ADD Empathy – 101

ADDvice for non-ADDers 

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
From the Walking A Mile in Another’s Shoes Series

Illustration thanks: Paul Lowry via Flickr


Those who can SEE will never really “get” the struggles of those who cannot – but hey, could you at least TRY to believe what they say is difficult for them to do?

Could you at least TRY to stop offering advice from your sighted paradigm,
especially in that tone of voice that might as well be adding,
“Listen, you idiot, wrap your simple mind around this?”

And if you can’t do that . . .

Keep a sock at the ready and stuff it in your mouth, if that’s what it takes to keep from shoving your “sighted” platitudes down their “what-part-of-BLIND-don’t-you-get?” throats when they tell you that your idea won’t work for them. (TWO socks if you’re a “vanilla” therapist or non-ADD parent talking to your own ADD-flavored offspring.)

Does that sound harsh?

I promise you that is exactly how your tough-love “helpful” suggestions land with your ADD loved ones.

  • I know that because they tell me (and have – over and over – for twenty years now) – in stories that are different but might as well be the same. It breaks my heart.
  • I know because that’s how the  “helpful” suggestions from a few of the ADD clue-free folk I KNOW care for me greatly almost always land with me — even though I’ve never been talked to in the words that some of my clients have heard from people who claim to care about them.

So I have to believe that you REALLY don’t understand that much of what you think will be helpful actually has the opposite effect. I promise.

Maybe you will be able to understand just a little bit better with an uncensored, inside glimpse at my own ADD processing. Maybe seeing it in print from someone who might look, from the outside, like she has it together will open your eyes just a little bit wider to how hard your ADDers are trying.  Really.

And maybe just a little bit of understanding from you might make a great big difference in the lives of your ADD loved ones.

It’s worth a shot . . .

Here’s the deal.

I am the ADD Poster Girl.  Other than excellent reading skills and low-level struggles with hyperactivity (thank you, Lord, for those small favors!), I struggle mightily with every single challenge known to ADD, irrespective of an unusually high level of intelligence.

I’m an ADD Coach and I train ADD Coaches – in fact I co-founded the entire ADD coaching field. Trust me, I know what to DO.  That’s never the reason I’m sharing my struggles with anybody!  I’m lookin’ for a little empathy here!  (And so, by the way, are your ADD loved ones.)

But hey, everybody loves to be helpful, so we know you’re gonna’ suggest
some little thing we have already tried, and that’s fine.

Bumper Car at a small town fair

Image via Wikipedia

But do you think we could stop there?

Do we have to ride the “Well-try-it-again” Carousel and the “How come you’re always so resistant” Ferris Wheel?

Ya’ know, we’re trying our darndest not to make a beeline for the ram you so hard your teeth rattle BUMPER CARS!

Listening from Belief

Actually, most of us struggling with one of the flavors of kludgy Executive Functioning do pretty well, given all that we’re dealing with, but help-me-Hannah, why do you “vanilla-flavored” folks make it so much HARDER for us to give you what you SAY you want??

I’m going to go w-a-y out on a limb here and admit that I believe that the biggest part of the ADD problem stems from the failure of the non-ADD majority to listen from belief.  

  • When you listen to us as if our functionality coulda’-woulda’-shoulda’ mirror yours if only we’d do it your way, you miss the finer points of what we’re trying to say to you — finer points that might illuminate the implications of executive functioning struggles and make us easier for you to understand and live with.
  • You might also hold the key to a concept that would open a door to our lives — but we’ll never know if you don’t make sure you understand the parameters of the problem before you offer your solutions.

Please try to believe that if the solution can be found on a list, or in a book, or by taking a class, all but the newly diagnosed would have banished the problem long ago!  I know I’ve certainly tried all of those “Here’s how you do it-s!”  Repeatedly.

They rarely work because they are scratching the wrong itch. 
The reasons YOU don’t do things are seldom the reasons WE don’t.

An example as a metaphor

I have NO sense of time — that causes all sorts of problems for me and for those counting on me.

