Today we're talking about one man's experience with late-identified inattentive ADHD! I am so excited to welcome coach Aron Croft to the podcast today.
Inattentive ADHD is massively underdiagnosed, especially in men, so I'm so grateful to Aron for coming on the show to share his experience. Today, we’re discussing:
- what it was like for Aron as a child growing up with undiagnosed inattentive ADHD
- how lacking the knowledge about his neurotype affected his life in college and young adulthood
- how his life has changed since his diagnosis
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🎧 Want to listen? This post is based off of Episode 43 of the Neurodiverging Podcast! Listen on Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Youtube
- Aron's FREE 5-Day ADHD 101 Course: https://hiddenadhd.com/adhd-101
- Aron's infosheet on the Top 10 Productivity Mistakes All ADHDers Make
Aron Croft appeared to have it all when he got into Harvard. But that was the beginning of his demise. He struggled nonstop for 15 years until he was broke, divorced, and earning minimum wage, failing out of his first 7 jobs and businesses. But after getting a Master's degree in Coaching Psychology and a diagnosis of Inattentive ADHD, his life changed. He built a successful Fortune 500 career consulting to companies such as Marriott, Deloitte, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, KPMG, and United Healthcare. He also got remarried, and most importantly, discovered how to get sh*t done with a neurodivergent brain. Now he’s on a mission to raise awareness about Inattentive ADHD, how it goes under the radar, and how to rebuild your life post-diagnosis. His work has been featured by ADDitude Magazine, ADDA, and more.
Transcript: Late-Identified Inattentive ADHD with Aron Croft of Hidden ADD
(Thank you to Justice Ross for their beautiful transcription of this episode!)
SULLIVAN: Hello, Aron, and welcome to Neurodiverging! It's so great to have you here. How are you doing?
CROFT: I am doing so well, Danielle, and thank you for having me, and thanks to your awesome listeners for tuning in and for learning about this important topic.
SULLIVAN: It is such an important topic, and I'm honestly so pleased that you reached out and to have you here today. So, I know you do a lot of different things, but your focus is inattentive ADHD, and you're a pretty late-identified ADDer, right? When were you diagnosed?
CROFT: Yeah. So, I was diagnosed at 34 years old, after I'd failed out of 7 jobs, and basically ended up broke, divorced, and earning minimum wage. So it took a fair bit of external warning signs to finally come around to the diagnosis.
What was it like to be a child with undiagnosed inattentive ADHD?
SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. I think a lot of us—I'm late-diagnosed autistic, which is obviously different from ADD—but a lot of us are caught so late, and have been through so much just to get to mid-30s. It's an unfortunately common story, isn't it. What did your childhood look like? Knowing that you have ADD now, were there signs that got missed when you were younger?
CROFT: Oh my goodness. I mean, so many signs. I was blessed with some natural intelligence, I was a naturally good test taker, I had strong social support—like, my friends were all really smart and motivated, and I have older sisters, so I did well at school. But behind the scenes, at home, it was a disaster.
So my doing well in school was comprised of massive amounts of procrastination, getting through middle school and high school with pretty much never reading a book cover to cover. My nickname became CliffNotes Aron. It was, you know. I would be doing homework outside of class, like, just regularly. It was always the last minute kind of "I need this deadline panic to get my brain to kick in gear," which is a thing with ADHD. And it was a lot of stress and a lot of pain, and that was compounded by my mom, you know, looking at it, and the perception from the outside is lazy, don't care, or just willfully disobedient. And none of those were the case for me, but I didn't have a better explanation.
SULLIVAN: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, this was occurring for you very young, even, that you were dealing with this kind of anxiety around meeting obligations or meeting expectations.
CROFT: 100%. I mean, I got the award from my 3rd grade teacher—she gave awards out—she gave me an award for the Best At Getting Around Doing Work.
Why did inattentive ADHD make keeping a job so difficult?
SULLIVAN: Oh my gosh. That's not great. (Laughs) Yeah, ok! And then, you had a really hard time - You mentioned a little bit, before you were finally diagnosed, you went through all those jobs and businesses not working, and you had trouble at college, right? Can you pinpoint what was going on there, and why... Why were you failing at those jobs?
CROFT: Yeah. Well, it's a great question, Danielle. The thing that I've noticed with inattentive ADHD, both through my research and work -
So, I have a master's degree in coaching psychology, and I coach ADHDers, but a lot of them tend to have this inattentive presentation. Which, you know, if you ask 50 people on the street "What's the first thing you think of when you think of ADHD?" they're gonna picture 5-year-old boys, painting on walls, jumping around hyper on sugar. Or they're gonna picture, like, that dog from Up going "Squirrel! Squirrel!"
