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What’s ADHD? What’s Personality?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdult ADHD finally made it into the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5, their manual on disorders. It’s estimated it affects 4% of American adults, and that perhaps only 1 in 10 of those affected are properly diagnosed. Untreated, it can harm relationships, disrupt worklife, and decrease happiness.

However, some personalities are naturally less inclined to plan ahead, to note details, to remember where they put their car keys, to in short live an organized life. This is true at any age.

We seem, though, to be narrowing the band of “normal” behavior so that comments such as, “She can’t sit still, she must be ADHD” or “I’m always behind, racing from one thing to the next and losing my jacket on the way…maybe it’s ADHD.” Maybe. Or maybe it isn’t an ideal environmental match and some new strategies are needed.

The January Scientific American Mind (p. 690) has a handy chart to help adults think about whether they need different organizing strategies, are over-stressed, or really need to investigate ADHD. Consider

  • Once you’ve got the challenging parts of a project completed, is it difficult to follow through on the details? This is true for many, many people with the personality preference for Intuition who do not have ADHD. Details and repetition simply don’t capture their attention and they need strategies to follow through.
  • Do you have trouble organizing tasks? This is true for many people with the personality preference for Perceiving–they need different strategies than are usually written about.
  • Do you have trouble remembering appointments or obligations? Relying on Google Calendar to send alerts is not a sign of ADHD in every case–I for one can lose track of time simply when work is intriguing!
  • Do you avoid starting tasks when they benefit from taking more than one perspective or researching or other analysis? Again, some personalities are wired to seek more information before beginning while others move toward product more quickly. It’s only a problem if you let others down or never get started.
  • Do you have trouble sitting still? Well, many Extraverts do. If you can’t control it when situations really call for it, then there may be a problem
  • Finally, if you frequently feel like the Energizer Bunny, unable to stop being overly active, feeling as if it’s outside your control or a motor is driving you, that’s different than seeking action and interaction on a larger scale than others around you. Yes, you may prefer Extraversion, but the feeling of being out of control is different.

Before seeking a diagnosis or medication, consider exploring your personality type and what works for people like you in terms of managing projects, priorities, and schedules. However, even if ADHD is the diagnosis, note that medications are only part of the solution. Strategies such as learning to plan backward from a deadline, partnering with detail-oriented people, or setting the alarm on your smartphone to get you to meetings on time are still key for adults with ADHD.

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Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

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