Last week I had the chance to attend CHADD’s annual conference on ADHD in New Orleans. I figured I’d leave with some new information but my true takeaways were a lot more valuable, and personal, than I could have expected.
1: There’s nothing quite like being with your (ADHD) people.
I have ADHD but I spend most of my time around people who don’t. I’m well versed in self-advocacy and for the most part have been lucky enough to find friends and coworkers who are already aware of ADHD, or at least open to learning. But when you spend the majority of your life with neurotypical people—no matter how understanding they are—there’s nothing like being in a roomful of folks who just get it. No explanations necessary.
2: Managing ADHD isn’t just about staying focused.
Finding ways to stay on track is a vital part of managing ADHD, but it’s just one aspect of a larger picture. Almost every speaker at the conference talked about the importance of learning to handle the emotional fallout that goes along with ADHD. Some swore by mindfulness, others CBT, exercise, even Facebook support groups, but the same message was there throughout: really managing ADHD goes deeper than learning how to get good grades or stay organized. As one audience member put it, “These days I know how to study, and that’s great. But what I’m really working on is figuring out how to be kind to myself.”
3: New love for the “extra minute.”
Transitioning from one activity to another is hard for people with ADHD. The conference was no exception. When one of our sessions ended, everyone erupted into flurries of frantic packing, myself included.
“SLOW DOWN!” commanded one of the presenters. “This was a test.” She pointed at the clock, which showed we still had ten minutes left in the session. “Just hearing ‘time to go!’ made a lot of you start rushing,” she noted, and explained that people with ADHD need extra time to adjust to new situations, so rapid transitions often make us feel anxious. “That anxiety masquerades as the feeling that you need to go fast right now,” she told us, “but rushing just leads to more chaos.” Instead, she suggested we take an extra minute to pack up, check around our chairs, and put our coats on. “A last look is never a bad idea!” I did and there, hiding in a corner of the seat, was my wallet.
Extra Minute: 1, Rushing: 0.
4: Trying new things is key.
So many of the excellent presentations I saw centered on different ways of managing ADHD. I learned about things ranging from ancient meditation practices to cutting-edge medication advancements and everything in between. As someone who struggles to prioritize information sometimes (always) it almost felt like there were too many choices on the table. But one of the presenters put it in perspective: “The best and worst thing about ADHD treatment is that there is no ‘right way’ to do things. What works for one person may not work for another. Trying different treatment options is the best way to figure out what works for you, personally.”
5: We’ve got a long way to go
In the three days I spent at the conference I met parents and professionals, coaches and allies, entrepreneurs, doctors, experts, and a lot of people who just came to learn. Listening to all these different voices and perspectives, I was equally struck by how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.
I heard so many people ask questions like, “How can I hide my ADHD from my boss?” or “My child feels so behind, can I help her without her teachers finding out?”
After being congratulated for his openness by a presenter one man said, “Thank you, but it’s a false impression. I’m open here, with ya’ll, because I know you understand and don’t judge me but as soon as I step outside this building I’ll close back up. This is like a wonderland and that out there is real life.”
Many heads nodded along as he spoke. Me too. Me three. The fight to end stigma and shame around learning differences is far from over and even from our privileged vantage point inside our little ADHD wonderland, we all knew that outside there was still hard work to be done.