Someone I Love Has ADHD—What Can I Do?

October is ADHD Awareness Month. Attention/Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is diagnosed in about 5% to 8% of children and 3% to 5% of adults. Significantly more people than this have ADHD, but have not been diagnosed. The symptoms of ADHD include difficulties with attention, inhibition, and excess activity level, with symptoms affecting each person to varying degrees. It’s for this reason that clinicians determine the severity as “mild,” “moderate,” or “severe,” and this severity can change throughout the lifetime. As individuals age, their symptoms may also lessen or take different forms (CHADD, 2017).

Dr. Russell A. Barkley, expert on working with ADHD in children and adults, wrote the APA LifeTools® book When an Adult You Love Has ADHD: Professional Advice for Parents, Partners, and Siblings. Barkley has both professional and personal experience with ADHD, as his family includes members with ADHD. In this book, Barkley focuses his efforts on assisting the loved ones of adults with ADHD, as problems with executive function (self-awareness, inhibition/self-restraint, working memory, time management, emotional control, motivation, and organization) can affect their abilities as independent, self-sufficient adults. They also can contribute to physical dangers as well, such as substance abuse and reckless driving.

So, what can loved ones do to help? In addition to encouraging them to take their prescribed medication, Barkley recommends assisting in the following behavioral changes:

Teach them to own it, learn about it, and then deal with it. Some adults may be in denial that they have a problem, making progress towards treatment difficult. It is crucial that the first step be acceptance of what it means to have ADHD—that it is a chronic condition. Its symptoms can be managed quite effectively day-to-day, but the underlying cause cannot be easily cured. Help them accept their chronic disability and encourage them to have a hopeful attitude.

Support their treatment journey—whether financially, emotionally, or both.

Make information and time tangible. Create reminders by writing things down in a journal or post-it notes. Make time more visible in planners broken down by hour or digital timers on a computer.

Reduce or eliminate problematic timing. If tasks at work or school require significant time to complete, break tasks down into shorter time periods.

Arrange for external types of motivation or accountability. Give small rewards for completing smaller pieces of a larger project. Ask a coworker or friend to check in frequently to review progress.

Get rid of distractions. Replace distractions with cues and reminders.

Create handwritten lists of social “rules.” Create reminders for the kind of social interactions required of a specific experience, such as a networking opportunity or a wedding. Say the rules out loud or digitally record and play it back before the social interactions.


To learn more about ADHD, visit the following:

About ADHD

Children and Adults with ADHD

Attention Deficit Disorder Association


Other APA Books about ADHD include:

Succeeding With Adult ADHD

Teaching Life Skills to Children and Teens With ADHD

Parenting Children With ADHD


To read an interview with Dr. Barkley, click here.

One Reply to “Someone I Love Has ADHD—What Can I Do?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *