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.
ACTIVATION in a NEUROTYPICAL BRAIN
ACTIVATION in an ADHD BRAIN
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