Adult ADHD Intervention Tactics
Regardless of how adult ADHD has unraveled your family or marriage in the past, it's possible to do damage control and get things in order by having everyone in the family master some basic coping techniques and skills.
Try a Little Tenderness
Family members can gain valuable insight from putting themselves in the ADHD adult's place. Until everyone in the family understands that their ADHD spouse or parent isn't intentionally screwing up, forgetting to show up, failing to pay attention, or neglecting to listen, they will assume that he is doing it on purpose.
Once family members understand that their ADHD spouse or parent is a prisoner of his own symptoms, they can start taking steps to help him minimize his ADHD symptoms and maximize his ADHD strengths.
Family members can also learn how to deal with the volatile emotions, moodiness, bluntness, critical nature, and high frustration levels exhibited by ADHD adults. They need to program themselves not to take things personally and remember that these symptoms are part of the disorder.
Acknowledge and Release Pent-up Feelings
Agree to acknowledge and share how unpredictable symptoms and emotions make you feel rather than bottling them up and letting them fester. In the supermarket scenario, the wife could acknowledge her ADHD husband's shortcomings, including his own frustration at not being able to buy the groceries on time, and help him devise a strategy that can help him master the task next time. Maybe she could make sure he writes down the grocery items, help him develop a way to “flag” his work so he can easily pick up where he left off the next day, call him to remind him it's time to leave for the grocery store, and thank him for the extra effort and coordination it required on his part to pick up the grocery items. This is much more productive than bottling up her increasing frustration with her ADHD husband's inability to do simple chores.
All non-ADHD family members should recognize their ADHD spouse or parent is operating with some basic mental and emotional deficiencies that make doing simple things very difficult. By having compassion for him and adjusting their expectations and demands so he can succeed, everyone wins.
Give Up the Guilt and Embarrassment
Maybe you feel embarrassed because your ADHD parent forgot to come to your parent-teacher night or insulted your soccer coach for making you sit on the bench. Or perhaps you're embarrassed that your ADHD spouse blurted out something confidential and potentially embarrassing at the block party. Or perhaps you're the ADHD adult and you feel guilty and embarrassed for stepping out of line. It's important for the entire family to recognize that if anything is to blame, it's ADHD itself.
Instead of trying to blame a phantom, family members should help the ADHD parent or spouse mend his ways by helping him get more organized. You could create family calendars, schedules, or timetables, stay more focused on conversations, and rein in impulsive behavior and comments by counting to ten before saying something potentially insulting or embarrassing.
One way to keep an ADHD spouse or parent organized is to display prominent schedules and timetables at strategic locations throughout the house. Rather than hiding schedules in computer files that are only obvious when opened, post duplicate schedules in the kitchen, in the bedroom, on bathroom mirrors — wherever family members will see them repeatedly and be likely to remember them.
Family members can also help reduce the clutter and disorganization that seems to afflict ADHD adults by designating special places for key items like car keys, credit cards, and garage door openers.
Clearing the Air
ADHD adults are already communication-challenged, for several reasons. Because of their inattention, they have trouble focusing and paying attention, they have poor memories and forget what's already been said, they become bored easily and tune out of conversations they find irrelevant, and they are easily distracted by extraneous noises, music, and uncomfortable physical factors. In addition, their impulsivity and hyperactivity tends to make them speak without thinking first, to blurt out overly blunt statements that hurt or offend others, to butt into conversations without being invited, and to pontificate on topics without realizing everyone else has heard enough.
To prevent communication snafus from coming between family members, it's important that everyone in the family understands the limitations imposed by adult ADHD and finds ways to overcome the communication gaps.
Some snafus can be nipped in the bud by asking for clarification if you don't understand what someone else is asking or requesting. Others can be avoided by acknowledging and repeating what another person has said to make sure you heard and interpreted it correctly. Finally, resist the temptation to criticize, which tends to reduce or shut down communication by building walls or creating conflicts that disguise the real issue at hand.
If there's a chance a distracted ADHD spouse or parent may forget an important meeting, have everyone in the family synchronize the alarms on their watches or cell phones so they all buzz at once. Then everyone can call, text, or e-mail Mom or Dad.
Practicing Thanks and Gratitude
Everyone needs to be appreciated, acknowledged, and thanked for their accomplishments, achievements, and attempts, especially ADHD adults who are so accustomed to being criticized that they are hard-wired for blame, accusations, and negativity and are understandably defensive, withdrawn, and unable to express affection.
To create lasting family bonds, encourage family members to express love, appreciation, thanks, and support on a daily basis to the ADHD adult through hugs, smiles, pats on the back, a thumbs up, kind words, and simple thanks.
It's also amazing what a little humor can do to defuse a potentially embarrassing or difficult situation. Instead of focusing on the negative (“You forgot to pay the electric bill and now we're all going to freeze to death tonight!”) lighten up and reframe it as a funny episode that will go down in time in the family scrapbook. (“No heat tonight, so let's use it as an excuse to have a fun family night out at the local motel, where they keep the thermostat so high we'll probably have to open all the windows!”)