How to Respond to a Loved One's ADHD Diagnosis
When a loved one reveals their ADHD diagnosis, you may be unsure how to react. A flurry of emotions might hit you at once, such as helplessness, fear, or judgment. While you may not be able to control all the emotions that come up, you can choose what to say to someone with ADHD in a non-critical and compassionate way. After all, it is estimated that those with ADHD receive 20,000 more negative messages by age 10 than positive messages.1 This leads many people with ADHD to feel ashamed and fundamentally flawed. Instead of adding to this shame, we’ve come up with some ways you can further your understanding of someone with ADHD, including how to verbally respond to them, other ways you might offer support, and lastly how to support yourself.
What an ADHD Diagnosis Means
If a loved one has been diagnosed with ADHD, it means they have met the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) for ADHD, a neurodevelopmental disorder. ADHD is characterized by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that can significantly impact their daily functioning and quality of life.
There are three different subtypes of ADHD:
- Predominantly inattentive: Individuals primarily struggle with attention and focus, but they may not display significant hyperactivity or impulsivity.
- Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive: Individuals primarily exhibit hyperactivity and impulsivity, with less pronounced inattentive symptoms.
- Combined: Individuals show a combination of both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.
Tips to Responding to Your Loved One Appropriately
Learning how to talk to someone with ADHD can have a significant impact on their self-esteem and on your relationship as a whole. Additionally, a study by CHADD found that ADHD may even improve over time, with one of the contributing factors being a strong support system.2 When a person with ADHD feels recognized and appreciated, they also feel encouraged to better deal with frustrations, avoid trouble spots, and further develop his or her personal strengths. When considering how to respond positively to a person with ADHD, try the following:
If a loved one has been diagnosed with ADHD, approach them with empathy and acknowledge that ADHD is a real and valid condition. After all, brain imaging studies have confirmed there are differences in brain structure and brain function in people with ADHD.3 Let them know you’re honored they’re sharing their diagnosis with you and that you will do your best to understand their unique challenges and limitations. If you have the bandwidth, ask how you can help.
Listen Actively & Encourage Open Communication
Practice active listening when your loved one wants to share their thoughts and feelings. Give them your full attention, maintain eye contact, and avoid interrupting. Reflecting back what they've said can show that you truly understand. You might also encourage them to share more about their experiences by asking open-ended questions. This allows them to express themselves freely and helps you gain deeper insights into how their ADHD symptoms manifest. It can also be helpful to celebrate your loved one's strengths. People with ADHD often possess unique talents and creative abilities. Focusing on their strengths can help boost their confidence and self-esteem (e.g. “You’re a great writer/cook/artist etc.”)
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Educate Yourself by Taking Time to Learn More About ADHD
One of the best ways you can offer support to a loved one with ADHD is to take the time to learn more about ADHD, its symptoms, and how it can impact daily life. Understanding the challenges your loved one faces is a crucial first step in expressing empathy. You might say something like, “I can’t pretend to know exactly how you’re feeling, but I can try. Can you help me understand what you’re going through?” The Brillia(nce) Resource Center offers many resources to help you better understand ADHD. Check out these common ADHD myths and learn more about the stigma associated with ADHD. It can also be helpful to educate yourself on the common impairments of ADHD–comorbid anxiety disorders, development delays, antisocial behavior–so you feel prepared to deal with how they may affect your relationship.
Encourage Professional Help
If your loved one has been diagnosed with ADHD, they likely have already been in touch with a healthcare provider who issued the diagnosis. If you know of any therapists, counselors, coaches, that you think would be of value, share this information with them. A trained professional with knowledge of ADHD can help them devise coping strategies and techniques they may not have considered before.
You might also suggest a medication like Brillia, which does not require a prescription. Clinically proven to reduce symptoms like hyperactivity, inattention, impulsivity, and restlessness, Brillia helps to balance out the neurotransmitters related to mood, focus, and attention, without hash, synthetic chemicals or harmful side effects. Its active ingredient consists of antibodies to the brain-specific S100B protein, a key regulator of interneuronal communication, which refers to how well your brain cells communicate with each other. Brillia improves these processes while promoting calmness and clarity without any off-target effects.
And if your loved one is already taking a prescription medication for ADHD, Brillia can be used in conjunction with their medication to resolve any secondary symptoms like anxiety, which is a common side effect of stimulant drugs. Best of all, Brillia is part of a comprehensive holistic approach that promotes healthy lifestyle habits as the primary source of support. This includes following a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, controlling screen time, and practicing mindfulness, which are all activities you can practice together through collaborative efforts. This includes cooking together, sharing your favorite wind-down rituals for better sleep, shutting off the TV to enjoy screen-free moments with them, or even attending a yoga or meditation class together.
Offer Emotional Support: Communicate Your Availability
While every person with ADHD can benefit from external support, the type of support they need will vary according to the individual. Whether your loved one is your child, your spouse, or your friend, here are a number of ways you can offer emotional support and communicate your availability..
- First, assess whether or not your loved one is ready to seek help and if they are willing to let you help them.
- If you live with this person, find ways to divide tasks and be consistent with sticking to them.
- Delegate and outsource where you can to relieve the burden of extra tasks that can add to more work in the home.
- Read books on ADHD together, ask them if they need help getting to appointments, or ask what else you can do to better support them.
It may not always be an easy road when you love someone with ADHD. At times, you may find yourself feeling frustrated or disappointed. You may also feel guilty if you didn’t realize your loved one had ADHD sooner. Be sure that in helping your loved one with ADHD, you do not sacrifice your own well-being. If you’re in a relationship with someone with ADHD, remember that supporting them does not mean assuming a parenting role, which is ultimately unhelpful for them and stressful for you. Whether your loved one is a partner or child, make time for self-care to stay sane, such as exercising, getting enough sleep, respecting your boundaries, and investing in a strong social support network. Giving yourself permission to acknowledge what isn’t working is a great first step in figuring out how to make a change.
Find more resources on supporting loved ones with ADHD at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center.
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