas, E. (2008). Understanding The Subconscious Mind. Retrieved October 22, 2014, from



  1. Jennie, this is absolutely masterful! You’ve done an amazing job of nailing some of the fundamental issues at the core of the “ADHD Challenge”. This article demonstrates amazing insight and understanding. So much so, that it still amazes me that you DO NOT have ADHD. An amazing job, dear friend, I will be sharing and encouraging others to read it. THANKS!

  2. Thanks for writing an insightful article that describes something I (in coping day-to-day with my own ADHD) have only been able to articulate to those without ADHD in recent years (thanks largely to having stumbled into something of an adult ADHD subculture), including some solid advice that, quite frankly, I have found neurotypical minds reluctant to accept.

    There is a part of my mind (admittedly child-like) that wants to jump up and down, pointing the doubtful to your article, all the while shouting, “See, I told you!”

    Some further reflections follow that you or others may find interesting, maybe even encouraging if not at least familiar.

    Best regards,



    I am inclined to offer a refinement on the premise that may partially satisfy the less-than-complete agreement with the term ‘impairment’ you expressed.

    The notion that ADHD cognition lacks any sense of importance is potentially derogatory and, from my experience, incorrect; but it is painfully clear I asess importance in a way that seems almost impossible to explain to the satisfaction of those without ADHD, while those with ADHD understand with little or no explanation so consistently that it is difficult to view the trait as anything but adaptive (albeit not to the present-day, Western world).

    I definitely consider notions of importance far beyond the “fallback criteria” of interest, urgency, etc., which I observe those without ADHD also to use in absence of substantive differences in their own assessments of importance: in particular, I routinely consider chains of consequence typical cognition often overlooks or disregards. Moreover, I do this reflexively: the conscious effort lies in filtering the results of the process. Others with ADHD report similar when we discuss these matters amongst ourselves.

    The contrast in the conclusion of these assessments is especially visible, in my professional life, during technical project planning, where risk and duration are key variables suitable as proxies of importance, and where my risk assessments and apportionment of duration between tasks often differ sharply with those of colleagues. (Magnitude of duration is a completely different mess!)

    In fact, except for tasks I view as long-term risk mitigations, I tend to assign higher priority and apportion more relative effort where I perceive greatest technical risk where others assign higher priority to less-risky tasks with more immediately visible outcomes. Note, too, that I actively suppress non-technical, non-business considerations like interest and curiosity, in the process.

    The contrast sharpens further when I deliberately suppress the (very strong) impulse to accommodate social pressure–e.g., to ignore long-term risks and chains of consequence readily apparent to me (like disruption to subsequent projects if preemptive mitigation is not undertaken) and to produce acceptably short duration estimates that I believe to be unrealistic.

    In context, the pattern suggests at least subtly different weighing of social versus other perceptions. The discrete act of recording these assessments is analogous to the discrete state change of activation, in that either can amplify even subtle differences to effect radical changes in broad patterns of cognition and behavior, so it is difficult to draw stronger conclusions regarding the degree of perceptual difference from the outcome of the process.

    I should probably also offer a bit more depth on the difference in time perception, as I experience it, because this too seems invariably to be oversimplified. It is more complex than “now or not now”: in fact, it is more like a finely-shaded but vague and highly elastic “(not) ([very] far from) {now, then}”.

    While events have sequence and other associations, I am so keenly aware that the magnitude of separation I perceive between them is “soft” that it becomes impossible to retain anything concrete beyond laboratory measurements and other time-stamped records. I am not the only one to describe it thus: there is a substantial fraction of what I would call “the ADHD subculture” that seems to agree, but limitations of English vocabulary and grammar interfere horribly.

    Ironically, I have an unusually strong grasp of temporal uncertainty that plays a significant role in my work.

    I have also noticed that those who do not consciously perceive time in this way nevertheless seem to have a more elastic perception than they realize; but they somehow compensate unconsciously to produce duration estimates that prove out with a confidence that invariably eludes me.

