How to Advocate For Yourself

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • One of the many hats I wear is that of parent advocate. With my own child receiving special education services, these efforts have become one of the most time consuming and stressful jobs of all.


    Much is written about advocating for your child with ADHD or other special needs. But what about the unique needs of adults with ADHD? How are we taking care of ourselves?


    ADHD doesn't take a nap and just go away when we're at work, caring for our children, going to school, working on our relationships, paying our bills or planning daily family meals. We wake up with it and we go to sleep with it. And if we're lucky, medication, counseling and support get us through many rough spots in our days.

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    But sometimes, that simply isn't enough. We continue to struggle in many if not all the areas mentioned. But still we are stumped. What's a person with ADHD to do?


    Learn to Advocate for Yourself


    Before you can learn to stick up for yourself or ask for support, it's important to know how your particular brand of ADHD affects you. Are you inattentive? If so, you may miss important information and cues in school, work, and in relationships. If you're hyperactive, you might not be able to stop your brain and body long enough to enjoy time with your loved ones, or to stick with a job for very long.


    If you're impulsive, you might get into all kinds of trouble, from over-spending on your credit cards, to marrying someone you barely know.


    Before you can learn how to ask for accommodations in life and to receive understanding by your family and peers, think about the various situations where you've consistently gotten yourself into trouble. What would or could you change to make things better for yourself?




    First, know your working style and what part of the day you feel most alert and productive. Choose that time to handle the most pressing and demanding parts of your job, whenever possible. Educate yourself about your rights as an adult with ADHD. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) offers you some protection. Read books about ADHD and the workplace. Find out what kinds of accommodations you can request but also think carefully before revealing your ADHD. Sometimes, it can backfire on you.




    If you're in college and hold a formal ADHD diagnosis, you are typically eligible for student support. You can ask for such accommodations as extended time on tests, note takers, etc. Familiarize yourself with the various options and make sure you visit your school's student disability's office.




    Again, if you hope for people to understand your challenges, you first need to be aware of them yourself! Think back to relationships that have gone well and those that didn't. What went wrong? What went right?


    Learn communication techniques. Find a therapist or counselor who works with adult ADHD; they can be extremely helpful in working on relationship problems when ADHD is part of the picture. Some helpful books include, "What Does Everyone Know that I Don't?" by Dr. Michele Novotni and "Honey, Are You Listening?", by Dr. Dick Fowler. Check Amazon under "ADHD" for the many books on ADHD available. Or visit for books specific to ADHD.


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    Go with your strengths and value your authenticity. Celebrate your differences and find those who also appreciate you for who you are, not whom you think you should be.




    One of the hardest challenges for adults with ADHD is juggling work, marriage and raising children (especially if one or more also has ADHD). It is essential to get support from your partner. Acknowledge that you have a "special family" where the rules have to change in order for things to work. ADHD can wreak havoc on families, so arm yourself with parenting strategies from books and classes and get as much support as you can, including babysitting help EVEN if you're a stay at home parent. When my very hyperactive children were young, I had a sitter come to the house a few hours a week even if I had nowhere to go, just so I could escape to my room to rest and re-charge. Parenting is a full time plus job and all parents need a break from it, especially parents with ADHD.


    Personal Needs


    Sometimes it's hard to rationalize that we need time to ourselves to pursue our interests, or to take time away from the family in order to rejuvenate. But these are not luxuries when ADHD is part of the picture. Allow yourself this needed personal time and drop the guilt. You MUST take care of yourself if you are to care for others in your family.


    Learn to say "no" when you're already feeling over-extended. Are you always putting others' needs before yours? This is when self advocacy becomes most difficult. We are taught early on that we should be able to juggle everything and anything short of that means you are weak or less than capable. Take baby steps, if needed, but begin thinking about yourself and what you need and how you can impart that on to others.


    Take your emotional "temperature." Are you chronically exhausted? Irritable? Understand where these feelings are coming from and make appropriate changes in your life, whether it's a job change, getting marital therapy or simply getting more rest. It's time to take a strong look at your life and assess what it is that is sucking the life out of you. Start by making a list and then jotting down plans of action, complete with plusses and minuses for each item.


    Now that you are aware of some of the areas in your life where you need to advocate for yourself, what is YOUR first step towards living a happier and calmer life?

Published On: February 15, 2008