With those of us with the inattentive presentation, our experience is very different. One of the things is that there is a gap—and I see this with a lot of my clients that I coach—that wanting to do something, and being able to get your brain to focus on what you want to do, the connection there has faulty wiring. I explained it, sometimes, to people like a lamp that's plugged into the wall. And, you know, you might flip the switch, but if there's a gap in the wiring between the lamp and the outlet and the wall, it may not turn on even though you flipped the switch.
And so, you know, for neurotypical people, when you want to work on something that's important to you because you genuinely care, and you want to, and you're motivated to, you can flip the switch and get yourself to focus on it. With ADHD, and specifically inattentive ADHD, you don't have that. And so here's what happens.
All that backstory is just to explain why I failed so much and what the real cause was. So here's what does work, what does work is: panic.
SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. All the energy you get from that last minute.
CROFT: Yeah! That urgency and panic of "Something really bad is gonna happen, and there's a really tight deadline," and all that. And then, all of a sudden, you flip the switch and the light turns on, and you can focus.
Here's the problem, Danielle: That gets really tiring over time. Both physically but also mentally and emotionally. And I was able to pull off amazing feats in high school through doing this, and, you know, that's how I got into Harvard, with my test-taking skills and with, just, a lot of these last-minute saves. But, you know, it wasn't sustainable. And so when I got to Harvard, I said, "I'm done." Like, I don't want to drag myself through the pain of needing to have the fear of God put in me to get work done, and to be so stressed out that my brain turns off. And so I just said I'm gonna try not doing that.
CROFT: Except there's a problem with that strategy, [which] was that then my life still sucked, it just then sucked in a different way.
What's Aron's perspective on the difference between hyperactive and inattentive ADHD?
SULLIVAN: As an inattentive ADHDer, do you have a sense as to what the difference is? I know you don't have the hyperactive type, but like you said, it's the stereotype that is what people think of.
Do you have a sense of what the difference is in actual interior life—in how you think about the world, and how you approach the world, and what's going on for you—compared to folks with the hyperactive presentation of ADHD? ...Does that question make any sense?
CROFT: Sure. Yeah, no, that question makes perfect sense, and I tracked it fully.
CROFT: I've seen a few differences, but the primary difference I've seen comes around really the energy levels. So, at the hyperactive side, one of the diagnostic criteria basic list says, like, "Acts as if driven by a motor."
SULLIVAN: Oh, that's interesting.
CROFT: And so what you end up with, [with] the hyperactive-impulsive side, is that you'll get this surplus of energy, and that translates to things that sometimes can be super helpful, right? Like yes the person might not be able to stay focused on one thing for very long, because they're just going so fast, but, if you can sustain - I mean, I had a client who I literally said, and she agreed, that she gets work done at an Olympic level. I mean, I've never seen somebody who does as many things in a day as she does.
And, you know, I've even seen researcher reports about entrepreneurship and ADHD. And they really say the hyperactive, impulsive side is kind of the core of, you know, when people say that ADHD really lends itself to entrepreneurship. They have this high energy, which is great leadership because it's passionate and they can just flip between a bunch of different projects.
And then the second part, the second main difference between the hyperactive-impulsive experience and the inattentive experience, is really the impulsivity. And a lot of the inattentive ADHDers tend to be a little more reserved, a little quieter, maybe even a little more passive or passive-aggressive. Whereas the other experience of ADHD is someone that just overshares, and can't stop talking, and will interrupt before you've even finished your question because they just can't wait to talk, and, you know. But that translates to entrepreneurship and other things as risk-taking, and willingness to take risks where others won't. So that's some of the differences.
How does society view someone with inattentive ADHD?
SULLIVAN: Ok. Thank you! So, what society would see as the "positive," quote unquote, aspects of ADHD, like that positive risk-taking of an entrepreneur, are not always present in inattentive ADHD. So you get the unfortunate "lazy, unmotivated" sort of adjectives, as opposed to the kind of positive "highly energetic, tries new things" sort of adjectives.
CROFT: Yeah. It was really weird, Danielle - So I only formally went full time on my Hidden ADHD* business in July. So I don't know, call that, at the time that we're recording this, 4 or 5 months ago.
SULLIVAN: Pretty recently.
CROFT: And I left a multiple 6-figure corporate job, and this whole thing. But here's the funny part. So I started making myself available for coaching with clients - and I'm not doing very much 1-on-1 coaching anymore because I've transitioned to a lot of group programs, one, because I can do it more affordably for people, but two, because it's actually better from a group standpoint to have more than just a coach; you get success teams and peers and such. But I digress.
