Five Things You Didn’t Know Were ADHD
4. We Are Argumentative (No, we’re not!)
Believe it or not, some people think I’m an asshole. Even the folks that love me. Prior to my diagnosis I just thought I was a uniquely gifted contrarian, endowed with super-human debating skills and an anti-authority streak running to my core.
However, after reading about adult ADHD, how it affects our relationships, and common complaints from our friends and families, it turns out I’m not so unique. ADHD, in both adults and children, can cause us to be argumentative. In fact, it’s incredibly common. Go to any ADHD forum and watch the sparks fly, it’s majestic.
Usually we’re not trying to be an asshole, and we hold no ill-will towards the person we’re arguing with. In fact we might feel closer to them than other people. So what’s really going on here?
The reasons behind it are multi-faceted and some have a positive side to them.
First, and most obviously, we have a dopamine deficiency. Fighting raises the dopamine, so just like anything else that raises dopamine, we’re prone to overindulge. Pretty straight forward. But it’s not the whole story.
A Different Point of View
Due to the way we process things we often see things from a different point of view, anyway, but add to that our love of all things novel and new, and we’re also likely to acquire new and interesting ways of looking at things, too. We create more opportunities to argue by having a set of ideas and outlooks that diverges from our neurotypical, normie, counterparts.
A Sense of Fairness
I have no data to support this and almost didn’t include it. But I have no reputation to uphold, so what the hell; anecdotally people with ADHD seem to have a heightened reaction to injustice. All people have an innate sense of fairness that drives them. But ADHDers seem like that’s been turned up to 11 in many cases. Not in my case personally, but I’ve seen a lot of it. Just thinking to my youngest son, if I say he can watch a movie later and it doesn’t happen (or whatever other injustice exists in the mind of a 6 year old) he can bring that up in conversation 2 months later, no problem. He can’t remember his best friend from 6 months ago, but if I don’t do what I say I will do… oh boy. It will not die.
Despite this being entirely rectally-derived, I’m still pretty confident this is a factor in how argumentative we can be. Not only do we like the dopamine hit, but if we get to pick apart a bully or someone being dishonest in the process, that’s a win-win, right?
To a certain extent, we do just enjoy going against the grain. Richard Branson, famous ADHDer, and self-made billionaire entrepreneur, attributes part of his success to “zagging while everyone else is zigging.” So if all the incumbent airlines are driving down costs at the expense of service quality, he’s going to create a service-oriented airline. That is very much part of the ADHD spirit. Everyone is raving about the latest movie? I’ll wait a decade to see it. I still haven’t seen Avatar.
It’s obvious how this mentality can lead to arguments. It’s not always negative for us, but in our personal relationships it’s obviously going to be a bit of an issue.
In children this can go even further, developing into a separate disorder known as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), where our kids will actively go out of their way to resist doing anything that they have been told to do.
There is still more research to be done here about what causes ODD, but estimates are that up to 65% of children with ADHD might also have ODD. I speculate that we all have this anti-authoritarian streak in us, that we absolutely can’t stand someone telling us what to do or being overbearing, but in a lot of cases, in younger children, this can rise to the point of qualifying for an ODD diagnosis.
It makes sense that if you’re not fully in control of your impulses, ticks, and quirks, you’re going to be resentful of being yelled at and given instructions after a while.
The best advice to avoid this and combat it when it develops is consistency in punishment (small, immediate punishments, that are directly related to the transgression), immediate forgiveness, and a relentless use of positive reinforcements, praising all the small, positive results in order to entice more of them. Try to make your (justified) bad temper not result in yelling too often. And even though they’re not, try to talk to your little one as if they’re an equal.
You can also turn things into choices that they get to make rather than instructions that they have to follow. Instead of, “time for breakfast, let’s get moving, sit at the table.” Maybe try out, “do you want Cheerios or oatmeal for breakfast this morning?” Or “do you want to help me make oatmeal this morning?” Even a simple change of framing like this can be useful.