To mark ADHD Month, APDO professional organisers share their experiences of working with clients with ADHD. In this article, which follows Sarah Bickers’ article on ADHD published earlier this month, Cherry Rudge, Lisa Pantling and Anita Fortes each give their insight into ADHD from their own experiences.
Cherry Rudge of Rainbow Red – Professional Decluttering, Organising & Project Management Services is also a Trustee of the Fastminds Adult ADHD Support Group in Kingston-upon-Thames, having received her own ADHD diagnosis in November 2019. She is an expert on hoarding behaviours and is proud to deliver regular training which develops the next generation of Professional Hoarding Practitioners, in association with Hoarding Disorders UK CIC and Clouds End CIC.
Cherry created the Hoarding Ice-Breaker Form, which has been recognised by the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) and translated into various languages, for use around the World.
What does ADHD mean?
I originally went along to the Fastminds ADHD Support Group about five years ago, to find out whether it was suitable to refer my clients to – which it most certainly was, and still is.
It’s common for my clients and members of the support group to have:
– received a late diagnosis of ADHD, Autism, or other neurological disorders
– a diagnosis of or exhibit symptoms of ADHD (or Autism), and/or other neurological disorders where Executive Dysfunction is present
– been treated for mental illnesses such as Anxiety and Depression, without getting to the root cause of their issues, which – in my experience – can often be explained by an underlying neurological disorder
– been incorrectly diagnosed with mental illnesses such as Borderline Personality Disorder, and later diagnosed with a neurological disorder (such as ADHD), which more accurately describes their symptoms.
Often, they have low self-esteem, lack confidence, and can suffer with extreme anxiety, depression, and self-harming. Many experience feelings of anger, grief and frustration for the difficulties and challenges they’ve faced throughout their life, and how different their life might have been if only their condition had been diagnosed sooner.
When people ask me about the benefits of receiving a diagnosis, I can personally vouch for the fact that even without taking medication it improved my understanding of myself and why overdoing things too much sometimes lead to burn-out and stress-related illness over the years.
I chose to go for a private ADHD assessment, as unfortunately NHS waiting lists are so long in some places that it can take between 2-3 years before some people get assessed by their local Neurodevelopmental ADHD service.
Medication has been great for me, as it’s not only suppressed my appetite and enabled me to lose over a stone in weight (in almost 11 months), it’s also helped me stay focused, become less easily distracted, and concentrate much more on self-care instead of focusing on helping others as much as I did before.
Citizen Advocacy work
What I especially love about being involved with an ADHD support group is that it’s full of wonderfully creative neurodiverse people who can all empathise with the difficulties each other experience on a daily basis. Sadly, many of the members experience so many problems with Executive Functioning and mental/physical health issues that they’re extremely vulnerable to abuse, have employment issues, or struggle to get support from social care.
So the founder of the support group and I do a lot of Citizen Advocacy work – accompanying members to virtual and in-person appointments (medical, employment, Citizen’s Advice, social care, etc), helping them fill in forms, encouraging them to be really mindful about their strengths and weaknesses in terms of Executive Functioning (for example, for PIP claims or Care Needs Assessments, to explain in detail what works for them and what doesn’t), appealing benefits decisions, and so on. Otherwise these experiences can be overwhelming and confusing for them, and they’re likely to forget what was discussed or agreed. Especially if they have what I describe as the multiple ingredients for a “Cocktail of Clutter Chaos”, i.e. a variety of conditions such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADHD, Autism, mental health issues, physical health issues, or carer responsibilities, and so on.
Whether a client has known they have ADHD since childhood or are newly diagnosed in their 40’s (or even 70’s for some!) they can still often describe feelings of failure and low confidence around their abilities and their presentation to others.
The benefits of working with a professional organiser
Working with a professional organiser can help in many ways. On a practical level it means there is 1:1 physical support available to sort, declutter and organise items around the home, positive psychological effects in the form of a listening ear, a ‘cheerleader’ who is on your side, encouragement to stay focused and finish tasks and someone to help notice and celebrate your wins!
Decluttering and organising are all about making life easier and less complex, and this can be an amazing support for people with ADHD. Less stuff to sort, organise, tidy up, lose…. and find again.
We help our clients with ADHD to find homes for their important items, as well as suggesting ways to help them maintain the system. For example, open shelving, transparent storage boxes, labels, and schedules/ images to encourage routine. We can also work with family members as a team effort.
Anita considers her clients with ADHD to be some of her most creative, energetic, and passionate clients. But they often struggle to maintain attention when we are decluttering. To help with this, I find it works really well to define small areas at a time that have to be completed before moving on.
Anita suggests strategies such as separating the project into rooms, then areas within the room, then parts of each piece of furniture, like the shelf on a bookcase. It helps if it’s an area where the client can see an immediate difference before moving on.
If you would like to find out more about ADHD, you can find your nearest APDO professional organiser with experience of working with people with ADHD on the Find An Organiser directory, or in Sarah Bickers’ blog post on ADHD published earlier in ADHD Awareness Month.