ADHD, like so many things that people go through, exists on a continuum from more intense to less intense, and in addition, there are different types. There are those who are Inattentive (and may appear to be spacey), and those who are hyperactive/ impulsive, and those who are both at the same time. No two individuals with ADHD show up the same way.
One thing they often have in common, however, that differs from their non-ADHD partner, is that the live in the permanent present. Past, present and future are not distinguished from one another. They, therefore, have a difficult time learning from mistakes in the past, and looking into the future to project what the consequences of their actions might be. This has been called, “Now and Not Now” timing. You can imagine why this kind of wavelength might be frustrating to their non-ADHD partners who do remember very well what happened yesterday, and want to make plans for tomorrow, or sometimes six months in advance. This can also lead to issues with time management and missed appointments. What is happening in the here and now is what gets attention.
In addition, ADDers aren’t good with doing things by planning them out and following an order. While the non-ADHDer starts at the beginning, and moves through a task in sequence, the ADDer jumps into the middle, and goes in all different directions at once. This can make both the beginning and completion of projects very challenging.
Another factor that impacts the ADHDer is their sensitivity to sensory stimuli. The can be effected deeply by sounds and smells. Personally, just the slightest smell of perfume or incense can make me want to run in the opposite direction. I’ve also been known to wear ear plugs and eye shades at night for sleeping, as I’m very sensitive to light and sound when I sleep.
“The ADHD nervous system is rarely at rest. It wants to be engaged in something interesting and challenging. Attention is never "deficit." It is always excessive, constantly occupied with internal reveries and engagements.” (From ADDiTude Magazine e-zine, William Dodson, M.D.). Their minds are often running in many directions at once, unless they are in Hyperfocus mode, when they can pay intense attention to one particular area of focus. You might say they are “In The Zone.” We have all had that experience at one time or another, but it can be much more common to ADHDers.
As Dr. Dodson says, “ADDers have their worlds constantly disrupted by experiences of which the neurotypical [non-ADHD] is unaware. This disruption enforces the perception of the ADHD person as being odd, prickly, demanding, and high-maintenance. But this is all that ADDers have ever known. It is their normal.”
Is it any wonder that ADHDers and non-ADHDers often have challenges in relating to one another? It’s often like they see the world through totally different lenses.
That’s why I encourage my ADHD and non-ADHD clients to take the time to share with each other what it’s like to walk a mile in their partner’s shoes. It really can help to at least try to see what the world looks like from the other’s perspective. I know for me, when I asked a hyperactive client to describe his experience of what went on in his brain for me, it was truly eye-opening.