How to understand ADHDer who is "on" sometimes and "off" other times?

A lot of people have shared the experience of a partner with ADD whose focus and attention is fairly consistently "on" at work or maybe in some social situations, but somehow switches off when they are at home.  It has a few interesting consequences ...

- It adds to the difficulty of diagnosis, and of persuading anyone (including them) that the issues are real

- It more easily creates the feeling that the person could be more attentive, etc, at home if they wanted to be. So they seem to be choosing to be careless, thoughtless, lazy, etc. with us.  It's easy to take that personally, and seems to require near sainthood to remind ourselves 24/7/365 that it's the ADHD.

It's hard to explain and understand this.  Has anyone come across a good discussion of this topic in the books or articles you've read?

I had come through the same feeling

Hi Shore,

Your comment brings a good point. Last Sunday I had the conversation about ADHD with my husband (or ex, since we are separated now since 3 months ago); he does not have a diagnosis but starting with Melissa´s article in the New York Times, I happened to find a name to what we lived during the 3 years before he decided to ask for divorce. I am convinced he has ADHD, nothing explains more clearly his behavior after we married.

Last Sunday as I said, I mentioned him the article and tried to explain him why I thought that ADHD has been responsible for most of the things that happened to us. He disregarded everything, mentioning that he always had been that way when a child and that it "his way". He did not mentioned directly but he let me know that this condition is not compatible with being hyper attentive at work as he is (he is a physician and never had a problem), and that the issue was "with me" or "with us as a couple" since he is "on" at work or with friends or at other occasions but he is unable to connect at home or with the couple.

This is somehow fake, since he has a lot of commitments related to work that he has being postponing indefinitely, he does the same with his personal issues, with any paperwork, and in the other hand, during these last 6-8 months when things were significantly worse, he has been with another 2 work projects that demanded too much time to him, then if he wanted some excuse for being absent, then work was the perfect reason, and there is the circle: he is hyperfocussed or "on" at work, and distracted from home, me, our couple and the responsibilities involved.

I beg him to have a neuropsychiatric assessment, obviously he minimized this and even when I really do not want the divorce (even more when now I do think there is a reason for his behavior), this is what he wants and I do not see any more hope.

But, as you mentioned, there are so many things involved in the ADHD condition that once you red about it, it is easy to find explanations to almost all the adhd sufferer actions.

Wish you better luck than mine,


ADD is Misnamed

ADHD is misnamed.  It's not actually a deficit of attention.  It's a DYSREGULATION of attention.  People with ADD can hyperfocus sometimes, and lack focus at others.  Also, ADHD can impact their lives differently in different realms.  Often I hear "I can't have ADHD because I'm successful at work" but that isn't the point.  You can be successful at work because the workplace provides an external structure that keeps you on task or simply because you have a real talent for what you are doing.  Then you go home and there is no specific structure AND the chores and work are boring to you so you become easily distracted.

Yes, I agree, it's a real challenge to not say "this could be done better if he would only try harder" but remember - don't try harder, try differently...(and, of course, to do that the person with the ADHD has to be willing to acknowledge it)

oh my gosh that is so true, I

oh my gosh that is so true, I am a nurse and I know that I do my job very well. There is structure that keeps me on task, and I also have the intuition to pick up on things before they happen. My husband doesn't understand how i can do such a complex job without causing harm, but I can't do something as simple as park the car in the same place.

So many times I change things thinking that I am making it easier to remember, when in fact I have just made things more complicated. When I am working on something I can easily hyperfocus and tend to not want to stop until it is done, partially because I know how difficult it will be to pick it back up again.

off and on


I just finished reading an ebook by Dr. Charles Parker this past Saturday.  Here is his website  The book  is called ADD Medication Rules and goes deeply into the science of using drugs and lifestyle changes for ADD.  Even though the book is full of medical brain science explanations for ADD behavior, it is written to help the average ADD person understand how they must have a medical team.   He stresses how important it is for doctors to do a thorough evaluation and get good information from the patient before and during treatment.  there is an emphasis on the responsibility of the patient to make healthy lifestyle changes in order for treatment to work well. 

One comment he made is that ADD isn't necessary in action 24/7.  It is always a part of the person, but the symptoms are exacerbated by lack of sleep, stress, bad diet, psychological baggage, etc.  If lifestyle changes are improved, the symptoms can often be lessened.  He also commented that one reason your husband does well at work is that he has structure there that he doesn't have at home.


My ADD symptoms are much

My ADD symptoms are much worse if I am under stress or if I am tired. My husband will sometimes notice that I am having a particularly bad day of week which he will then question if something is bothering me.

I also find explanations to be very difficult to organize my thoughts and get it out so that I am understood is so much work and overwhelming that I just prefer to not go there.  I see so many complaints from non ADDers about conversation and can understand both sides.

Thank you Melissa

Your comment is very interesting... this disorder or "dysregulation" as you in fact mentioned is very interesting and so complex on the same time.

It is so difficult to explain somebody that they have to change habits or "ways" that have been "his way" for his all life... how to explain that "his way" has turned into a level that is affecting everything, how to explain that now, his distraction is functional and is giving problems...?

Since I read your article, I have been thinking how many other "readings" can this disorder have. I have been listening that he is not mature enough for a marriage and a family, that he is afraid of being a father, that he is not committed with the marriage, that he wants to go back to youth... even I have accepted that part of them were true... however, it seems that the ADHD can explain better these "readings" and also others...

I wish I would have find this blog even a few months earlier, when I was still in a situation where we can discuss this...

Your blog and others comments have been great at least to identify a reason for what occurred between my husband and I, and also, have helped me to understand why I acted the way I did.  This is a challenge and an opportunity to learn as well.

Warm regards,