Celebrate ADHD Awareness Month by Accepting the Wonderful Uniqueness of Living with ADHD

Image of girl with ADHD smiling as she looks through her colorful paint-covered hands she's holding up towards the cameraOctober marks ADHD Awareness Month! Let’s kick this off by focusing on how you can live with more acceptance of ADHD — as an individual, as a family or with your child. As a person moves through life with ADHD, criticism, from others and yourself, not only adds up over the years but also becomes internalized negative beliefs. This inner critic puts you down and makes it seem like you never measure up when compared to neurotypical peers, who seem as if they don’t make as many mistakes or struggle to the same extent. The secret to reducing negative thought patterns and harsh self-judgments lies turning down the volume of this negative self-critic and accepting the brain you have.

Maybe it’s forgiving those moments where you forgot an appointment or learning how to laugh when your daughter left her lunch on the counter again. Acceptance begins by normalizing your experiences and recognizing that you’re not alone. It begins with self-compassion.

Embrace your ADHD with self-compassion

Adult male with ADHD holding up and pointing to his fidget spinner while smiling

Dr. Kristin Neff says that self-compassion is treating yourself with care and understanding instead of harsh judgment. This compassion reduces the isolation that your inner critic thrives on and places you within a common humanity. Instead of feeling alone, unworthy or damaged, you are part of a larger whole — who also experiences disappointment, frustration and low self-esteem at times.

All suffering is not the same, of course, but all humans experience pain and suffering in some way that’s worthy of empathy. Dr. Neff explains that compassion depends on mindfulness: the ability to sit with things as they are and not deny or minimize them. This is especially important for kids with ADHD, who need to accept themselves — warts and all — in order to learn how to advocate for themselves effectively and see themselves positively as they develop.

Self-compassion means asking yourself, “What would help me now? What do I really need at this moment?” instead of, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I get things right?” It allows someone to stop fighting with themselves and start embracing a growth mindset instead.

Explore who you are, and address feelings of shame

Accepting yourself depends on identifying your strengths, talents and interests while acknowledging and addressing shame. I have been working with kids, teens and adults with ADHD for nearly 30 years, and there is one sad constant that I have seen: every single person has a deep seated sense of shame about having ADHD and/or being ‘different’ from their peers.

Person holding their hand up to their face, looking down and sad, as they stand outsideWhether this shame is obvious or buried, many youngsters and adults living with ADHD just don’t feel good about how they manage school, work, life tasks or social relationships next to their peers. Just like your kids, you may compare yourself to others and come up short. Engaging in “compare and despair” not only hurts you but also makes it much harder to foster the resilience and self-compassion that you and your child really need.

When shame, doubt and judgement rise to the surface, shift your focus, and talk back to this inner critic: “I don’t have to listen to you. I can pay attention to my inner coach instead.”

Amplify the voice of your inner coach

While you need to know where you struggle to create plans and programs for improvement, it’s equally very important to remember and understand where you succeed, where you are engaged and what makes you feel good about yourself. This inner coach is your other voice — another part of ourselves that’s stronger and louder than shame. It comes from the parts of ourselves that we really like.

Point of view of someone playing basketball, playing against two neurodiverse kids smiling and having fun, while looking at one playing defense

Ask yourself:

    • What about myself am I proud of, and what do I do well?
    • What do I like about my ADHD?
    • Which activities do I really enjoy and wish I could engage in more?

Brainstorm answers to these questions with your kids, too!

Maybe you’re a loyal friend or a talented artist; maybe they are a skilled soccer player, delicious baker or enthusiastic pianist. Write down several of these positive aspects, and leave this list in a bedroom, in the kitchen or on your phone.

Identify what your ADHD means to you.

One of my 10 year-old clients transformed the term ADHD into a colorful list of words he liked about himself: “I have ‘Active, Determined, Heavenly, Dreamer Brain,’ or I have ‘Amazing, Desirable, Heartwarming, Delightful Brain.'” What a great positive reframe from having a “disorder,” which is a term that many people in the ADHD community don’t actually agree is an accurate way to describe their ADHD neurotype.

According to Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, the ideal positivity ratio is 3 positives for every 1 negative. So, by having his list around, it cued him to notice the positive every day. He increased the volume of the voice of his inner coach while turning down the noise from his inner critic.

Celebrate YOU this ADHD Awareness Month

ADHD Awareness Month is about celebrating who you are. Celebrate by noticing what is working, what goes well and what you like about yourself. Help your kids do the same!

Couple with ADHD outside in the fall, standing, hugging and laughing in front of a table set with tea There are so many wonderful aspects of being a creative, outside-the-box thinker. Can your family name these or make a fun poster to hang in the kitchen during October?

People who live with ADHD make our world a much richer place. Take pride in the things you or your kids do that are unique, funny, artistic, athletic and brilliant. Accepting yourself with self-compassion allows you to be good enough just as you are: a wonderful, perfectly imperfect human being, and unique — just like everybody else!

Enjoy this ADHD Awareness Month — dedicated to you!! 

ADHD Awareness Month Events with Dr. Sharon Saline:

ADHD Awareness Expo (10/1 – 10/31)
Hosted by Tara McGillicuddy

ADHD Awareness graphic, text says "ADHD Awareness" on the top and "October" on the bottom against a purple background with a large gold ribbon design flowing across the middle.

TADD Talks for ADHD Awareness (10/1 – 10/31)
Hosted by ADDA

3rd Annual ADHD EdCamp Home (10/9)
Hosted by Brooke Schnittman, Dr. Christina Seamster, Lynn Miner-Rosen and Melissa Knight

On The Right ADHD Trail Telesummit (10/15 – 10/17)
Hosted by Cathy Goett

Join me at the 2021 Virtual International Conference on ADHD in November! It’s a fantastic place to learn, socialize and have fun with hundreds of people living with ADHD just like you! Register here!

2021 Virtual International Conference on ADHD graphic promo: November 4-6, #ADHDCON2021

View all upcoming events with Dr. Sharon Saline.

Read more blog posts:

Watch on Dr. Saline’s YouTube Channel:

Deeper dive:

Shame: When You Are Embarrassed Of Who You Are (Handout)

Home Study Seminar: What Your Child With ADHD Wishes You Knew and How You Can Help