The Emotional Side

How to Respond When a Loved One Is Diagnosed with ADHD

How should you NOT respond when someone reveals a life-changing diagnosis? That’s easy — with judgment, doubt, or blame. Here, our experts and readers recommend more supportive and productive ways to react when a loved one reveals their ADHD.

Woman with ADHD shares her diagnosis
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How to Respond

There is no right or wrong way to react to an ADHD diagnosis for yourself or your child. Sadness. Relief. Anger. These are all natural — and often overlapping — emotions experienced by the newly diagnosed, and those who care about them. Here, Dr. Billi Batan (Ph.D.), Jeff Copper (MBA, PCC, CPCC, ACG), and Robert Pal (ADHD Coach), along with ADDitude readers, share their advice for making your loved ones feel more supported when they share the fact that they were diagnosed with ADHD.

[Self-Test: Could You Have an Executive Function Deficit?]

A woman with her head in her hands, upset at having been diagnosed with ADHD
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Hurtful Responses from Family and Friends

Our readers shared the most hurtful ways people responded to their ADHD diagnosis. Learn from the mistakes of their loved ones, and don't say anything like this:

"'Well, we ALL have a bit of ADHD, don't we? It's the nature of our fast-paced world.' Uh, no. Not at all." –Kedra G.

"Most told me they didn't believe I had it. I would get so angry; they don't know what happens inside my head!" –Nikki L.

"My family was embarrassed and wanted to sweep my diagnosis under the rug. Others saw it as a character flaw rather and didn't even try to
understand that ADHD is a medical condition." –Annette A.

"The words lazy and no effort on my part to get things done, or get myself 'better,' is the most common response." –Christine C.

"You don't have ADHD! You don't fidget! You're not hyperactive!! Really? When you take a ride through my brain with my thoughts going 150 mph you might change your mind!!" –Deborah C.

A couple hugging after one of them was diagnosed with ADHD
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DO: Be Grateful

ADHD coach Jeff Copper reminds us that when someone shares something so personal, you should feel honored they chose to confide in you. Show them you feel that way by telling them they have your support and love, or by offering a hug.

One reader, Rachael P., felt comforted by this response, "Warm hugs from all. And if they judge me I simply stay away... their loss, not mine."

[Essay: "If Only I'd Known 20 Years Ago"]

Women sitting on the couch talking about how one of them was diagnosed with ADHD
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DO: Commend Their Choice

Tell them their decision to seek help, and pursue an ADHD diagnosis to sort out their symptoms, is brave.

Danella P. said, "The person who had the best response was my sister. She asked questions and then told me she was proud of me for having the courage to ask for help."

A couple discussing how one of them was recently diagnosed with ADHD
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DO: Remind Them They Are Loved

Be supportive of the news. Jeff Copper recommends letting your loved ones process the information and "think out loud. They may have a lot to sort out!"

Brenda M. said she appreciated hearing, "I'm listening and love you just the way you are," from family. Hal B. said a simple, "We like you how you are," from friends helped.

[12 Things You Don't Know About My ADHD]

A woman hugs her friend who has ADHD
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DO: Suspend Judgement

Validate that their struggle is real, and hard. This is not the time to make judgments on whether the person is really trying, or to share your opinions about ADHD.

Reader, Dori W. knows all too well that saying, "I don't believe in ADHD" or "That's no excuse for your behavior," will only make your loved one feel worse.

ADHD Woman thinking about how she was just diagnosed with ADHD
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DO: Give Space to Share

Don't say, "I know how you feel," (unless you also have ADHD). It minimizes what they're going through. You can try, "I feel your pain." Or, simply ask how they're doing, and then actually sit and listen.

"When I describe the symptoms, I usually get , "Oh that happens to me, too." -Anni L.

A better way might be to hear how it impacts their life, and then say, "Well, that makes perfect sense."

[Essay: "I Don't Want You to Know About My Disorder"]

Two women discussing how they have been diagnosed with ADHD
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DO: Resist the Urge to Try and Fix It

Trust that your loved ones can navigate this complex experience. Don't act like ADHD is a problem you can fix.

Jeff Copper offers the following tip to set the right mindset if you tend to solve issues for others, "Think of receiving the news as welcoming guests into your home. You are there to serve them, to wait on them, giving them what they need so they feel comfortable and enjoy being with you."

Puzzle pieces representing the challenges of being diagnosed with ADHD
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DO: Focus on a Fresh Start

Now your loved one can understand why they have been challenged, and that there are a number of new solutions available. Robert Pal recommends focusing on two main upsides of the diagnosis, "They can now understand why they have been challenged in the past." And, since ADHD is not a "new" diagnosis, "They now have a number of solutions available to them that can make their lives easier."

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DO: Focus on Positives

Jeff Copper reminds us it's important to emphasize hope for the future. Robert Pal says that for many adults, the diagnosis is the first step in a new, positive phase in their life. Encourage your loved one to learn more, and learn about the condition yourself. Monica P. said, "Since I'm not hyper, most people didn't think it fit, until I told them more about inattentive ADHD." Help them feel good by noticing what they do right, and telling them what you see.

The words "thinking negative" crossed out by someone diagnosed with ADHD
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DO: Ignore Negative Stereotypes

Robert Pal also reminds you to ignore the connotations of the name: deficit and disorder. There are many role models — famous and otherwise — thriving with ADHD. Your loved one can succeed, too!

Hands of people diagnosed with ADHD, with red hearts in the palms
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DO: Ask Questions

Feel free to ask what they need, and don't be afraid to ask again further down the line.

Monica P. said, "Most people were curious." And she was happy to answer their questions, instead of letting them live under incorrect assumptions.

Someone who has been diagnosed with ADHD climbing a mountain
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DO: Move Forward Together

Dr. Billi Batan, Ph.D., offers these tips for moving forward to share with your loved ones:

  • Learn: Empower yourself with knowledge
  • Evaluate: Discover your own strengths
  • Validate: Embrace the courage in your hear
  • Express: Dare to face your fears
  • Reframe: Change your attitude, and your life will change
  • Act: Start small BUT start now
  • Grow: Seek success within yourself
  • Explore: You control the direction of your dreams.

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