So what I noticed that was so weird, Danielle, I noticed that, almost 90% of the clients that came to me, it was literally for the exact same thing. I could summarize their story in probably one sentence.
And it struck me as very odd, because I figured I was gonna get this whole range of different goals and problems, and it all came down, in almost every case, like 90+% of cases, to the same one problem: I have this thing I want to do; I can't freaking get myself to do it.
SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. And what's going on there for them?
CROFT: What I've really found with myself, and then I've talked to hundreds of people now, is that most ADHDers, especially inattentive presentation, everything becomes a "you" problem. And what I've often taught them, and they discover for themselves, is that it's actually not a "you" problem, it's a system or strategy problem.
So what do I mean by that? Well, if we go back to the lamp example: You flip the switch, motivation's on, it should translate to the ability to take action, right? But, in the ADHD brain, there's impairments in the motivation pathways. The neuroscience differs by individual and such, but that's a common characteristic, that they basically don't have the activation energy to move on tasks that they want to move on. And so a lot of the work I do with them is really teaching them strategies, and helping them implement strategies, that take a different path to light the light bulb of motivation and action in their brain.
And when I say that it's a system or a strategy problem, like, think about it, Danielle. The neurotypical or the majority approach that you'll read in self-help, or in productivity when you study these things online, or you listen to popular bloggers, or YouTubers, or anything - They're gonna say that you just need to put more electricity, put more effort and desire through the wire. Or you just need to have a better plan, or a better-defined goal. But the connection, the normal connection pathway just has impairments. And so a lot of it comes down to strategies to build a alternate pathway to get the same action and result.
SULLIVAN: That makes a lot of sense. So, learning to bypass the faulty wire and finding the other wires that can work instead.
CROFT: 100%, right? And like, you really commented on it before, kind of that self-shaming. Part of the problem with the self-shaming is, like, we try to put more electricity through the wire and the light bulb still doesn't turn on. And, like, we try, we try to keep using this, and it doesn't work, and then we're like (Sigh), you know, I just, I'm a failure, I do this, I do that. And I hear that from all my clients too, and it's so demoralizing to see that so many people are suffering in silence when it's not that hard to get around it.
SULLIVAN: Once you have the tools, for sure. Yeah. And so many - I assume this is the case: For a lot of autistics, a lot of us who weren't identified in childhood are then not identified until we're well into our adulthood. In our 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and up. And I assume that for inattentive ADDers that that is a similar issue, that you've had so much time to build up the cycle of things not working, and failing, and failing—similar to what you went through—that by the time you are finally taught that there are strategies for just bypassing the faulty wire completely, you've been struggling for such a long time that it's almost a part of - It must be so hard to change your perception of yourself that quickly, as someone who could do things if you had the right strategy.
CROFT: Yeah, it's one of the biggest challenges, and also one of the biggest opportunities. And, you know, it also then harks to another misconception in our society, which is that confidence leads to better action. And in fact, the reverse is actually the case—that action leads to confidence. And so we look [at that pattern], and we're like, "Ah, I just, I'm not confident, and therefore I don't feel like it and I can't do it," whereas one of the things that I work with people on is - We build small wins every day. But it's consistency. Nir Eyal has a quote that he taught me, the author of Indistractable and Hooked and other [works], which is "consistency over intensity."
SULLIVAN: Yeah. I'm sure.
CROFT: So many people try to sprint, and then they just fall down. Whereas if you can just win a little bit every single day, you start to change that self-image such that you start to rewrite the "I'm a failure, I can't do anything" stuff that you so well mentioned.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. For sure. I wanted to go back a little bit to - Because I know that you had a lot of difficulty before you were identified. And it seemed to me that, when you were in your bachelor's degree program, that you had a lot of trouble, you fell out a couple times, you re-enrolled. But then later you went back and you did a master's, which is challenging and not nothing.
CROFT: Talking about how I could've dropped out of college twice before barely graduating? And then how I could go from that and then complete a master's in my 30s?
CROFT: So here's a little bit about what happened. And it's a challenging one, so I don't want to portray this as a silver bullet, because there's a lot of nuance here. But one of the pathways to light up the light bulb through a different pathway is just through intrinsic interests. Where those come from, who knows.
But I have always, always been just obsessed [with], so interested and fascinated by psychology, personal development, goals, motivation, the process of change. And when I went to university, I told my parents that I wanted to major in psychology. And my mom, bless her heart, you know, grew up and she went to college in the late '60s, early '70s, and she said, you know, people with psychology degrees just blame their parents and they don't get jobs unless they go on to do a doctorate.
