In a world that often seems fast-paced and disconnected, the power of human connection holds immense value, especially for individuals with ADHD. Living with ADHD can present unique challenges, but through fostering meaningful relationships and establishing a sense of understanding, connection becomes a unique and powerful source of support. Join us as we explore the importance of connection and its profound impact on motivation, as well as the need for individuals with ADHD to feel truly understood.
The Power of Connection:
Edward Hallowell, renowned psychiatrist and ADHD expert, aptly captures the essence of connection when he states, “Connection is the most important need of the human heart.” For individuals with ADHD, who often face difficulties with attention, focus, and impulse control, feeling different and disconnected is common. The challenges they face in regulating their attention and impulses can lead to social struggles, misunderstandings, and a sense of isolation.
As they witness their peers effortlessly navigating social situations, they may feel like outsiders, further exacerbating their feelings of disconnection.
Connection acts as a bridge that spans the gap between individuals with ADHD and those around them. By forging genuine connections, we bridge the divide and create a sense of belonging.
“Belonging is a powerful force in the lives of children. When children feel connected, safe, and valued, they have the foundation to develop resilience, empathy, and a positive sense of self.”
– Dr. Bruce Perry
Motivation through Relationships:
Positive connections have the power to ignite motivation within individuals with ADHD. When
they feel supported, understood, and connected to others, their sense of self-worth and belief in their abilities can flourish. By establishing a network of supportive relationships, individuals with ADHD gain the necessary encouragement to navigate challenges and persevere.
As an ADHD coach I see this frequently when working with children navigating relationships with teachers and adults with employers and managers. When a child feels that their teacher doesn’t like them, believe in them, understand them, or care about them, motivation sinks.
Motivation in ADHD is already impacted by impaired executive functioning, and the neurotransmitter impact of ADHD (lowered dopamine and norepinephrine), this means that summoning the energy to complete a task often involves a “is it worth it” cost benefit analysis. When the person overseeing the work whether it is a teacher, mentor, parent, or employer doesn’t seem to value or appreciate the work or the person presenting it, the ADHDer often loses motivation due to this cost benefit analysis.
On the other hand, when a child or adult with ADHD feels deeply “believed in” they will work harder, longer, and with increased focus due to the powerful motivational power of connection. On a personal aside, I like to share with clients that I went into sciences in my first year of University. Not because I love science, in fact it was a bit of a disaster, but because I loved my highschool science teachers so much. I excelled in an amazing program created by two very caring humans. I achieved very high results and was highly motivated.
When I went further, I quickly discovered that what I had loved was not the science, but the environment that these two men created. And so I moved on to the faculty of music and then the faculty of education where I stayed and learned how to create the kind of environment that I had enjoyed so much as a teen.
Understanding as a Catalyst:
One crucial aspect of connection is the deep-seated need for individuals with ADHD to feel understood. Feeling understood is a fundamental human need, and individuals with ADHD often grapple with a sense of being misunderstood. This can lead to feelings of frustration, isolation, and low self-esteem. However, when they encounter people who genuinely comprehend their struggles, a transformative shift occurs. Dr. Hallowell explains, “Feeling understood, being able to explain oneself and being valued for oneself, these are the most powerful forces in a person’s emotional universe.” When individuals with ADHD find someone who truly comprehends their experiences and validates their struggles, they can develop a stronger sense of self and build confidence in their capabilities.
When I surveyed my instagram community (@behaviourcoach) asking parents what they would share with a parent with a child new to the ADHD diagnosis, seeking understanding and validation was a powerful theme. Responses included many variations of: “find people that will validate and support you without judgment.” This demonstrates how key understanding is, even for those supporting a loved one with ADHD, not to mention the child with ADHD themselves.
The fact of the matter is, that individuals with ADHD move through and view the world differently. The tricky bit is that in our society, often difference is viewed as wrong vs right. When an ADHDer is presented with an individual that understands the “why” behind their approach or recognizes why what is simple for others is challenging for them, it is a breath of fresh air. Understanding gives permission to do things differently and often in a way that suits the ADHD brain more effectively. I love this quote from author and ADHD advocate Jonathan Mooney, “When we create spaces of understanding, we unleash the genius within every person.”
Strategies to build Connection and Understanding to Support ADHD: For Educators and Loved Ones
As I shared above, connection is a powerful force of support and feeling disconnected lowers motivation, impacts mental health, and adds to a sense of isolation for individuals with ADHD. For those of us that support children and adults with ADHD in our day to day lives, here are some key areas to focus on for building connection.
The Role of Empathy:
Empathy plays a pivotal role in establishing meaningful connections. By demonstrating empathy, we can offer support, reassurance, and patience to individuals with ADHD. Understanding their challenges without judgment allows us to provide an environment where they feel safe and understood.