  • I know – those of you who have one are clueless here.
  • Go back to the very top and re-read it aloud if your knee-jerk reaction was to jump in with any sort of solution.
  • Read it TWO more times if your knee-jerk “solution” was anything in the neighborhood of alarms and datebooks.

The problem is pervasive — in arenas you’ve never considered.  And it dominoes.

No sense of time” means that, internally, a minute and an hour feel the same to me.  I can never tell, without outside measure, how long I’ve been at a task.  That creates internal pressure whenever time rears its ugly head.  Which is all-the-time.

One Stressful Moment in an Entire Day of Same


During the many years before I learned to pay for everything with a debit card and keep track by computer, I wrote checks. I’m dyscalculate – I need the documentation.

It took me seemingly forever to develop the habit of stubbing the check before I made it out if I ever expected my documentation to be adequate, nevermind accurate.

Until then, everyone assumed I “forgot” to stub the check, or didn’t understand how important it was to stub the check, or got some kind of secondary gain from financial records in shambles.

So their “helpful” hints were aimed at scratching whatever itch they identified – and NEVER worked (and not because I didn’t want them to!)

Because here’s what really was behind it: managing mounting anxiety! (Try to remember that I am highly intelligent and that I founded a field — as you read the following words, think ADD!)

People behind me in the check-out line expected me to move out of their way the nano-second I finished signing my check — or so it seemed to me. PRESSURE! (Not so great for cognitive functioning.)

Hand extended, palm up, the clerk expected me to hand it over the nano-second I finished writing that check, too — and often snatched it out of my hand before I was ready to release it.

I suppose we both could feel the mounting impatience of the line behind me.

Short-term memory deficits, also part of an ADD diagnosis, make it impossible for me to hold the total in mind long enough to write it down again. So I had to ask for a repeat of the charges – which usually happened just after she had cleared the register and closed the drawer with my check inside.  (For some reason, even I continue to believe I could do it if I really tried!)

I knew what would happen if I didn’t write it down right then and there:
domino problems.

Since my ADD brain doesn’t filter environmental stimuli automatically – as do the brains of the neurotypical majority – I became all too aware of the increase in impatience behind me whether I asked for a repeat of the total or fumbled with my receipt to find it there. I could hear it: those imperceptable-to-others sighs, the shuffling, the under-the-breath moans and groans. MORE pressure.

What was the name of this store again? Gone from my mind with my attempt to hurry myself along. Do I ask, or do I leave without writing it down? Is it somewhere on this receipt?  On a sign large enough to see from here?

Because I don’t have an interior time-clock to tell me if they are being unreasonably impatient or if I am taking an unreasonably long time to stub a check, I can’t block out my mounting anxiety, even as I ask silently, a bit miffed myself, “Reasonably, how long COULD I have taken here?”

“Does it really matter where the check was written as long as you have the total?” I say to myself, even as I realize that it will make balancing my checkbook all the more difficult without that bit of assistance identifying the charge — along with a swarm of each and every problem that might domino from that decision, as persistent as flies at a picnic.

Maybe I could just write down the type of store in the comments line,
I tell myself – that might work. I don’t buy groceries in THAT many places.

Oh dear, how long have I been deliberating?

I must appear unbearably inconsiderate to the rest of the world – maybe I should just move on. Maybe I can remember to do this in the car. (Yeah, after I find my keys, unlock the door and the trunk, unload the groceries and return the cart – that’s really likely to happen!)

Oh NO, I’m still THINKING about this. I guess I really DO need to move along now – I probably have no choice.

ALL that agita from a simple little task like writing a check to pay for groceries, simply because I have no internal way to measure time!

Now that I’m rattled, I have to be especially careful as I make my way out of the parking lot, onto the highway, and on my way home.

Pay attention, Madelyn. Don’t ruminate over the amount of the check!  You’ll simply have to deal with the fall-out when it happens.

I guess now would be a good time to disclose that I ALSO have no sense of direction – I live lost.

And late.

Not Even in Therapy

Shortly after I was officially diagnosed, my New York therapist decided she wanted to work from home, rather than the Institute where I had been seeing her.  OK.  That’s not unusual in Manhattan. Lots of therapists work from home — which, in New York City means an apartment building.

