The “Soft Signs” of ADD
Much has changed in recent years about what we know about the condition currently known as ADHD or ADD. Experts now estimate that somewhere between 5 and 10 of the general population has the condition, and it is believed now to affect both genders equally. We also know now that kids with ADHD/ADD grow up to be adults with ADHD/ADD. But, for as much increased knowledge as we have, as much as 85 percent or more of adults with the condition are walking around undiagnosed and unaware.
Whether or not an individual has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity (ADHD), or ADD as it is also commonly called, there are certain common characteristics of affected individuals, such as struggles with time management, procrastination, disorganization, weak follow-through, or having too much on their plates. We call these common behaviors the “soft signs” of ADHD/ADD, because they are everyday ways that the condition often shows up in adults that are outside the clinical definition of the condition.
I don’t bring this information to your attention to send you running to your physician for a diagnosis, but to bring to your attention some of the most common challenges among adults with ADD that may be showing up in your life or in the lives of those around you. Being familiar with these “soft signs” can help an individual better understand his struggles, and where ADD may be showing up for him. Knowing that a particular behavior is coming from your ADD brain wiring and not a character flaw, such as laziness or stupidity, is essential to learning to overcome it. Knowing how and when ADD may be showing up in your life enables you, either on your own or with the help of a Coach, to develop the systems and skills to work with your strengths and minimize your challenges. It’s not about finding excuses for your short-comings, but about finding explanations and solutions!
Examples of “Soft Signs”
Adults with ADD are often seen by themselves and others as “underachievers.” I hear very frequently from adult clients a general feeling of not living up to their innate potential—a feeling that they are capable of much more than what they have achieved in their lives so far. Outsiders can sometimes view this underachievement as willful laziness or lack of discipline. Understanding that this sense of “underachievement” often comes with ADHD can help an individual figure out where they can make improvements and move toward their goals.
Individuals with ADD also frequently complain of poor time management skills. Others may see this as simply disorganization and procrastination, but it can feel like much more to the ADDer himself. Those of us with ADD usually have a notoriously poor sense of time itself. For many of us, time is an elusive thing with an inconsistent flow that depends greatly on what is going on around and inside of us. When my kids were younger, my husband used to call my sense of time, “Mommy Minutes.” When I would tell the kids how long it would be until something would happen (for instance how long until we were leaving the house), the length of “my” minutes depended completely on what was going on around me or how much was going on inside my brain. Although I really meant it when I said we were leaving in five minutes, that five minutes could be much shorter or longer than five real minutes, depending on what I was doing or what was going on in my brain.
Recognizing and understanding that this poor sense of time was related to my ADD helped make it easier to develop tools that work for me to track the passage of time and keep me on schedule. Now I never leave my house without a watch, I routinely set alarms on my phone, and I regularly use timers to help me see the actual passage of time. (Everyone who knows me knows I’m BIG on timers! I probably have 15 different timers in my house at any given time because that’s what works for me.)
Problems with short-term, working and prospective (future) memory are also very common complaints among individuals with ADD—as well as those who live and work with them. Working memory challenges sometimes feel to the affected individual like there is simply too much information racing around in your brain, and you can’t pull out the one piece you needright now! It may be a common word, the name of a familiar friend at a cocktail party, or the answer to a question on a quiz that you’re 100% sure you know, but just can’t quite retrieve when needed. The ability to remember things in the future (prospective memory) can also be a frequent challenge for individuals with ADD. Knowing you need to take out the trash when you get home, thinking about it repeatedly throughout the day, and remembering to do it when you actually need to does not always come naturally. It’s not that we don’t care, are willfully choosing to ignore, or don’t know the information, it’s simply that we can’t always retrieve from memory what we need when we need it! Knowing this enables us to develop systems and tools to compensate for these challenges: like colorful sticky notes, reminders on a phone, writing on the mirror, etc. (Yes, I actually write notes to myself on my mirror in wipe-off marker! It may sound crazy but, again, it works for me!)
Verbal impulsivity is another common complaint among individuals with ADHD. Sometimes it seems as if the filter between our thoughts and our mouths isn’t quite doing its job! Other times, it feels as though we may actually, physically burst if we can’t get out a thought that’s in our heads. For some, it can feel like they have a very tenuous hold on a thought and if they don’t interrupt and say it immediately, it will be lost forever. This can come off to outsiders as social ineptitude, rudeness, or lack of consideration, but it usually isn’t deliberate. Learning to pause and consider what we’re about to say takes patience and practice, but it is a skill even the least tactful ADHDer can learn.
For some individuals with ADHD who have a tendency toward thrill seeking, their need for stimulation may manifest in more subtle ways than skydiving or bungee jumping. Another “soft sign” of ADHD is the tendency to create “drama” in life. Sometimes the individual will manufacture conflict in an otherwise stable relationship, or find a reason to end a relationship when it becomes too comfortable. Again, knowing that this pattern may be a manifestation of ADHD can enable an individual to recognize it for what it is and work on the skills needed to break the behavior pattern and develop more healthy relationships.
Understanding Yourself and Your Own, Unique ADHD
Regardless of how your ADHD characteristics manifest for you, understanding yourself and your own, unique ADHD characteristics is essential to overcoming your challenges. Knowing how and when your ADHD is showing up in your life enables you, either on your own or with the help of a Coach, to develop the systems and skills to work with your strengths and minimize your challenges.
Contact me to find out more about Coaching and for a confidential, complimentary consultation. I can help you learn to more about your ADHD, help you see where it is showing up in your life, and work with you to develop the systems and tools to work with your ADHD instead of against it!
Lynne Edris, ACG
Life & ADD Coach