We have a very unique clientele. Our clients are, for the most part, gifted, even though many of them refute the label, and they all have AD/HD tendencies, some diagnosed, some not. We say AD/HD “tendencies” because many clients are never formally diagnosed and, honestly, we could care less about the diagnosis. What we care about are the impacts these “tendencies” are having on the quality of our client’s life. AD/HD tendencies might include having 157 ideas all at once (usually most of them are really great!), starting many projects and finishing few, forgetfulness, poor time awareness, disorganization, transition problems, relationship challenges, intensity, demoralization, anxiety, depression, perfectionism and addiction. Many are surprised to learn that the AD/HD brain is a highly addictive brain and that can dramatically impact one’s life.
Instead of repeating what others have said about AD/HD or even giftedness, we wanted to share with you some of our lessons learned about working with gifted and AD/HD individuals that might cause you to think or even prove useful along your own path.
1. “You have to capture the heart before you can open the head for change.” Peter S. Jensen, M.D., co-author of Super-Parenting for AD/HD
Gifted people, especially those who are working with a challenge like AD/HD, tend to better connect with a peer. This means that to coach a gifted person with a fast processing brain, you need to be able to keep up. Their humor is fast and complex and so is their internal defense mechanism. If the coach cannot keep up or provide stimulating conversation, the connection is weak and the client will have difficulty trusting that the coach is capable of understanding. Connection is critical for the client to feel safe to take the vulnerable steps necessary for transformative change. Also, someone with the personal internal experience of these issues is going to be a better fit as long as they are well-managed. An AD/HD coach with AD/HD must be extremely adept at managing their own tendencies. And, if they are well-managed, the modeling is incredibly powerful.
2. “Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.” Roger Ebert
Intensity – If you know anything about gifted people, you know they are intense. Their range of emotions is larger than most. That can be an incredible gift. Through the wrong filter or perspective, intensity or range, can be something unbearable or unacceptable. A coach needs to be able to empathize with this intensity and be capable of “being” with those emotions without judgment. Also, the client needs to learn how to be with his/her emotions and understand the value of those emotions.
More than these things, our clients’ intensities are some of their biggest strengths. Without intensity, there is little radical change in our world. Our clients are often change agents in their own environment. Sometimes to the positive, other times not. What we support in our clients helps them to work towards ownership and mastery of their impacts, allowing new possibilities that did not exist before.
3. “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein
What is really necessary for sustainable change is training and learning a different internal decision making model. One must move out of a head-oriented decision making model into a body-oriented model. The head is a really wonderful processor of information, but a really bad place to find answers. Our “knowings” are in our body. Many of our AD/HD, gifted clients have taken refuge from their intense “feelings” in their bodies and taken up residence in their cortex. We teach them (and they teach themselves) how to move out of their heads to make decisions that line up with their true selves. When this occurs, that endless loop of similar frustrations and recurrent circumstances changes radically.
4. “Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction.” Anne Sullivan, teacher to Helen Keller
The demoralization that our clients have suffered has often turned them into their own worst enemy. Having suffered a lifetime (however long it’s been) of being told they are not living up to their potential or failing at school or at jobs or relationships, our clients have gathered enough emotional scars to shock even a seasoned psychologist. This must be addressed. The self limiting belief that they are broken or failures or lazy or unworthy must be turned around, and this is no easy task.
Once the client has brought these false beliefs up to themselves, with a further understanding of their chemical make-up, gifts, talents, and strengths, they can often make extraordinary strides towards new places. Other times, if moving forward is not as possible, we partner with therapists and other colleagues to augment our clients’ strengths. Every person needs a team. We support our clients to be the captain of theirs.
5. “The medical diagnosis of the mind therefore risks creating new disorders, the disorders we’ve cited, such as shame, fear, inferiority, loss of hope, reduced enthusiasm, shattered dreams, and despair.” Edward Hallowell, M.D.
It takes a strength-based approach. We do not look at AD/HD as a dysfunction. Gifted individuals are wildly resistant to being viewed as broken despite their own raging inner critic. We look at it as functionality. This style of brain has huge gifts and what it is capable of doing is astounding. The client needs to understand how to exploit their gifts to an extreme. Then, the challenges begin to shrink, and the client begins to believe that they are capable of overcoming them.
In conclusion, we never see our clients as anything but creative, resourceful and whole. They have all the answers they will ever need inside them. Gifted and AD/HD people are some of THE most brilliant people on the planet. Their gifts are limitless. Yet, very often, they do not thrive until one person sees them for who they really are. To be seen, that is all they need to find their inner courage to set aside their self-limiting beliefs and alter their negative perceptions. That is when we, as coaches, find our clients coming up with their own accommodations and strategies. Eventually, they learn to coach themselves and step into a new way of embracing their unique way of functioning.