    1. Thank you for such a detailed and thoughtful response, Eric.

      I appreciate all of the refinement you offer, which differentiates between my attempt to illustrate differences and how ADHD literally is subjectively experienced.

      My model is overly simplified for the purpose of giving someone with no clue…a clue.

      I apologize for any degradation you felt from this as that was never my intent.

      I know you know that, but I want to say it as well.



      1. Thankfully, I don’t experience any sense of degradation at sincere attempts to “confer gorm upon the gormless”.

        I have, though, observed common descriptions misused—usually by neurotypicals who believe mistakenly that they “get it”—as an excuse to disregard and dismiss the perspectives of neurodivergents of all kinds. Neurotypical privilege is rather an insidious, ingrained phenomenon (partly for good reason, in terms of evolutionary biology) that can be tricky to bypass.

        You obviously do understand: just offering what I can to possibly help.


    2. Eric,

      I don’t typically respond to comments other people make in regard to an article or blog, especially comments from people who are obviously trying very hard to show they know a lot of big words and can scatter them around in a few paragraphs of relatively coherent sentences.

      I am sure you will understand my comment since you indicated you also have ADHD and apparently a great deal of understanding on the subject. I tried reading your reply to the posted article and I have to admit that even though I have been able to obtain 2 degrees and have read my share of research articles and case studies written by highly educated professors and doctors during my time in school, your response still has me baffled.

      I have ADHD and admittedly my comprehension can be a bit slower than some, but I eventually reach an understanding of the premise and intent of what the author of a paper or articles I have read was attempting to get across.

      I have to say that my mind gets fuzzy and the words get distorted when I try to read your comment in its entirety. Maybe if you were to break it down a little for people like me that don’t like to spend a huge amount of time trying to interpret long winded comments.

      I agree with what you are probably thinking, “I didn’t ask you to read it”. You would be correct in that, however, for some reason, I felt compelled to try. So in that respect, you accomplished something by writing it.


      1. Leah,

        Kudos to your patience, however tried, with my attempt to express something that really is baffling!

        The style is, more than anything, a by-product of of growing up in a somewhat-over-literate family and many years wrestling with how to describe a frustrating “disconnect” with virtually all but the ADHD community I finally learned does exist. (Cue “Santa meets the M&Ms”—squirrel!)

        I hate when trying to cram a lot into a (VERY relatively) little space before I lose track seems like showing off rather than my best attempt within time available: sorry for that.

        For better or worse, I learned long ago it can still be better to risk a misimpression if the effort might help someone (anyone!) else—all the more when others follow up with insights I couldn’t begin to reach on my own.

        Having to express neurodivergent perception in a language tailored to neurotypical perception seems also to add to the confusion: for example, speaking of consciousness staggering unevenly through unmoving time usually triggers the “I think my brain just broke” look, except with modern physics fanatics, mystics and—no surprise, really—ADHD people.

        This language gap may be a big part of why, to my ADHD brain, much of the writing on the subject feels more like an outsider’s best approximation than a deep expression of our inner lives, although it’s hard to fault the honest attempt.

        By the way, what you wrote gives me the impression we may face the same, initial comprehension struggle. For me, it’s torture to try to engage fully, until some insight triggers the reward loop and makes the next four hours feel like fifteen minutes. I consistently remember when this happens, too, which brings to mind an example of what I described originally about perceived elasticity of time sense.

        Non-ADHD colleagues who fall into deep focus and show initial surprise at the time passed seem often not to retain even short-term memory of the discrepancy—only the time actually passed. Do they filter out the less-useful perception, unconsciously, on consolidation from working memory?

        All I really know is that this automatic erasure eludes me. My lack of it leads me to project greater range of uncertainty onto everyone’s estimates than is accepted, socially; and tempts me continually to confuse the perception I can’t forget and the associated reality, when making my own estimates.

        Here’s hoping what I’ve added proves useful…


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