How to tell someone you think he/she has ADHD.
The problem with making your suspicions known is that it can be difficult to guess how your loved one will react. Many people, upon discovering that their struggles derive from a difference in their brain chemistry and NOT a wagon-load of character flaws, immediately feel like the heavens have opened, confetti is falling, angels are singing, and free ice cream is everywhere. I was one of those people. I cried tears of joy and ran to tell everyone I knew what I’d discovered.
Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way. Some, upon finding out they have ADHD, feel that their world is now caving in, their opportunities are dwindling, and, even if there’s free ice cream out there somewhere, chances are it’s pistachio, and they hate pistachio.
Given the wide range of possible reactions (all the way from euphoria down to possibly never speaking to you again) you are right to hesitate before rushing off to tell your friend or loved one that you think they have ADHD. Here are SIX suggestions for breaking the news to him/her in a way that will help, not hurt.
1. Know Thy Friend…and Know Thyself.
Take a quick moment to think about the serious discussions you and your loved one have had in the past. What puts him at ease? What helps her focus? Try to address the topic of ADHD at a time and place in which your loved one is comfortable enough to be receptive, but not SO comfortable that she don’t hear a word you say.
Also, try NOT to address the issue immediately after your loved one has just done something that COMPLETELY proves the point you’re about to make. Yes, arriving late to her OWN birthday party or going to to the grocery store for milk and returning with broccoli, candied ginger, shampoo, and a “Learn-to-Knit Kit” (but NO milk) are both fantastic examples of symptoms, but drawing attention to them so soon after the fact might humiliate your loved one. Also, take stock of your own life and emotions – if you are excited or angry for any reason, it is less likely that you’ll be able to conduct yourself with the patience, grace, and lack of judgement that this conversation requires.
2. Express Your Concern
Sometimes we need to be reminded that our friends and family have our best interests at heart. Let your loved one know that you are not judging him for anything, but instead that you care for him and are curious to see what he thinks about this new possibility you’ve come across. You might also choose to lead with the (often NEW) idea that ADHD is a unique brain wiring, not a character deficit, and that acknowledging it and working with it often creates results in astounding success stories.
3. Avoid Citing Examples (if possible)
If you try to convince your loved one that you are right by reminding her that she missed three appointments last week, forgot the Turkey last Thanksgiving, and hasn’t seen the surface of her desk since before the birth of the internet, she is likely to react by accusing you of criticizing, attacking, or singling her out for things that “everyone deals with.” That being said, ADHDers are often bad at self-evaluation and may need someone else to point out their ADHD habits. If this is the case, you may need to gently draw her attention to a few examples. Use this as a last resort, however. Most ADHDers are well aware of the areas in which they are lacking.
4. Instead, Have Information Handy
A brief description of ADHD, or better yet, a list of common symptoms, can help you articulate your discovery in a less confrontational way than the one described above. By offering your loved one a checklist and asking him if he thinks any of the statements apply to him, you also give him the opportunity to do something that can be invaluable for rapid progress – make up his own mind. Often, it is the ideas we come up with on our own that we accept most readily. If you’d like a succinct list of diagnostic symptoms, my Take the ADHD Test page can be quite useful.
5. Be Prepared for Angry Outbursts
If, despite your care to create a safe, judgement free space, your loved one still feels humiliated, demoralized, defensive, or flat out furious, you may have to weather the storm of his emotions. If this is the case, do everything you can to remain calm and patient. Sometimes a few minutes of waiting is all that is needed. Other times, you may need to remove yourself from the situation to let him cool down or feel like talking again.
6. Give Them Time
After you’ve broached the subject, try to avoid pushing your loved one to get help, as this behavior might be seen as badgering or nagging. Instead, give her time to soak it in and do her own research. Then, check back occasionally with an offer to lend your assistance. If she accepts, awesome. If not, remember that she needs to make her own decisions, and that you can serve her the most effectively by simply being there no matter what.