CROFT: So she said, you know, you got to, like, do a real major. And so, being a little bit passive—which, again, a lot of inattentive ADHDers can be a little bit more passive—I just said, ok, I'll just go along with it. But my intrinsic desire to understand what makes people tick, and probably, if we're being honest, what makes me tick - I'm trying to figure out this puzzle that is Aron. Like that makes no sense, Danielle, how could I want desperately to do something, and be unable to get myself to do it? How many Arons are there in this equation?
CROFT: So I always wanted to understand. So that was, for me, one way that I could engage. But I hadn't been diagnosed at that point. Yeah, it was really just pure interest and desire, where I could tap into more of that focus just because it was a topic that I really wanted to understand.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. So that energy was there because of your interest in it.
CROFT: So, undergraduate, I ended up doing computer science, because my mom said, "Don't do psychology." So the master's was the one where I was able to focus, because that was what I cared about. It was a master's degree in coaching psychology. It was about the science of motivations, and goals, and change, and peak performance. I was super interested.
SULLIVAN: For sure!
CROFT: So yes. I used that for my master's, but I didn't have that excitement for my undergraduate.
What should families know about medication for inattentive ADHD?
SULLIVAN: Ok, cool! Would it be ok if we talked about medication?
SULLIVAN: I know I talk to a lot of folks who think, "Oh, ok, if I go and get diagnosed with ADD myself—I think I have it, [but] if I go get the diagnosis or I bring my child to get the diagnosis, they're just gonna medicate them." And some people are medication-resistant. And I wondered if we could talk about your experience, especially as someone who's worked with a lot of other ADHDers. I know there are treatments besides medication. What do you think about the treatments for ADHD you've tried, and what has been most helpful for you?
CROFT: Firstly, I didn't know until I was an adult in my 30s, and so I feel like the answer definitely would differ between adults and kids.
SULLIVAN: Oh yes, if you had a 5-year-old -
CROFT: So, look. Here's 3 things that I'll say about the decision around kids.
One, your neuroplasticity is highest, your brain's ability to grow and change is highest, and it sort of tapers off by the time you hit 25 years old. But certainly, at a younger age, the ability of the brain to grow and change is very high. I think there's an opportunity there. And whatever the mechanisms are that parents are interested in, there's not really solid scientific evidentiary support for a lot of interventions. The most solid science is around the medication, and the effect sizes, and Dr. Russell Barkley says ADHD is the most treatable disorder in psychiatry, because 75% of people respond well to medication. It has really high effect sizes. ...Sorry, what were you going to say?
SULLIVAN: Just that we've had most of those medications - I mean, some of them are newer, but the stimulant medications we've had for such a long time that there's so much good research on them now.
CROFT: There's so much good research, and if you think about all of the medications in our lifetime that have been recalled and pulled off shelves, whether it was Vioxx or - you know, these things that cause these health issues that came out. If there were really bad long-term effects from these drugs, these things would get addressed and pulled off-table. There's not a massive profit incentive, they're -
SULLIVAN: You get generics now.
CROFT: They're in generic phases, exactly. So if there was something to really get on these drugs, it would've come out. It doesn't mean they're perfect, it doesn't mean there aren't issues.
So that would be number two, is that medication is, at least if you're just looking for evidence-based, there's plenty of studies that just show that it is the best and that the other interventions don't have nearly the evidence base. But, again, back to point one around neuroplasticity: I don't have anything against experimenting, right? Like, what if neurofeedback really works for your kid? Or what if an executive functioning coach, or what if certain set-ups, really help?
So then the third thing I would say about kids -
I'm gonna say four things.
CROFT: The third thing I would say is that I've encountered - Back to the interest thing. A related thing to interest is a sense of autonomy and ownership. And so I've interacted with a lot of people who were given medication as kids, but they didn't feel a part of the decision. They didn't own it, they weren't like, "Oh, I really want to do [x]. I really want to get these good grades so that I can get into this space camp," or, "I really want to practice whatever; I want to practice the violin so I can play this awesome thing, and I know that I can't focus enough to practice."
If they have a motivation, and they're like "Mom, Dad, I want some help doing this, I can't do it, it's frustrating," and they feel like they've been involved in the decision? Great. And they have the ability to make changes when it's not working. But I've talked to a lot of adults who felt that they were just kind of forced to take the medication.
SULLIVAN: Yeah, that's a big problem.
