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When someone says your name do they immediately get your attention?
For folks living with ADHD or Autism Spectrum Differences, switching your attention from one thing to another is a conscious act.
It’s like choosing to set down a hand weight and pick up a slightly heavier one.
Now comes the part where you have to maintain attention while the other person talks to you. Think of holding the weight as holding “attention”.
The longer you hold it the heavier it gets, the more tired your brain gets because you’re doing it intentionally NOT automatically.
Suddenly you can’t hold it anymore and you have to let go. This is “spacing out”.
This one issue is a major saboteur when it comes to connecting with other people.
Our attention doesn’t have the staying power to hang on long enough to connect with you.
You may think we’re being dreamy, uninterested or rude. None of which are true.
The truth it you’re dealing with someone who has a brain that’s not wired to automatically give and sustain attention.
So what’s the solution?
Frequent check ins. You’re familiar with the concept of “chunking”, yes? Breaking down large tasks into smaller more manageable ones.
Stop and check in every few minutes to make sure we’re following you.
Even better is when we take ownership as the person needing the accommodation.
I check in with a person simply to keep myself engaged because it gives me something to do. People with ADHD are action takers NOT sit still sponges you can simply pour into.
Action produces more dopamine which improves focus. So if I need to listen quietly I’ll likely be fidgety or squirmy in some way to meet my need for movement.
So I check in, use body language deliberately, ask questions, and clarify my understanding.
It not only helps the person I’m talking to feel seen and heard, it helps me break up the information coming in so my lousy working memory isn’t overwhelmed by it.
There are additional aspects to this strategy to help guide others into talking with you in a way you can best understand them.