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Practical Strategies for Supporting Clients with ADHD
• Christine Hargrove • September 20, 2023
An estimated 4.4% of the U.S. adult population lives with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD),1 which is a disorder that affects self-regulation of attention, behavior, and emotion. ADHD can impact nearly all areas of life: physical and mental health, employment, academic achievement, relationships, and even finances.
Professionally, I support individuals, couples, and families with ADHD through my clinical work, research, and outreach efforts. But on a personal level, I really get it. I know what it is like to have ADHD, to parent children with ADHD, and to support friends and loved ones navigating life with ADHD. When I share my “why,” I share photos and stories of my favorite people.
Because I combine personal experience with professional expertise, I recognize which under-acknowledged aspects of daily life with ADHD can be especially difficult—and why. One of these aspects of daily life is finance. Financial behavior and financial well-being can be some of the least recognized—and most shame-inducing—aspects of living with adult ADHD. Moreover, most ADHDers I talk with believe that while financial professionals can be helpful to other people, they won’t be able to help them.
However, by learning about ADHD, how it affects financial behavior, and how you can adjust your professional approach to meet your ADHD clients’ needs, you could be one of the few ADHD-informed financial professionals who is able to help. I’m excited to share strategies that will help you work more effectively with your clients who have ADHD because it means that individuals, couples, and families like mine may enjoy financial stability and financial freedom.
Understanding and Recognizing ADHD
ADHD is diagnosed symptomatically—meaning by what is self-reported and observed by others—with symptoms typically beginning in childhood and persisting in various forms to adulthood. ADHD has three presentations: predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, predominately inattentive, and combined.
ADHD also presents differently across ages, genders, and contexts. This is important to understand because the stereotype of a hyperactive little boy isn’t necessarily what you would see in your adult clients with ADHD.
How ADHD presents varies from person to person, but you may see behaviors like:
- Difficulty paying attention
- Blurting out things they didn’t mean to blurt out
- Interjecting into conversations
- Frequent late or missed appointments
- Impulse spending
When it comes to money management, you may notice that your client has difficulty with:
- Paying bills on time
- Noticing and remembering details
- Comparison shopping
- Maintaining records
- Fluency and conceptualization of financial elements
While you won’t be able to diagnose clients with ADHD yourself, looking out for these behaviors can help you determine whether the strategies I share here could be beneficial.
5 Strategies for Supporting Clients with ADHD
ADHD can impact how your clients manage their finances and how they work with their financial planners. As a financial professional, there are practical strategies you can implement to support your clients who have ADHD.
1. Set a Positive Tone from the Start
Starting to work with a financial planner can be intimidating and overwhelming. If a new client with ADHD comes in and hears that they need to gather and organize all of their documents and receipts from the past year, there’s a good chance they’re going to feel overwhelmed and be worried about being judged. There are a couple of tactics you can use to help alleviate their fears and start off on the right foot.
First, take the time to explain the background of why you need this information from them. Acknowledge that this step of the financial planning process can feel intrusive, which starts your relationship off on a sour note. Set a positive tone by explaining the purpose behind your request—it’s not to shame or judge, it’s so your recommendations can be tailored to their actual situation.
You can also let your clients know that it’s okay to break efforts into smaller steps. For example, if going home and gathering all their receipts or bills from the past year feels overwhelming, they can start by creating a single email address or folder for collecting their financial information. When they come across a bill or statement, they can stick it in that secure location. It doesn’t have to be organized. It just needs to be a single, accessible place where they can gather their information and start building a habit of maintaining their records.
2. Ask Solution-focused Questions
Solution-focused questioning helps you discover your clients’ strengths and use them as anchors for their money management strategies. You start this process by defining a specific problem. Your client may say, “I’m terrible at managing money.” But that’s not a specific problem–that’s an outcome that they feel is true. A specific problem could be that they are struggling to pay their bills before they are due.
Once you have a defined problem, you can start asking solution-focused questions. This type of question identifies and explores instances when things have gone well rather than focusing on what has gone wrong. If your client’s problem is that they struggle to pay bills on time, you can ask questions like: “When have you been able to pay your bills? What helped you do that?”
By digging into what has worked well for a client in the past, you can find solutions to apply to future tasks. In this example, you may discover that your client has successfully paid their bills when they had a reminder on their phone. You can then incorporate that solution into their bill-paying strategies in the future.
3. Provide a Kit When You Are Asking Your Client to Complete a Task
If you are giving your client an action item, provide a “kit” that has all of the information they need to complete it in one place. This will be more effective than sending them multiple emails with disjointed information.
For example, you may want your client to look at different life insurance policies. In one email, provide them with the options you want them to review, your recommendation, and the steps they need to take next. Try to include visuals whenever possible. While this might take a little extra work pull together, it is a lot more likely that your clients will get that action item done.
4. Recognize Your Client’s Successes
It’s common for people with ADHD to discount their strengths and successes. Your client may say, “I just paid one bill. I know I should have paid all of them, but I just paid the one.” But when you discount a behavior, you will see less of it. If you want to see more of that behavior, recognize your client’s success and say something like, “It doesn’t matter if it was ‘just’ one bill paid on time, it was a bill paid on time. Good work!” Positive reinforcement can go a long way, especially with people who are used to being motivated through shame or other negative language.
5. Ask for Feedback Regularly
You want to ensure that you and your client are both on the same page, so it’s important to ask your client for feedback about the pace and flow of information you are giving them. One way to do this is to ask if they can tell you the stories contained in the tables or graphs you’re showing them. If they can’t tell you the story of the table or graph that they are looking at, that’s a sign that you need to slow down and review it again. Another tip is to ask, “What questions do you have?” instead of “Do you have any questions?”
Take a Deeper Dive
The strategies I discussed here are just a few of the ways that you can support your clients with ADHD. I recently participated in a CE webinar with eMoney, Understanding and Working with Your Clients with ADHD. Watch the on-demand version to gain a deeper understanding of ADHD and how it affects financial wellbeing, and to get more strategies for supporting your clients who have ADHD.
1. Kessler, Ronald C, Lenard Adler, Russell Barkley, Joseph Biederman, Keith Conners, Olga Demler, Stephen V Faraone, et al. “The Prevalence and Correlates of Adult ADHD in the United States: Results From the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.” American Journal of Psychiatry 163 (4), 2006: 716–23. doi: https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.2006.163.4.716.
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