This week I spoke to a group about Managing a Busy Brain and how to support a team member with ADHD. My original plan was to give you a mini blog keynote experience and highlight the information that was most impactful during the keynote, but after talking to my team member, Rachel, I realized she had an interesting perspective to share on this topic. Rachel, and the rest of my team, support me as their team member with ADHD. As I have learned more about my brain and the realities of ADHD, I’ve had interesting conversations with the SNoW Co. team about how my ADHD shows up on our team. So, Rachel is going to take over the blog today to share how she supports someone with ADHD.
Hello again! It’s Rachel, Sarah’s social media guru. I am a neurotypical–a fun term I’ve learned from Sarah. This means my brain is considered normal based on cultural expectations. As a neurotypical, I thought I understood ADHD, how it is expressed, and how it affects someone with this diagnosis. And then I started working with Sarah.
At the beginning of our working relationship, I would find myself getting a bit frustrated with Sarah and saying things like, “Why can’t she just get this task done? Why can’t she respond to this one email with a simple answer that I need?” And my ‘accommodating’ self would bury my frustrations and continue on without addressing Sarah. Because to me, it didn’t make sense why someone couldn’t sit down and type out an email in a minute. I wanted Sarah to, “Just DO IT!”
Somewhere along the line, I learned that Sarah had ADHD. Because I thought I fully understood ADHD, I didn’t connect the dots of how I could support Sarah or work with her to create a framework for how to best work together. I didn’t connect that telling someone with ADHD to JUST FOCUS and DO IT! was like telling someone to calm down! When in the history of the world has that done any good?
There were other behaviors that I noted in Sarah that I had grown used to and (sorry Sarah) learned to tolerate. It wasn’t until Sarah started to bring me ADHD-related content and engage with the ADHD community on social media that I had some major a-ha moments about how to support Sarah.
For instance, on a Twitter thread, many people with ADHD talked about being able to hyper focus. Essentially this is a zone they get in and they are able to be super productive, creative, and at their best. How do I know when Sarah is in this mode? It’s 11 PM at night and my Facebook messenger is buzzing with notifications from Sarah giving me a download of inspired thoughts, content, and ideas. The Rachel who thought she knew about ADHD just thought Sarah was an insomniac who liked to read in depth leadership articles late at night. Now, I know that this is Sarah in hyper focus mode. This is when she often has some of her best ideas and creates beautiful content. This is a gift of ADHD, and what I think, makes the neurodiverse squad truly special. When they are in this hyper focus mode, it’s like seeing a superhero in action.
Another example: I help Sarah craft this weekly newsletter. Sometimes I will send her a draft on Thursday night and wake up Friday morning with an email from Sarah saying, “Took this in a new direction! I think we really have something with this version!” And the timestamp on said email is somewhere near 2 A.M. The content that Sarah has created is 9 out of 10 times much more impactful than the previous version. This is her superpower hyper focus mode at work!
Again, before I understood ADHD and how Sarah’s mind worked, I would get a bit annoyed. My thought was essentially, why can’t she work the way that I work? Well…she can’t because our brains function differently! I finally understood that ADHD is neurological. On a cellular, chemical level–Sarah’s brain is not like mine. So why would I expect that she functions like I do?
How do I support Sarah, my team member with ADHD? Well, first, I give her grace. Because she is human. And we all need to give each other grace. She gives me grace, why wouldn’t I give that to her as well? Second, I talk to her about ADHD. The first step to this was educating myself about the facts of ADHD. I read up on the science of it. And then I got curious with her. I stopped burying my silent frustrations and had conversations to understand why she does what she does. It was a humbling experience to hear her perspective and to talk through what goes on in her mind on a daily basis. I didn’t realize the shame Sarah had about some of effects of ADHD. It was also a stark reminder to not take my neurotypical brain for granted.
Another way I support Sarah is by learning what she needs to work her best. I now know that it helps when she has a loose framework or schedule for content and topic ideas for the newsletter. Yes, she might divert from the schedule I give her, but it helps her if she has a loose structure to work with or against. We also have biweekly “Word Vomit” phone meetings. Yes, that’s a technical term! I just let Sarah freely talk and go where her mind meanders. I rarely say much or interrupt, because I know Sarah needs to just talk her ideas out.
I don’t share these anecdotes and ideas to #humblebrag about myself and how I support Sarah. I share these because they are practical tips that you can employ. The reality is, many of those you work with have ADHD. If you get nothing from this newsletter except one thing, I hope it is this: I couldn’t support Sarah without first fully understanding ADHD. And I couldn’t understand how her brain functions without talking to her about it. We have a high trust relationship where we create safe spaces to talk about these things. Once I had a better idea of what ADHD means to Sarah, then I could work with her to create structures and adaptations that serve her and our working relationship. I really can’t sum it up better than Sarah herself said in this week’s keynote: