Did I Really Say That — Or Was I on ADHD Autopilot?

Sometimes I misspeak or misremember things — what I say or do next can make the difference between discord and family harmony.
Family Guy | posted by Douglas Cootey

We can choose to pridefully defend ourselves, or we can take responsibility.

I was propped up in front of the computer and unable to do much more than move my mouse around. I had been sick with a cold for several days and was getting worse. I could feel my motor-tic disorder kicking in, so I needed a protein infusion right away. I called out to my 15-year-old and asked, "Can you make me a sandwich with the spicy Cajun chicken, lettuce, and a few shakes of jalapeño Tabasco sauce?" but there was no answer. She had her face in her iPhone. I called and asked again. Still no answer, so I called a third time, "Hey! I really need you to make me that sandwich!" This time I got through. I turned back to my computer in exhaustion and lost myself in an article I was trying to write.

Soon, my sandwich arrived and I gratefully began eating it. After two bites, I noticed it was bland. "Hey, kiddo! You forgot to put the aloe vera on the sandwich." Both the 12- and 15-year-old exploded in laughter.

Cut me some slack. Aloe vera pulp is green and goopy just like jalapeño sauce. Instead of getting defensive or testy, I said, "I don't think there's enough aloe vera in the world to help this chicken." More laughter, and then my daughter added a healthy dollop of the real green goop with a kick.

After two more bites, however, the sandwich still tasted bland. I took a harder look and discovered the problem. She had made the sandwich with turkey. Mesquite-flavored turkey is tasty, but it doesn't wallop sick taste buds with a mallet like Cajun spices do. My daughter, however, was convinced that I had asked for turkey while she was in the kitchen. This puzzled me, but considering I had just asked for aloe vera on my sandwich, I conceded that perhaps I had misspoken. When I had asked for chicken before, I probably got her autopilot mode, and she got mine. I let the matter drop and enjoyed the rest of my sandwich while my 12-year-old went into new peals of laughter about aloe vera on my sandwich.

These incidents seem minor, domestic, and meaningless, but they are the petty things we find ourselves arguing over. Add in the ADHD autopilot, and the argument can take on epic proportions. When the kids got into an argument a few hours later over something stupid one of them had mindlessly done, I pulled out this example and pointed out how our ADHD memories are compromised when we are hyperfocused on something, especially when our autopilot is in control. The reminder of the aloe vera incident interrupted the 12-year-old's temper tantrum because she was too busy laughing again, but it made the point. We can choose to pridefully defend ourselves, or we can take responsibility.

The ADHD autopilot is good at faking the job, but it’s not so great at flying where we need to go. When we get caught heading the wrong way, it's best to gracefully accept blame, even if we don't exactly remember. As a kid, I suspected my mother made stuff up, but as an adult I learned to look for clues. How aware was I? Had I been forgetful during the time of the incident? Does being right really matter? Make a joke, laugh it off, smooth things over — how we choose to respond sets an example for our children. I may never live down the Aloe Vera Incident of 2013, but at least we have a funny example to learn from.

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