Dash of Patience, Smidgen of Honesty: A Recipe for Friendship

Your friend with ADHD works hard to make sure her condition doesn’t affect your relationship — want to return the favor? Learn why you should keep unsolicited advice to yourself, set boundaries, and speak calmly about issues.

Friends with Attention Deficit: How to Be Best Buds with an ADHDer
Friends with Attention Deficit: How to Be Best Buds with an ADHDer

ADDitude has written lots of articles about the ways people with ADHD can be better friends to their non-ADHD buddies: Do this and don’t do that, try this, not that. Don’t say this, say that. After all the tips, instruction, and how-tos, it seems fair that people without ADHD should listen to what people without the condition are looking for in a good friend. It takes two to tango.

Patience Is a Virtue

If you have a friend with ADHD, you probably see him or her as a space cadet or an absent-minded professor. My first advice is patience. I do my best to cope with my ADHD brain, but, some days, my best isn’t good enough. I fall short on the friendship front. A little patience is a godsend until I get my act together again.

I have wonderful friends, and it isn’t by accident. I have chosen them well. What do I look for in a non-ADHD friend? A person who is not embarrassed by my sometimes-clueless behavior and who has a sense of humor about it — yet is brave enough to call me on it when it affects our relationship. I choose friends who are non-judgmental, flexible, and understanding. My friends don’t reprimand me when my inattention or impulsivity hurts their feelings. I do my best to be the friend I want to have. Honesty is important to me, so I try not to fib. I won’t say that I was late because the trains were running slow, if my tardiness was due to my indecisiveness about what outfit to wear.

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If you don’t know much about ADHD, you might attribute the wrong reason for an ADHD behavior. When your friend with ADHD is late for dinner or a movie, you may assume that the plans you made are not important to him, or he would have been on time out of respect for you. This line of thought is far from the truth. I can be late or forget something despite my best intentions.

As a friend who wants to help, do you risk being a nag? Do you let the chips fall where they may, and resent your friend because things didn’t turn out the way you would have liked? There is a better way to be friends with people who have ADHD. Here is a game plan that works:

Do’s and Don’ts for People Without ADHD

Start with an honest conversation about ADHD. Ask your friend what it is like to have ADHD and what you can read to understand it better. You should say what you find most appealing about your buddy and why she is a valuable friend. Everyone likes to be told why they are liked.

A person’s behavior doesn’t always reflect her intention. Let her know that you understand that talking over you wasn’t intentional, even thought it was frustrating for you. Ask what can be done to avoid a repeat of it.

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Don’t give unsolicited advice about improving a your friend’s ADHD habits. It’s better to ask permission to make a suggestion.

Don’t confuse supporting your friend with ADHD with enabling him. If you are unsure, ask the person, “Am I being supportive and understanding, or is this just enabling you? Be honest. I care for you and want the best for you.”

Keep your sense of humor when snafus happen — and they will. Many ADHD mishaps are so amusing that this won’t be hard to do. I have a waiter friend with ADHD who bussed a table. When he returned from the men’s room, he discovered that he had cleared the wrong table. She wasn’t finished with her dinner; she had left the table to get a refill of soda. He had to buy the diner another meal.

Don’t hide your aggravation when a person’s behavior annoys you. Talk about it calmly at an appropriate time. Start by saying, “I understand that xyz is difficult for you. The consequences of xyz are difficult for me too, and I’m wondering what we can do to resolve this.” Assure him that you don’t think his ADHD means he is bad or defective. You are trying to find solutions so you won’t feel neglected or angry.

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Let your friend know when she is monopolizing a conversation, and offer to give her a secret signal as a cue to let others talk. Secret signals can be used for other impulsive or inattentive behaviors, as well.

When you’re sharing a workspace or traveling with a person who has ADHD, discuss boundaries. You might say, “Nothing of yours on my side of the room or desk, and vice versa.”

Coordinate social activities to take advantage of your friend’s strengths. Say, “You’re good at planning party games and I’m good at cooking. Let’s do the invitations and the cleanup together.” This is better than getting angry or disappointed with a friend with ADHD whose weakness causes him to do a less-than-stellar job.

In all relationships, good communication is essential, so make sure that your buddy with ADHD hears what’s been said. It never hurts to say, “Great! I think we are on the same page, but just to make sure, tell me what we decided on, so I know we are good to go.”

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