One Reason ADHD Adults Don't See a "Need" to Change

I was reviewing some research recently for the book I'm finishing up and came across an interesting bit of info that provides insight into why so many with ADHD perceive that "nothing is wrong" while their spouses see things differently.

The bottom line on the research was that adults with ADHD tend to evaluate their performance on various tasks as better than it is.  This isn't because they have inflated egos.  WE ALL TEND TO EVALUATE OURSELVES AS SOMEWHAT ABOVE AVERAGE.  The difference comes when you measure the self-evaluation against actual performance.  When you do this, you see that the gap between "perception" and "reality" is bigger with ADHD adults than non-ADHD adults.  Those with ADHD perform below average across a wide range of skills.

This particular research, done in 2005, had to do with driving.  Both adults with ADHD and adults without ADHD were asked to evaluate their driving capabilities.  Both groups judged themselves to be slightly better than average, just as expected.  But evaluation of the actual driving histories showed that the ADHD adults performed worse than normal.  The implication of this for couples is this:  the ADHD spouse in your partnership is likely to think he or she does things "better than average" simply because that's human nature, not because he's being stubborn or thoughtless.  Don't hold their being out of touch with reality against him or her or criticize their inability to self-evaluate.  We all tend to exaggerate our skills.  Instead, agree to rely on concrete ways to measure actual performance (in this case driving records) to understand whether or not perception meets reality.  No excuses allowed!  If the performance doesn't match the perception, agree it's time to alter the perception and do something about it.

Some examples:

Perception:  "I think I'm a pretty good bill manager."  Performance:  "1/3 of bills are paid late and incur fees.  The phone got turned off last week for two days."

Perception:  "I'm a good driver."  Performance:  "Two speeding tickets in the last year."

Perception:  "I'm great with the kids."  Performance:  "Between work and other obligations, spent a total of 25 minutes with the kids last week, though they had lots of fun together during that time."

A note here - It's a smart idea to work together to set up what a good set of measures might be.  Though you might not initially agree on all measures (is a "clean" countertop one that sparkles or one that is simply cleared of all dishes?) discussing what constitutes reasonable measures can clarify expectations and increase your mutual chances for success.

Once perception and reality are more in line, the next step is to start creating strengths-based strategies for making changes that will stick.  Some examples:

  • A person who responds well to auditory signals might set a computer alarm to go off once a week on Saturday at 8am for bill paying.  Paying bills weekly would eliminate late fees.  So would setting those bills up for autopay.
  • A husband looking to be more involved with his children could "schedule" 3 specific nights a week for 30 minutes of bedtime stories or two days a week of instrumental practice sessions, card games or homework help.

So, gaining insight into the "normality" of misjudging one's performance can help you focus your energies around what's really important - creating measurably better performance, rather than spending time trying to improve the accuracy of that initial perception.