Supporting a friend who has difficulties with Autism or ADHD
Before a started to write this article, I diligently wrote notes and formulated a plan. I have a vast experience of supporting students with difficulties; instructing both teaching and non-teaching staff to assist students and on a more personal note supporting a close family member. However, I felt that the planned article could have just have been replaced with a short lecture as it lacked the sincerity that I wanted to convey.
I should start by sharing the fact that every one of us is a bit of everything. We all have traits of dyslexia; dyspraxia; ADHD; Oppositional Defiant Disorder and any other difficulty that springs to mind. The critical aspect of this is that it is how much any one or more of invisible challenges (it is very rare that any difficulty occurs in isolation of other challenges), affects our daily lives.
I have a very dear friend who I have known for many years we have worked on several craft projects together. She is an exceptionally talented artist and very generous of her time with any person who wishes to extend their artistic skills encouraging them to think outside the box and beyond the scope of immediately available resources. However, on a personal level, I have often found it difficult to keep pace with her ideas. I have found her irritating when I am focussing on project one (and keeping a log of the stages and changes that I have made to my original plan), and she is working on project two, three, four and twelve with all of the details in her head or on scraps of paper that have been brushed to one side, so she has room to start project twenty. There is a picture emerging here!
Yesterday, I had an “ah-ha” moment that really hit me head on and was totally enlightening. My friend had decided that she really needed to sort out all of the different workspaces in her workshop. As a good friend does, I had offered to help her. I had said that I did not feel we could complete it in one day, but thought that we should start in one area and progress from one space to another. I should perhaps add here that there is a large area in the middle of the workshop with a large table that is used for classes in stained glass. Other areas are workspaces and storage for working on fusing glass; beading; framing; stamping and card making; copper work; Christmas ornaments; ornamental garden stones and several other crafts. Although I had offered my time willingly, I was apprehensive as to how much work we would complete if we ever got started on the task.
Arriving at the workshop, I found my friend sat at one of the work areas, frantically tapping information into her tablet s she was trying to buy 2 lounge chairs for the patio; a flight that didn't give her a eight hour layover in a country where she didn't speak the language and additionally book a trip for her and her husband to Cancun. She was doing all of this while looking for new ideas on Pinterest! Thought it was best just to sit and let her talk through what she was doing then when there was a gap in ideas say `ok, let's get started.
We started sorting out the contents of some of the shelving. Some items were for sale others to be distributed in other areas of the workshop and items relegated to for a charity shop or for disposal through recycling. While I was content to sort one area at a time, she was flitting around to other areas of the room and talking about new projects. She then said that she realised that she was not finishing one task before moving to another task and added that her mother thought that her behaviours indicated that she had ADHD. I said that was OK, with her ADHD and my OCD we should make a good team. That was indeed the case for the rest of the day, my friend was moving items around at a fast pace while rather than being irritated, I did what I do best and made collections of items that needed to be kept together in appropriate locations. The result was that our differences enhanced the working relationship; we achieved far more in a few hours than either of us had predicted and we had a plan for completion in a few days.
Go back to the suggested label of ADHD and OCD. As an educational consultant, I have always felt that labels can be useful but are not always necessary. We need to be acceptant of other people, especially our friends and family, but their experienced difficulties are not always apparent, and sometimes that label does help to actually support as opposed to becoming frustrated with other people and just to enjoy having their friendship.
If you have a friend who has difficulties such as ADHD or Autism, these are a few tips to help you support them when they are stressed or having difficulty in coping with a challenging situation.
Use direct language that is crystal clear and not open to misinterpretation or confrontational.
Do not lecture or keep repeating yourself. There is time later to unpick the why's and where fore’s of a situation.
If your friend needs to take himself from a challenging situation, do not block their exit.
Try to understand the triggers that they experience if they have difficulties with sensory overload.
Remember that support is a two process and by supporting your friend they will know how to help you when you are experiencing difficulties.