Systems Failure is not ADHD Adult’s Failure

ADHD adult systems keys

Keys hanging on hook

I can’t find my keys. Every day, I can’t find my keys. They are in my bag somewhere, or in one of many pockets. Or less frequently, in my cup holder. I am not a key-loser.

ADHD adults, and kids with ADHD too,  so often hear they aren’t organized enough, they need to be more careful and not lose things. They need to get more routine and be more consistent and so on. Clean up their acts in some sense. Then they tell themselves the same things, and with those ideas seems to come an awful lot of judgment and shame. About some stupid keys.

I can’t find my keys because things changed. The first thing that changed is that I have children. They walk off with keys; they need rushing after; they like turns practicing unlocking the door, and so on. This interrupts the way I put my keys in their spot at home. I’m lucky because I don’t need a lot of practice to hang up my keys on their hook. Until I had kids that messed with my whole partly-automatic, partly self-reminding process for putting them in the same place each time.

The other thing that changed is the silly keyless car starting and opening. Hoorah! I can tell the key is in my bag or on my person because I can lock or unlock and start the car. Boo! I don’t know where. So when I need to unlock the door to my house, I am stuck digging through bags and pockets pitifully. And then if the door is already open to the house, I have no reason to dig it out and the problem is delayed to the next morning.

Here’s what would help me know where my keys are: change my system. For example, I can always attach them to a bag a specific way (that my kids won’t dismantle or steal away with like an attractive clip). Just make up the system and tweak it to the new reality. I’m pretty good at that.

But here’s what sometimes makes a bigger difference to my clients: knowing that suddenly losing something all the time has nothing to do with their intelligence or competence. And often it doesn’t even have anything to do with how organized they have worked on becoming; it just means something changed. This is crucial. If you think you failed, you are done, you can’t do it anymore, you have to start battling again. If you realize it is just the stupid new change in car, or a piece of furniture that got moved, or a dresser drawer that broke, or any other change to a system you use daily, however basic, you can change something about what you are doing, and make it work again.