My Experience with Neurodiversity and Friendships

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Jeanine Comstock and her partner enjoying time together.
 "Once their loved ones understand the cause and effect
of this diagnosis, it can help them to empathize and increase
healthy communication between both individuals. "

Something that I feel should be touched on more regularly is what adults and children with ADHD should look for in their friendships, be it with friends, family or a partner. It can be difficult not being neurotypical, especially with a cognitive diagnosis that is often brushed aside as ” bad behavior” by those who do not understand what it entails. We live in a society geared toward those without neurological ‘disorders’. This society pushes people to engage in specific detail oriented tasks on a day to day basis. Many people judge those with ADHD instead of understanding how it works and where it comes from. Truthfully, in my opinion, the title of this ‘disorder’ should be changed to executive functioning disorder because of the way it behaves in the brain. It makes it hard to prioritize tasks and focus on small detail work until completion, and I feel that the name change would allow people to look at it in a more accepting light and perhaps view it more like autism rather than some form of conduct disorder, which is not.

So, with that being said; what do I look for in a non-ADHD friend for example? I end up connecting with people who are not embarrassed by my gold-fish-like memory and sometimes intense emotional behavior when something excites me. It is most important that they have a sense of humor when I do something socially ‘abnormal’, or when I accidentally lack self-control in a specific social situation. It is also important for them to understand that I need open communication if something does concern them or if I become too intense for them. I choose friends who are non-judgmental, flexible, and understanding. My friends don’t punish me when my inattention or impulsivity hurts their feelings accidentally. I do try my best to be the friend I want to have, and I try to also let them know I am sorry if I do something upsetting. We always have open communication about our feelings. I also find myself typically gravitating toward those with similar behavioral patterns. This is often not intentional, but I can assure you I will probably not get along with someone who has extreme issues with noise and needs a constant quiet environment. I am able to recognize situations in which I need self-control but I am not always able to act on changing the behavior until I have already reacted. Needless to say, my friends and I can get quite loud when we get in a group, but it is always a fun time regardless. There are lots of deep discussions and emotionally driven expressions and nobody feels the need to be someone they aren’t. We are all completely transparent, and for this I do feel blessed because I know that not everyone is able to have that kind of connection with their friends, family and life partner. I can say that I have not always been overly wonderful at being social; I had to grow and adapt and learn as I aged. Like a fine wine. Humans adapt and we learn what we click with and what we do not. I feel this is all a part of personal growth. I also feel that these relationship experiences helped to make me a more well rounded professional in the mental health field as well. Due to my life experiences and diagnosis I can better relate to clients and come at it with a new perspective and creative problem solving mindset. I am non-judgmental, truly, and take pride in this about myself. I believe we are all equals. I am just here to help someone discover and utilize the tools they need to be successful in their specific journey. The struggles in life do give us the ability to improve ourselves and increase our lives in other ways. What are some ways your friends have impacted you? Have you learned anything from any of your relationships? Do you feel life experiences have made you stronger?

For those without ADHD; it is important for them to recognize that a person’s behavior doesn’t always reflect their intention. Sometimes we react before we think things through. One example would be in the event someone with ADHD ends up talking over someone; it is useful to let them know that you understand that talking over you wasn’t intentional, and that it was frustrating for you but you would like to work on a way to prevent it in the future. Ask what can be done to avoid a repeat of it and if it continues to happen, brain storm ways it can be avoided in the future such as a specific cue or reminder prior to the event. I have found that all healthy relationships in life are all about give and take and require open communication from any party involved. This is key to understanding what each person needs, and then it is up to the person to work on it. Though, keep in mind this can take time. Nothing is instant and sometimes learning new steps can take an ADHD’er takes some extra time. This does not mean they do not understand or are slow in any way, this is simply because our brains have to go through different energy stores and patterns in order to get to the same goal if it isn’t something that releases dopamine and hyper stimulates us. However, if it is a task that we enjoy we can become experts on it because our brain will engulf itself, losing the world around you. This is known as ‘hyperfocus’. Hyperfocusing is a both a curse and a super-power. It can sometimes be utilized though to help memory stores or achieve various goals. ADHD is more of a selective attention disorder rather than complete inattention. This is important to understand if you have a child, loved-one or friend with ADHD because if they are focusing on something else and don’t hear you, they are losing track of their surroundings and truly do not hear you. Do not take offense, tap them gently on the shoulder and engage with them in a kind manner, explaining to them that they were not paying attention to you and you needed to talk to them for a moment. Chances are they did not even realize they were doing it.

Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder can be difficult to navigate without proper treatment, and it can make simple tasks twice as difficult, but with proper support but I fully believe people can adapt and develop healthy coping skills using a mixture of therapy techniques, thus leading to more successful and content relationships in their day to day life. Once their loved ones understand the cause and effect of this diagnosis, it can help them to empathize and increase healthy communication between both individuals. I believe that giving others the educational information and skills to converse will greatly increase the success rate of any relationship.

– Jeanine Comstock
QMHA , PSS, MSSW student

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