EntryNYCThe problem for me turned out to be the fact that her building had no lobby.

When I walked out of her apartment, I was only a small shared entryway from a busy sidewalk on a busy street on the tony Upper East Side of New York City.

Since I was dealing with some fairly emotional issues at the time, I asked if she would give me “a fifteen minute warn” to help me avoid what I have come to call “time startle.” What I wanted was something similar to the count-down before “Places!” that New York stage managers give New York stage actors (which I was at the time).

It was a reasonable request, I believed, since she was well aware of my lack of time sense.  I explained that I wanted to compose myself before I hit the streets full of strangers.

But she went someplace else in her head, “Why don’t you just look at your watch?”
Say WHAT?  I was thinking, as I said aloud, “How would I know when to look?”  

When the look on her face told me she still didn’t get it, I went on to say that I could either keep track of the passage of time on my wristwatch OR I could engage in the therapy process.  I couldn’t do both.

I wish I could report that she got it immediately after that, but I had to go on to demonstrate my interior monologue before she could understand what I meant.  ‘Has it been a minute since I last looked?  Five?  Ten?’  And wouldn’t THAT make for an effective therapy session?”

Different Strokes for very different folks

The rationale behind these explanations is to underscore a point that can’t be made too strongly or too often: you really can’t know what might be helpful unless you really understand the parameters of the problem.  

And the chances are dead-near perfect that whatever you think is behind the behavior is dead-near wrong unless you ask — and listen from belief!

As always, if you want notification of new articles in this Series – or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too). STRICT No Spam Policy

IN ANY CASE, stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series (one-on-one couples or group), click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end (or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page). Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

You might also be interested in some of the following articles
available right now – on this site and elsewhere.

For links in context: run your cursor over the article above and the dark grey links will turn dark red;
(subtle, so they don’t pull focus while you read, but you can find them to click when you’re ready for them)
— and check out the links to other Related Content in each of the articles themselves —

Other posts in the Walking A Mile in Another’s Shoes Series of Articles

Related articles right here on
(in case you missed them above or below)

Related articles – time, listening & ADD perspective

ADD perspective in a humorous vein

Related articles around the ‘net about empathy

BY THE WAY: Since is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

15 Responses to ADD Empathy – 101

  1. Pingback: Are Internet Marketers Today’s Smarmy Used-Car Salesmen? | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. Pingback: Do you have a minute? Sorry for the Inconvenience. | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  3. Pingback: TIME to think about Group Coaching | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  4. Pingback: My Wrinkle in Time: HOW does time fly? | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  5. Pingback: STOP Judging Purse-dogs! | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  6. ramon says:

    my friend has been diagnosed with many different things and he will not be much for reading this. but your blog covers an awful lot. he reads broken brilliant, but got my friends and i on this one. how does this “coaching” work. A close male friend is wanting to marry a person with hoarding tendencies. He has tried for several years, but as she progresses I see that he declines. He needs help and is willing to pay. How can I advise him. He wants to marry but I do not have it in me to tell him what I think. If they marry this trend will continue and the guy friend is going to run out of patience but knowing him, he will stay with her and his life will continue to lessen in quality.
    No, I don’t feel envy or want to bring negative energy. I just care and want them to be happy.


    • I get your concern. I was once engaged to a hoarder and it almost ruined my life as I sunk into depression, primarily because I stayed to long even though there was absolutely **nothing** he was willing to do to change things. No ADDer can live in the they mess it up/you clean it up cycle and continue to function as anything more than an unpaid maid. Resentment sets in quickly, and the relationship is doomed once that happens.

      If BOTH are willing to change (or if he is already a super communicator and willing to call in anyway), I would advise couples coaching for them before they seriously consider marriage.

      It works like this: they “show up” together on the phone at a regular appt. time and I (i.e., their coach) “referees” with positive comments as they get really honest with one another and set small goals which they commit to weekly. If something gets in the way, we talk it out and figure out how to get it done – bit by bit.

