While there’s less written about how it affects adults than children, ADHD is a condition that lasts a lifetime. Some adults with ADHD, like myself, are clergy. The flexible schedule, wide-ranging job description, and profound difference we make in people’s lives can be ideal for people with ADHD. How ADHD first becomes evident can depend on one’s age, gender, and the culture they were raised in. I was the daydreaming chatterbox who could devour a book in an hour as a child, but that’s not the common idea of what ADHD looks like, so I wasn’t diagnosed until two years ago.
The good news is that your pastor’s ADHD brings them unique gifts! Since our brains work a little differently, we often make connections others don't. This might appear at work as creativity, a knack for problem solving, or surprising moments of intuition and insight. We can also manage emergency situations very well, whether they are medical emergencies, or suddenly needing to lead a class at the last minute. (This is exhausting, so please don’t feel the need to create these situations for us!) You’ll find we have great resilience about everyday life. Our ability to jump from task to task also helps us bounce back from setbacks.
Since so much literature about ADHD focuses on children, there are some things about how it appears in adults you might not realize. For example, we can concentrate, sometimes to an extreme. We just aren’t always concentrating on what we’re supposed to be concentrating on. ADHD also often comes with other conditions, like anxiety or depression. Don't be surprised if we're seeing a therapist, or if we choose not to drink (impulsiveness being an issue for us).
ADHD may affect how your pastor processes emotion. Adults with ADHD often had meltdown or temper issues as children. As adults, we should have coping methods in place for that, but you may still see us visibly calm ourselves on occasion. It can also take us a little extra work to switch from one train of thought to another. If I’m talking to Erin about the budget, and Alex comes over to ask how Betty is doing in the hospital, it may take a second or two for me to form an answer. (I’ve been told people can “see the gears turning” when this happens.)
Let’s talk about some tips that can help you work with your pastor who has ADHD!
- If you want us to remember something, write it down. Times that by ten for Sunday morning! (We also love written meeting agendas, as well as presentations with handouts.)
- Encourage us to have scheduled time to work in the office without interruptions. This may mean having specific “drop in” hours once or twice a week. (Make sure any other church staff honor the no-interruptions rule too!)
- Be especially clear about punctuality expectations with us. If the event starts at eight, but you want us there at 7:30, tell us that as soon as you can. (By writing it down, of course!)
For a few final ideas: please, let us use our coping methods. If we say we need five minutes to get organized before a meeting, let us have the five minutes. Suggesting that we don’t really need these carefully cultivated habits is not helpful. Also, keep in mind that ADHD is best managed if we're taking care of ourselves properly. This might look like allowing us time to eat when we’re running a church meal event, requiring us to attend no more than two evening meetings a week, or encouraging us to take all our vacation time.
On a lighter note, people with ADHD have a different reaction to caffeine than most people: caffeine helps us focus! Think for a minute about how vital that is for someone with ADHD. Don’t be surprised if we take our caffeine very seriously indeed!