CROFT: Almost like, "Lets medicate this kid to make them do what we want them to do, and make them more compliant." And then you end up with this kickback effect, where they say, "Oh, it didn't feel good, and I didn't like it and how it made me feel," and then they'll eschew medication until they end up with problems in their 20s or 30s when they're having career failures and relationship failures. And they realize, "Huh, I guess all those things I can't follow through on, maybe those are that ADHD thing that I kind of intentionally threw off and said I don't want to deal with this."
And so the fourth thing I want to say is, look, the decision on medicating is challenging. And so I'm all for, at the adolescent-child level, experimenting if it works—you know, try other things, what's the harm—and then going to medication as a fallback. Except here's the one case that I want to offer where I wouldn't offer that approach: Sometimes, if the ability to even follow through on the alternative approaches—the ability to just keep up remotely in school, or keep up with neurofeedback, or keep up with these things you're doing—if you can't follow through on that, then sometimes, medication can be a bridge that enables one to do things that can then make the medication less needed.
CROFT: And so there can be a yes-and approach there.
SULLIVAN: Yes. So sometimes you will want to consider accepting medication as a treatment for a period of time, but that doesn't mean you're committing to it for the rest of your adult life.
CROFT: Well, I mean, at this point I'm talking about kids. And especially when you have the neuroplasticity, right? It doesn't mean...
CROFT: At the rate that your brain can grow and change—and adults still have neuroplasticity, it's just [that] the rate of it declines—but at that level, the kid and teenager, maybe they just develop the neural pathways to really short circuit the broken wire to the motivation light bulb and, "Cool, I don't need that medication anymore."
What's Aron's advice for young adult ADHDers?
SULLIVAN: Yeah. Awesome! Thank you, that's really helpful. Do you have any advice that you would give to young adult ADHDers, having gone through what you've gone through?
CROFT: Yeah, I think... I do have advice. I think, of course, the challenge at that age, that we've all experienced from having been that age, is that we're not necessarily open to advice. But I'll share the advice anyhow. (Laughs)
Part of this goes into the fact that you still have that high level of neuroplasticity until you're 25. And I think there's a lot of value in taking advantage of those; you can make changes in your life much more easily. What I would recommend is, if you can find programs that are dedicated to helping ADHDers with your types of symptoms—and again, I can't really comment on the hyperactive-impulsive side, because I don't pretend to know something where I don't have experience, or that I've really worked with a lot of people.
With the inattentive people that I've worked with, and in the group programs, when they discover that there's ADHD-specific ways to kind of short-circuit and get the light bulb to turn on, and they discover that they can be consistently productive day-in day-out... If you could do that, as a teenager, or a college kid, or a young adult starting your career—one, build the habit while your brain is still super plastic, and two, not build the baggage that you talked about, Danielle, of years of failure and self-shaming—it would open up your life. It would change so many things, and you would really avoid a lot of the baggage. Because it really does come down to a system and a strategy, not a personal problem.
Because so many ADHDers have so much potential, and it's just trapped inside of them, because they don't know how to get the light bulb to turn on.
Where can you learn more about Aron Croft?
SULLIVAN: Thank you. To wrap up, could you tell us a little bit about where folks can find and learn more about you, and your courses, and your coaching?
CROFT: Sure. I would just Google "Hidden ADHD." The name of the business just comes to the fact that, with inattentive ADHD, it often remains hidden; it goes under the wire, kind of like you talked about, Danielle, with the late diagnosis autism.
SULLIVAN: For sure.
CROFT: And that's really it. I've got over 100,000 TikTok followers, so if you just kind of want some funny videos on there -
SULLIVAN: Some of them are really good.
CROFT: - thank you; see a 40-year old bald dude dancing and doing weird stuff, you could check that out. I've got some more detailed full-length YouTube videos where I break down a lot of the strategies for success. And, of course, if you Google "Hidden ADHD," you'll come across [my] website, [where] I've got a 45 day challenge to crush procrastination and overwhelm through basically developing a productivity habit. So we've got lots of things, check it out; we've got some free guides on ADHD 101 if you're just getting started. So, lots of cool stuff.
SULLIVAN: There's some really great resources there, so I'm going to put some links in the show notes below, so please go check them out. Thanks so much for being here today, Aron.
CROFT: Thank you Danielle! It was an absolute pleasure. And thanks for the work that you're doing with this community; I think it's so important. And, again, thanks to the listeners for, you know - There's a lot of things that they could be doing other than learning about this important topic -
SULLIVAN: (Laughs) it's true!
CROFT: And trying to better their kids' lives and their own lives, so just, hats off to them as well.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. Yeah. We all appreciate you being here today.