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ADHD Awareness Month: APDO members share their experiences of ADHD

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

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.

Headshot of Cherry Rudge of Rainbow Red

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. 

Personal experience

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.

 

Lisa Pantling

Lisa Pantling of Clutter Free Living also works regularly with clients with ADHD.

Headshot of Lisa Pantling of Clutter Free Living

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 Fortes

Anita Fortes of A Neater Life works with clients with ADHD too, and shares her thoughts.

Professional organiser Anita Fortes of A Neater Life organising a wardrobe

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.

October 2020 - ADHD Awarness Month

ADHD Awareness Month (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

October is ADHD Awareness month, but what does this have to do with decluttering and organising your home? APDO member Sarah Bickers of Free Your Space explains in this insightful post.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

You probably already know something about ADHD. Most people immediately think of the ‘naughty boy’ who couldn’t sit still in class. You might also think of ADHD as a recent diagnosis. But descriptions fitting ADHD are found in medical literature from the early 1900’s onwards, and many people recognise ADHD in historical accounts of famous people such as Leonardo Da Vinci (who is believed to have had ADHD & dyslexia).

We often believe ADHD is over-diagnosed and an excuse for poor parenting, diet, not enough exercise or too much TV. However, in the UK and mainland Europe, around 90% of adults with ADHD are underdiagnosed, especially girls and women. In England only 0.35% of girls and 1.5% of boys are receiving treatment, compared with a global average of 5.3% of children. This may explain why we professional organisers often get calls from adults who describe long-term difficulties with organisation.

Sarah Bickers

My own experience

I only realised I might have ADHD when my 15-year-old son was diagnosed with the condition. During his assessment I realised we shared many of the same challenges: difficulty focusing consistently, a high level of distractibility and a poor memory. Things had to stay out to remind me to do it – if it was out of sight it no longer existed in my mind. My husband’s well-intentioned tidying away could be disastrous!

On the plus side, I had spent 30+ years developing some pretty effective strategies to deal with those symptoms. Learning to be organised from scratch, I then started working as a professional organiser, so that I could help others get organised. My ADHD means I still drop the odd ball – and because of that I put off starting my dream job for far too long! Now I work mainly with clients with ADHD and find that my ‘lived experience’ of ADHD reassures my clients, as well as equipping me be more ADHD-friendly!

So what is ADHD exactly?

The main three traits of ADHD are:

  1. Inattention (difficulty focussing)
  2. Hyperactivity (including both physical hyperactivity and mind-wandering/daydreaming)
  3. Impulsivity (including risk-taking behaviours).

People with ADHD usually also have difficulties regulating their (often strongly-felt) emotions, taking criticism especially hard, as well as empathising deeply with others. All these factors may result in under-functioning at school, home and work, and difficulties getting organised, often despite others recognising their obvious potential. Undiagnosed children and adults may often struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, and may even develop addictive behaviours – from over-eating to misuse of alcohol/ drugs.*

a scultpure of a head representing ADHD

A brain-based condition

Rather than being a modern invention to excuse bad behaviour, ADHD is actually a brain-based condition. A brain scan of an ADHD brain actually shows differences in structure, as well as function, compared to the average. Neurotransmitters (the chemicals which pass on messages in our brain) help us get motivated and stay motivated to complete a task. In ADHD they don’t work effectively. The stakes need to be much higher for us to get started on something. This is why we may often leave things to the last minute… we need that kick of fear to get started. It’s also why we’ll manage pretty well if we’re really interested in something, as our motivation is high enough to get activated. And indeed, once activated, we may find it hard to stop to eat meals or sleep!

ADHD is therefore not so much about difficulties paying attention, so much as finding it much harder to moderate attention and manage priorities in time. People with ADHD may often be thought of as lazy, messy, disorganised and chaotic. However, some with ADHD compensate by working really hard to manage their internal chaos. Outwardly these people appear ‘hyper-organised’. Everything has a place, and often (somewhat quirky) systems are developed. These systems may seem rather inflexible and even military to others, but they are an attempt to stay in control of things. This organisational perfectionism comes at quite a price: the extra unseen effort needed to stay in control may result in burn out, and those around them may suffer due to those often inflexible standards.

“Living with ADHD is like walking up a down escalator. You can get there eventually, but the journey is exhausting.” – Kathleen Ely, Helena, Montana

So now you can see why getting organised might be quite a challenge if you have ADHD.  Standard organisational approaches often won’t work for you. You may have pored over countless books hoping for that ‘silver bullet’ which fixes the problem. You may even have had help from super organised and well-meaning friends, but this has left you feeling even worse when you don’t manage to maintain the new ‘system’. You may even have judged yourself harshly for not managing life as well as you think you ought.

This is where working with an ADHD-friendly organiser can really help. Working alongside you as your non-judgemental ally, we’ll help you find the best approach and systems for you. We’ll help you ‘re-boot’ your home, so reducing that sense of overwhelm. We won’t expect perfection and will explore strategies with you to keep more on top of things as you move forwards.  And should you need further help, at any point down the line you’ll know you can come back for a top-up.

For more resources on managing ADHD:

https://www.additudemag.com

www.freeyourspace.co.uk-ADHD resources

*If you think you might have ADHD, try this simple screening test. If you get a high score it doesn’t prove you have ADHD but does indicate that assessment may be worthwhile. You may want to take the results to your GP and ask to be referred for an ADHD assessment. https://add.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/adhd-questionnaire-ASRS111.pdf

A number of APDO’s members are experienced in working with clients with ADHD. You can find them by searching our Find An Organiser database, and selecting “ADHD” under specialisms.