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Should I Tell Friends and Family That I Have ADHD?

Sharing an ADHD diagnosis, whether it’s a recent diagnosis or the first time a new friend hears it, can take some consideration: Will this person accept this information? Will they support me? Can they keep what I tell them in confidence? Dr. Ari Tuckman has some advice on who to tell and when.

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ADHD Awareness Month 2022
Understanding a Shared Experience

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Transcript

This is a common question, you know – to tell or not to tell – and I think the answer depends. I think first, most important, is there’s nothing wrong with having ADHD. It is personal information like any other personal information. We all have personal information that we can choose to share or we can choose not to share.

The decision to share, or not, kind of depends on what the situation is. It also depends a lot upon the person that you might be telling. People who are told things tend to be people who react well, who tend to be respectful, who tend to hold personal information private. Blabbermouths tend not to be told things. People who react badly, who are judgmental also tend not to be told things. So, you know, it’s not just about you and your ADHD. It’s also about the other person.

I think there’s also an element here to what extent are you really comfortable with it, to what extent do you understand it and feel kind of settled in it, if that makes sense. I think it also depends what are you trying to do in terms of disclosing. You know, why are you disclosing?

You know, there are different reasons why you might. I have a client who told someone on the first date. She said, “I will never be on time.” She didn’t say, “I have ADHD and therefore…” She just said, “I will never be on time,” which is pretty smart because they’re going to figure that out really, really quickly. And I think in this case, it also weeds out the people who are not someone that are probably a good fit for her. So in her case, it worked out.

So, you know, the reason why you might want to disclose this is ADHD is not an easy secret to keep. A friend of mine, Stephanie Sarkis, uses the line “ADHD is the worst kept secret” and really what she was referring to is poorly managed ADHD is really hard to keep secret because people can see. If you run late, people know. If you’re kind of disorganized, people can tell. If you blurt things out, people notice that.

The challenge, then, socially for folks with ADHD is people see behavior and they infer intentions. And if there’s a pattern to that behavior, they also begin to infer character, which is potentially all the more damning. So basically what you’re trying to do is to kind of get ahead of the story. So, for example, you might say. “Here’s the thing. I have ADHD. I am terrible at getting places on time. I’ve always been late. I’m going to be late to my own funeral as that old joke goes. So here’s the thing – when I run late, it’s not because I don’t care. I really do and I feel awful about keeping people waiting. I’m just really bad at getting places on time.” Something like that.

What it does is it helps the person understand why this behavior is happening so they don’t make the wrong assumptions about it. You know, it’s not just that that wrong assumption is bad for you, the person who runs late. It’s probably also not good for the other person because as much as a good righteous “I’m offended here” can feel empowering, it’s kind of terrible. Nobody really benefits from that as opposed to saying, “I have ADHD. I always run late” might then suggest other solutions – things like, “Tell you what. You text me when you’re on your way to the restaurant” rather than “I’ll see you at 6.” That might be a better solution. But someone who’s morally offended is unlikely to get into real kind of problem-solving mode. So, again, this is for both people’s benefit.

TEXT CARDS ARE INCLUDED AT THE END OF THE PRESENTATION

Card 1

There is nothing wrong with having ADHD.

The decision to share with friends or family members depends on the situation and on the person you might be telling.

Card 2

It’s much easier to be a good friend if you start with people who are a good fit for you.

About the speaker

Ari Tuckman

Ari Tuckman, PsyD, CST is a psychologist, author, and international speaker specializing in ADHD, particularly how it impacts relationships.