      The point, similar to couples therapy, is to facilitate conflict resolution skills on both sides, so that both get their needs met, and can continue to do so once they are no longer coaching – while both work to put new habits in place (both in what they do and in how they make requests of one another).

      The biggest difference is that coaching doesn’t go into the psychology behind the behavior of either party – we talk pragmatics.

      Hope this helps YOU – but they are the ones who have to sign on. Coaching never works because somebody else thinks its a good idea.


  7. mysterycoach says:

    ROFL! 🙂 I’m endlessly delighted myself… you have a very good blog here, one I appreciate. I’ve never been clinically diagnosed with ADD but I have it, I have no doubt at all that I do. It appears to intermingle with the “Highly Sensitive People” book I have here as well … I think I know you… from many years ago. I just can’t place you exactly. Where you ever on Ryze?


    • Ryze? Not that I recall (but then again, that memory thing is always a tad iffy! :D) Of course I noted the “coach” part of your name. If you went to CoachU, I was one of their senior trainers for their first seven years. Maybe you took one of your classes from me?

      My first ADD home was on AOL – JimAMS created a thriving and supportive community there and I loved it. As I got busier on “web tasks” I had less and less time, so I drifted away.

      Once I “invented” ADD-specific Coach training, I had little time for much of anything else for quite a few years – but I did continue to speak at ADD conferences, support groups, and local CH.A.D.D. meetings in and around the various cities I called home. I also ran the virtual ADD Hours for years – maybe you called in to one of those?

      HSP – yep! We certainly are that. btw – many ADDers are self-diagnosed. Some go on to get an official diagnosis, but not all. Information can be powerful, but you always retain the choice to use it in the manner in which it makes the most sense in YOUR life. (at least in MY world-view).

      My stand on diagnosis is a bit “looser” than many of my colleagues (and why I coined the concept of “looking through the ADD lens.” – AS IF you had full-blown, diagnostic ADD, but not making it mean anything more important than sherlocking anything else about your make up.)

      These are MY “diagnosis rules” – because EVERYONE is “a little bit ADD”

      #1 – If it ain’t broke, why spend time & energy fixing it?
      #2 – If you don’t want or need medication, and you don’t need a dx for documentation at work (to forestall an impending firing or to secure accommodations), the “official” part might not be so important. If you DO want pharmaceutical help, diagnosis is step #1.
      #3 – The most important reason for a dx is to rule out anything ELSE – may I refer you back to #1?
      #4 – You don’t have to have ALL of the struggles to allow yourself to benefit from SOME of the techniques for the ones you do.
      #5 – Throw the rest in the garbage, because “There ain’t no IS about ADD!”



      • mysterycoach says:

        I remember coachU I have a book here from them, maybe that is where I saw you, but that’s a big blur now. It was at least 9 years ago. I was on the, Thomas … Oh man, do you remember his name? He was Coachville founder and then he passed away, he was excellent and soon as he died, whoever ran his site made it a paid site. They had so many good forms, which I still have in my computer here saved. They had great links. I used Coach Training Alliance, that’s still in my computer, I enjoyed it.

        Yah, see as to HSP and PTSD and trauma related things, they all mesh together quite nicely. Even empathic capabilities touch on things that someone with ADD may have. I’m amazed at how highly intermingled they are, some would suggest they are separate however I completely disagree with that assessment. I agree with you, I think people all have a dose of ADD I think that adult ADD is something that comes with over stressing ourselves and having way too much responsibility and then assuming we can keep up. Especially in this massively distracting technology age. We have technology and that may give us more streamlining, which creates more things to do inadvertently because we assume we have more time and we’re accomplishing MORE… which, to me is a false sense of … time management, if you will.

        We’ve over burdened ourselves. That’s the problem. No, I’ll never take medication for it. I took something prescribed once which was my fault, I had to get rid of the person in my life, it was for PMDD (post menstrual mind yuck) and I was suicidal. NEVER again will I take any mind altering stuff like that.

        Instead 🙂 I focus on not having certain people, stressors or over burdening things in my life. I’ve worked very hard to be more calm. Not sure it’s entirely possible for me to be completely drama free but … I work on being stress free.