Here are some ways that we can practice empathy:
- Education: Learn about ADHD and its symptoms, challenges, and strengths. Understanding leads to empathy and reduced misunderstandings. One of the most impactful things I have seen as an ADHD coach is when a parent realizes that a behaviour they thought was intentional was actually an unintentional symptom.
- Listen Actively: Take the time to listen attentively and engage fully in conversations, even when they have taken an unexpected direction. ADHD brains move fast and sometimes conversations can feel like you are moving in a zigzag. But, showing with body language and active questioning that you are interested and want to know where this conversation is going is huge.
- Validate: Recognize and validate the unique experiences and challenges faced by individuals with ADHD. Acknowledge their efforts, struggles, and strengths. Avoid minimizing or dismissing their feelings.
- Be patient and understanding: ADHD can affect attention, organization, and impulse control. Practice patience and understanding when they may struggle with these areas. Avoid jumping to conclusions or making assumptions.
- Provide support without judgment: Offer support without passing judgment. Instead of criticizing or chastising, provide constructive feedback and offer assistance when needed. Instead of pointing out a mistake, offer help for now, and make a plan for next time. Chastising in the moment does not change future behaviour, it just creates more guilt and shame.
To foster connections with individuals with ADHD, we must embrace open communication and actively listen. By engaging in conversations that delve into their experiences and challenges, we create a space for them to share their thoughts, emotions, and aspirations. This active engagement strengthens the bond between individuals, leading to a deeper level of understanding and connection. Here are some strategies for building bridges:
• Show genuine interest: One of the best ways to connect with an individual with ADHD is to engage with real interest in conversations about high interest topics. ADHD brains love cool niche topics and passions, engaging in conversation about these passions allow deeper connections to develop. Asking open-ended questions and then listen deeply.
• Practice active and nonjudgmental listening: Provide your full attention when engaging in conversation. Avoid interrupting or jumping to conclusions. Be patient and allow them the space to express themselves fully. This may be an area that individuals with ADHD struggle with, but modeling this in return is a wonderful way to build a bridge.
• Engage in shared activities: Participate in activities or hobbies that both you and the individual with ADHD enjoy. Shared experiences create opportunities for connection and bonding. It could be playing a sport, engaging in a creative project, or simply going for a walk together.
• Offer assistance and support: Be willing to offer help and support when needed. This could involve providing guidance on organization techniques, assisting with planning, or offering practical help in managing tasks. The key here is to offer in a non-judgemental way and in a method that you have noticed is liked and appreciated.
The Power of Support Networks:
Support networks are essential for individuals with ADHD and their families. Joining support groups, seeking professional assistance, or connecting with other individuals who share similar experiences can provide a sense of belonging and understanding. These networks offer valuable insights, strategies, and emotional support, reminding individuals with ADHD that they are not alone in their journey. Some options include:
- Connecting the ADHDer with a mentor that also has ADHD.
- Working with a professional that specializes in and deeply understands ADHD.
- Join a group program with other individuals with ADHD or navigating ADHD parenthood.
- Join online support groups, Facebook has lots that are easy to join.
In a world where personal connections often take a backseat to technology and distractions, individuals with ADHD face unique obstacles. However, the power of connection remains a potent force that can empower, motivate, and uplift.
By nurturing relationships, fostering understanding, and embracing empathy, we can create an environment where individuals with ADHD can thrive. Let us strive to build bridges of support, extend a listening ear, and offer unwavering understanding to unleash the tremendous potential within each person with ADHD.
Edward Hallowell aptly captures the transformative potential of connection, stating, “When someone with ADHD feels connected, the sky is the limit.” Let us ensure that individuals with ADHD have the connections that support motivation and build self-confidence and self-esteem.
To support this article on ADHD and Connection I used quotes from the following individuals:
Dr. Edward Hallowell
Dr. Edward Hallowell is a renowned psychiatrist and ADHD expert. He has dedicated his career to understanding and treating ADHD. Dr. Hallowell is the co-author of the popular books “Driven to Distraction,” and “ADHD 2.0,” which offer insights into the challenges faced by individuals with ADHD and provides strategies for managing symptoms. His works are some of my favourites to recommend to those new to an ADHD diagnosis.
Dr. Bruce Perry
Dr. Bruce Perry is a prominent psychiatrist and neuroscientist who specializes in childhood trauma and brain development. He has extensively studied the effects of trauma on brain function and emotional well-being. While Dr. Perry’s primary focus is trauma, his work has significant implications for individuals with ADHD who may have experienced adverse childhood experiences. Dr. Perry’s research and expertise make him a valuable resource for understanding the intersection of trauma and ADHD.
Jonathan Mooney is an author, speaker, and advocate for individuals with learning differences and ADHD. He shares his personal experiences living with ADHD and dyslexia, providing a unique perspective on the challenges and strengths associated with these conditions. Mooney’s book “The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal” is a memoir that explores his personal journey and challenges societal norms around neurodiversity. His candid storytelling and advocacy work make him an important voice in the ADHD community.