ADHD Awareness: The “Soft Signs” of ADHD
Although so much has changed in recent years about what we know about the condition currently known as ADHD, it is estimated that as much as 85 percent or more of adults with the condition are walking around undiagnosed and untreated. We need to improve ADHD Awareness big time, and this is the perfect time to do it! Please feel free to share this article with anyone who could use a little boost to their ADHD IQ.
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 that are outside of the typical inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity that are what most people think of as the hallmarks of the condition. These common characteristics, which are not clinical indicators used in diagnosis, are often referred to as
The “Soft Signs” of ADHD.
These Soft Signs are the everyday ways that the condition often shows up in adults, and include things like: struggles with time management, focus, procrastination, disorganization, and weak follow-through.
My aim in sharing these Soft Signs with you is not to send you or someone you know running to your physician for treatment, but to bring to improve your ADHD awareness of 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.
The better you understand your struggles, and where ADHD may be showing up for you, the better you are able to learn to manage it. Knowing that a particular behavior is coming from your ADD brain wiring and not a character flaw like laziness or poor discipline, is essential to learning to overcome it.
And, of course, 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 start to develop the systems and skills to work with your strengths to minimize your challenges.
Here are a few of the Soft Signs of ADHD in adults that may show up in an affected individual’s professional life, social life, or personal life:
Feelings of Unmet Potential.
Adults with ADD are often seen by themselves and others as “underachievers.” In fact, the single most common complaint among the thousands of adults who have come to me for help over the last decade plus is feelings of unmet potential—a feeling that they are capable of much more than what they are able to achieve with consistency. 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.
ADHD-related trouble with time can show up as chronic tardiness, missing appointments, missed deadlines (although this can sometimes be masked when things are delegated to spouses, coworkers, or avoided altogether). Individuals with ADHD often have difficulty accurately judging the passage of time, estimating how long things will take, or accurately remembering how long things have taken in the past. This nearly universal Time Blindness in those of us with ADHD can contribute to significant challenges with time management, of course. For many of us, time can feel like a somewhat 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. (Everyone who knows me knows I’m BIG on timers, and I doubt there is anywhere you can sit in my home or office without the view of an analog clock. I even have one I can see from my shower because, well, you know how that goes…)
Frequently Losing Things.
Frequently Losing Things or misplacing things we use often like glasses, phones, papers, purses/wallets, keys, credit or debit cards, and even parked cars is extremely common in adults with ADHD, although it can be hidden/managed by what may seem like strict adherence to rituals, habits, etc. Fess up… how many pairs of reading glasses do you own?
Missing Turns or exits when driving is really common for us, especially on the most familiar roads. (My hubby teases me for using my GPS to go to the same grocery store I visit weekly, but it’s saved my bacon many times when I’ve spaced out and nearly gone the wrong way!)
ADHD Memory is a frustrating paradox! Sometimes, we can remember the strangest details from long ago. I can actually picture the shoes I was wearing when my hubby and I first kissed, but I have no idea where it was or why I went into the kitchen for a few minutes ago. Problems with memory reliability and recall are very common complaints among individuals with ADD—as well as those who live and work with us! Complaints about poor short-term or Working Memory (blanking out on very obvious things), and poor Prospective Memory (the ability to remember to do things in the future) are very common.
For me, working memory challenges sometimes feel like there is simply too much racing around in my brain for me to grab the one thing I need in the moment. Like the word for that thing I’m looking for. You know, the vessel that holds my coffee? Yeah. My cup. Big word, I know, but somehow “vessel” was easier to retrieve five minutes ago when I put my favorite blue coffee vessel down and got distracted… Prospective Memory can be even worse sometimes, and can drive other people crazy! Knowing that I need to stop for milk on the way home, thinking about it repeatedly throughout the day, and even saying “Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk” over and over as I drive is no guarantee that that particular “Get Milk” memory is going to be there when I need it at the exact moment when I need to stop at the store. It’s not that I don’t care that we need milk or that I’m willfully choosing to ignore it or could give a flip that someone else is counting on me to get milk, it’s simply that we can’t always retrieve from memory what we need when we need it! And remembering after I’m home, or in the shower, or whenever is even more frustrating than others can imagine! I’ve heard it said that ADHD is a condition of good intentions gone awry. Of course, I can’t for the life of me remember who said it right now…
One of the most frustrating things about ADHD to those who don’t really understand it is our inconsistency. Someone (I can’t remember who) said, “The only thing consistent about ADHD is inconsistency.” We can have what seem like flashes of brilliance or accomplishment that we will struggle to replicate. And it’s not because we don’t care or we aren’t trying! Lots of things impact our ability to be consistent (and an explanation is way beyond the scope of this article), but I promise you that it’s as maddening for us as it is for those around us, and can be incredibly demoralizing.