        I have to go work out 🙂


        • Thomas Leonard – my first coaching mentor. I worked with him closely at the dawn of the coaching day in running CU – and originally developed my ADD Coaching curriculum for him (long story why I launched independently). When T. was “on” he walked on water. That man had a relationship to time I will never understand, but I wish I could emulate. AMAZING with accomplishment. (He was big on HSP, btw)

          RE meds: My analogy is diabetes. Some diabetics can manage with diet and exercise alone, but that does not mean ALL could (or “should’). Some *must* take insulin – even if they also do all that other stuff. It also does not mean that insulin is overprescribed or that parents are taking the easy way out if they give it to their kids.

          We are all unique, and our solutions do not ALWAYS generalize. (IMHO, they rarely generalize!)

          The statistics on what happens to ADD kids who need meds and don’t get them are DAUNTING – and rarely get so much as a mention in the articles in the popular press. Prison, drug abuse, suicide, tons more – major – way out of line with the statistics in the general population. WITH meds, the stats come right on line with the rest of the world.

          We have proof now that ADD is genetically based, but genetics always express in environment – and ADD is a continuum “disorder” of the attending mechanism (brain connections that determine the extent of our native ability to focus on the intended object, sustain the focus, and shift focus at will).

          So some “ADDers” were closer to the vanilla line to begin with, able to manage well without medication. Some got GREAT training early in life, so have internalized work-arounds and have the developed the self-esteem necessary to allow themselves to do what they know. Ditto.

          At the other end of that continuum are those with a double helping of ADD brain wiring and/or ADDers grew up with a lot of shame and blame “tough love” they internalized and must somehow overcome in adulthood. Meds, like glasses, really help you focus so you CAN learn to “read.” Unlike glasses, maybe you won’t need them forever, even if you can’t focus without them now. But there is no “shame” in needing them to see – even if you need them forever. Depends on your “eyesight.”

          I can’t drive my brain without my meds AND my systems. I would never choose to be UNmedicated again. Different strokes for different folks.


        • mysterycoach says:

          That’s it! Thomas Leonard. I remembered this in the shower this morning actually. LOL 🙂 I enjoyed his approach and I believe he had certain … didn’t he have recorded sessions at one point which were transcribed for mini sessions for classes? I was sad when he passed. How wonderful for you that you got to meet him!

          I understand about the meds, for myself I’m more on the I’m afraid of them end. For myself my training came later in life. I was very scattered until I got in to law firms. That really forced me to have to take control and learn how to work around myself. Which at that time I had no idea I had any problem at all… I just figured I was scattered. It wasn’t until my early 30’s that I realized I had ADD. A counsellor I went to see point it out to me because of a variety of things. Later on I read up on it and found I was also the poster child. You take page 1-10 I’ll take 11-20 okay? LOL (for being the poster child that is.)

          Hey, if the medication helps you and you feel better, of course, that’s what works for you. Noooo I see no reason to feel shame at all for taking them. For myself I’m simply afraid of any of those things.

          You have quite the running knowledge about this 🙂


  8. jeg700 says:

    OMG! That is so true and so familiar to me. I personally was so very thankful with the invention of the debit card and online banking:) I must say that the debit card thing has it’s own issues, like remembering what the charge is for…especially if I happened to wander into a place I’ve never been to before, impulsively buying something that caught my eye at the time and promptly misplacing it. Hilarious!
    I also currently own about 10 watches which have not made it onto my wrist since they were received. Always gifts and not something I would think to buy for myself.
    It took a long time for my own husband to understand that time was not the same for me as it was for him, especially when he would start with “Remember when we went to ?” then he would have to tell me the story of “where when what “we did etc. in an attempt to wipe the blank look off my face:) It never ceases to amaze him, even to this day after 30+ years, that I truly do not remember and if a picture is produced with me in it how excited I am to see myself at this magical event that I don’t remember.
    He’s the fact that I will never be bored with his stories in the future, like most couples get when they have spent a lifetime together:)


And what do YOU think? I'm interested.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: