Listening Through an ADHD Lens
by Paul O’Connor, MCC
Being able to identify traits that may be ADHD-related is central to our role as an ADHD coach. Whether it’s inattention, distraction, disorganization, hyperactivity, restlessness, fidgeting, impulsivity, or many others, our ability to recognize and understand those is a foundational part of our skill set. It’s difficult to “Listen Through An ADHD Lens” if you can’t recognize the characteristics of someone who may have ADHD.
We understand, however, that our clients don’t come to us with all these traits wrapped up in one neat, easily recognizable package. That’s part of what makes it fun to be an ADHD coach. It’s always interesting. Our clients are going to be all over the place in terms of how their traits show up and how they present to us.
For instance, some will be diagnosed and taking prescribed medication; others may come with a diagnosis, but have chosen not to take drugs. Some will be aware of their traits and open to learning more about what ADHD means and how best to address their issues; others may have what appear to be extensive ADHD types of symptoms, but will have no interest whatsoever in having an ADHD label attached to their name.
And of course, there are also those who will exhibit a few ADHD type traits, but who likely would not meet the criteria to be defined as having ADHD. Yet they, too, can benefit tremendously from having coach with the skill sets we possess.
As ADHD coaches, we’re in the business of helping people … wherever they fall on the ADHD continuum … better understand their brain wiring so they can move past challenges and make the most of their unique gifts. No matter how they present to us. But it all starts with listening through that ADHD lens.
Many of our clients may never have been able to relate their stories to someone who understands ADHD. They need validation. They may need to vent. They need someone who can hear and pay attention; who gives them ample space to talk about their ideas and feelings without judgment.
We may start with the client’s learning style. If a person is primarily a visual learner, then we need to use visual language with them. For instance we might ask, “How do you see this playing out?” We also need to understand the pace at which they operate best. If they’re a fast processor, keyed in on the bottom line, we don’t want to bore them with a lot of details. On the other hand, some people may need more information to fully understand a topic. We need to cater our approach to each person’s preferred processing style.
Sometimes our clients may come to us with a presenting issue as they see it, but the real concern is often something else. So we have to listen beyond their complaints and fears to hear what they really want. Many with ADHD are super-sensitive to being judged, so we need to make sure we always ask them compassionate questions that come from a place of curiosity, not judgment.
There are lots of ways to do this. If we spot incongruities in our clients’ language or behaviors, we can mirror back what they have said. We may point out gaps in structures and routines. We can interrupt negative thinking patterns and support them in learning how to bottom-line an issue.
We also need to understand that sometimes there’s so much going on in our clients’ heads that they will go off on all kinds of tangents. We need to recognize when this is the case and help them get back on track. But again, we need to come from a very compassionate place as we help them get back to their primary agenda.
For our clients, being able to share their goals and dreams … and have someone truly listen and interact with them … is a BIG, BIG deal. It’s our privilege as ADHD coaches to be the ones who are there listening, discerning the essence of their situations, and helping show them how they can take advantage of their unique brain wiring.