We often have difficulty staying on one task until completion, and many of us are great starters, but struggle with finishing. (Did I ever tell you about the time I stripped my kitchen cabinets down to the bare wood and refinished 90% of them myself? The other 10% is a story for another time.)
Individuals with ADHD can become totally engrossed in an activity or task to the exclusion of everything else. (Which can be as maddening for us as it is for the people around us who don’t understand that ADHD isn’t really an attention deficit, but a Deficit in Attention Regulation!) The ability to hyper-focus can be an incredible asset when you learn to harness it!
Transition from one activity to another can be very difficult with ADHD, which can make it very difficult to re-focus when we’re interrupted. (And may make us quite grumpy when you break our concentration!)
Interrupting or Blurting (aka verbal impulsivity) can also be 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.
Some individuals with ADHD will be prone to thrill-seeking behavior and may engage in activities that result in frequent accidents and a greater than average number of emergency room visits. (Base jumping, sky diving, car or motorcycle racing are among just a few.)
Drama Queens (or Kings).
For some individuals with ADHD, that thrill-seeking might manifest in a tendency to create drama or conflict or break up when an otherwise stable relationship becomes too familiar or routine. 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.
Some adults with ADHD can be seen as workaholics when they struggle to disconnect from work to relax, put in excessively long hours to keep up, or feel more comfortable working than not.
Some individuals with ADHD will put significant effort into lessening distractibility by requiring absolute silence or using white noise or music while working, or by working more during “off hours”.
The tendency to wait until a looming crisis or deadline to shift into high-gear focus is very common with ADHD. The impending crisis often creates the motivational and focus boost that makes it easier for the individual to get things done. If you’re someone who says, “I work best under pressure!”, I’m talking to you! This delay/avoid/mad rush/crash cycle is very typical with ADHD, and comes at a high cost to our performance, our lives and our health. (If you’re looking for a way out of that hamster wheel, that’s what I do.)
We may tend to miss pieces of a conversation or briefly tune out of a conversation, even when we really care about the other person and what they’re saying. When we check out on you, it isn’t because we don’t care of want to hear what you’re saying. Remember: our deficit is in our ability to regulate our attention, so if something else pops into our mind or our awareness, it’s very hard for us not to pay attention to that for a moment instead.
Many of us with ADHD tend to be very intuitive, empathetic and sensitive to others and what’s going on around us, although not always in ways that are expected or helpful. Even though we may struggle with missing some social cues, some of us naturally pick up on the energy, moods and emotions of others’ around us, and can be strongly impacted. (I often say that we can be “sensitive like a brick”—picking up on certain things quite acutely yet sometimes missing the more obvious things others may pick up.) Some individuals with ADHD also have strong sensory sensitivities to things like sound, temperature, touch, etc.
The inability to consistently keep accounts, pay bills on time, etc. is pretty common in adults with ADHD. While some of us are prone to spontaneous spending (large or small, but not always both) and difficulty savings, others may not have no problem holding onto their money, but struggle to keep up with managing it—loosing/misplacing checks or bills, forgetting to pay bills or paying them more than once, and so on. I’ve had several very successful clients come to me for help over the years because the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was the humiliation of having a utility shut off. I’ve had clients break down in tears over the humiliation of having to stay in a hotel because they forgot to pay their water bill, and the dread of being seen by a friend, colleague or team member coming and going.
And, of course, there’s so much more!
Please know that I sure don’t mean to be insensitive. I joke because some of the things we do can be funny (at times), and my sense of humor about my ADHD has been a very important part of what’s kept me from being locked away in a rubber room somewhere by now.
But… in all seriousness, these things are for more frustrating for those of us with ADHD than they are for those around us.
If you’re struggling with these or other challenges that are keeping you from fulfilling your potential and performing at the level of your potential consistently, please know that you don’t have to continue to live in frustration and disappointment!
Each one of these challenges is a behavior. There’s nothing wrong with who you are, deep down!
Again, the things you’re struggling with are not character flaws or moral failings. That fact that you care enough to still be reading is evidence of that!
These are all things that you can learn to manage and do differently.
I see my clients do it every day and I’ve done it myself.
And I have full faith that you can do it, too!
It all starts with improved ADHD Awareness…
Lynne Edris, ACG
Productivity & ADHD Coach
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