Learning to Thrive with ADHD
I’m the student that gets in trouble multiple times every week for misbehaving or not paying attention. I try so hard. Sometimes I succeed, but often I get distracted, cause a commotion, or misbehave. I’m the little girl that can’t sit still at the supper table without jiggling or moving. I’m the dad that never calls my child by the right name. I’m the mom that forgets to do that important thing. I’m that boy that was making good grades and then one day I totally failed the test. I’m the boy that suddenly does that off the wall thing in the classroom. I’m that youth that interrupts the person talking, to say what I have to say, then I feel dumb about it.
Professionals that study our brains and how we think, call it ADHD, which stands for Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder. Attention deficit is poor wording because we have an abundance of attention. We are just challenged to control it. It’s not really accurate to call it a disorder because it truly is a mix of assets and liabilities. Sometimes it is a superpower of energy, insight, creativity, spontaneity, courage, focus, and generosity. But other times it is a disabling shadow that prevents concentration, hinders our time management, sabotages our memory, makes it difficult to follow a conversation, and causes us to act out. There is no direct connection between the diagnosis and someone’s IQ but many with ADHD are above average in intelligence. Now, to be clear, not nearly everyone who is easily distracted or hyper has ADHD. However, many of the tools we talk about later will serve you in overcoming the challenges associated with these tendencies.
ADHD is defined as a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development (DSM-5 APA).
“Inattentive and Distractible” shows up as difficulty in sustained attention, difficulty in listening to others, challenges in attention to detail, poor organizational skills, and poor study skills. These people are also easily distracted and forgetful.
“Hyperactive and Impulsive” shows up as an individual that seems to be in constant motion, running and climbing, at times with no apparent goal except motion. He has difficulty remaining in his seat and when he is in his seat, he fidgets with his hands or squirms. These individuals fidget excessively, talk excessively, have difficulty engaging in quiet activities, and lose or forget things repeatedly. They have an inability to stay on task, and shift from one task to another without bringing any to completion.
ADHD is a spectrum disorder. Some individuals have very mild symptoms while for others it can keep them from living a normal life. A simple explanation of what is happening in their nervous system is that a person with ADHD typically needs more stimulation for their nerves to communicate effectively. Also, ADHD is often associated with lower levels of nerve chemicals, predominantly dopamine. This is one of the reasons why a person with ADHD has a more difficult time focusing, but is also why, when they are stimulated, it can release their superpower.
For a child growing up with ADHD, it can be so confusing knowing that their behavior is not always approved of and feeling unable to change. It is a lot like having a powerful car or truck with a very inadequate braking system. It isn’t that parents or teachers should justify the behavior, it’s just that often the child needs some tools and support when dealing with these challenges. Supporting your distracted or hyperactive child is vitally important for their development. See the list below for some great tools to support your child. If the non-medication solutions are ineffective, your pediatrician is a great place to get a medical diagnosis.
Typically, you don’t outgrow ADHD. As you get older some of the symptoms may subside, but many with the diagnosis, continue to have symptoms to a greater or lesser degree. Sometimes it shows up differently once you enter the workforce. If you have ADHD and weren’t diagnosed as a child, you might not get help until you are a youth or adult. I have spoken with several individuals that never really understood themselves until they received help as an adult. Someone with ADHD usually has a few things they can focus on well, especially if it’s something they are very interested in.
One of the challenges faced by children and adults with ADHD is what I will call “scratching the itch”. Because of a hyperactive brain and the challenge to control what is focused on, those with ADHD can be more prone to addictive, risky, or radical behavior. They find something that truly stimulates them, something that they can easily focus on, and this can be a powerful positive or negative force. When aimed in the right direction, it shows the “superpower” of ADHD. They will be inventive, spontaneous, and can accomplish much in a short time. When it comes out in a negative way, it can have a destructive effect on a person and be challenging for relationships, friendships, and marriages.
I had my own battle staying focused and paying attention beginning when I was a young child. I regularly found myself interrupting people who were halfway through a sentence. I had to work hard to pay attention to speakers unless their content was extremely stimulating. It was difficult to focus on some sports or on schoolwork that wasn’t challenging. I didn’t understand what was happening, I just felt like something was missing inside. For me, it wouldn’t be until later in adulthood before I fully understand my ADHD. Without knowing why I was the way I was, I developed tools to manage my life. I created a very precise calendar to help manage my life. I found spots to set my wallet, glasses, and keys every time, or I would lose them. But then I would have a paper to write, a difficult mental task at work, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not clear the fog from my brain. Finally, with the support of my wife, I began to research ADHD as well as seek some professional help. I did find help. I still deal with some mild symptoms, but between the tools I use to manage my life and a small dose of a stimulant drug, my ADHD is very manageable. I still forget new acquaintance’s names even though they repeat them multiple times, and my brain still gets locked up occasionally. People still give me a bad time about talking too much and I still catch myself interrupting those I visit with. But I’m learning…
Tools for managing ADHD
The following list includes some of the tools that have helped me. I hope they can be of help to you. The first five don’t require a professional diagnosis or a prescription to use effectively.
When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals including dopamine, which help with attention and clear thinking. The stimulant medicines that are often used to treat ADHD, work by increasing the availability of dopamine in the brain, so it makes sense that a workout can have many of the same effects as stimulant drugs.
Rest is important for everyone, but especially those with hyperactive brains. Unfortunately, often our brains want to be hyperactive about the time we want to go to sleep. To relax your or your child’s brain at bedtime: First, cut back on sugar and caffeine for a couple of hours leading up to bedtime. Second, cut back screen time at the end of the evening. Next, create a set of bedtime rituals that tells your brain it’s almost bedtime (for children, this might be a story, a song, a prayer, brushing their teeth, and a goodnight hug/kiss.) Finally, create a dark, comfortable environment for sleeping. Waking up rested can contribute to your brain working at its best.
3. A good start to the day.
Another area of importance is getting up on time so you or your child is not rushed. Take the time to get some protein in your/their system to get the energy to face the challenges of the day. Try to keep the morning as drama free as possible. Arriving at school or work with a clear mind and lots of energy sets you up to be successful in whatever the challenge is.
Use tools to stay on task. Use calendars to organize your tasks throughout the day. Write a short list of the three most important things to accomplish that day. Use timers to keep you efficiently working and focused (work focused for 25 minutes then take 3-5 off). Learn to take a minute to breathe, clear your mind. Create landing pads, a place where you ALWAYS set your glasses, wallet, keys, etc. Have an organized file system so everything has a logical place to land.
5. A healthy environment.
Some children can’t manage the kinds of tools listed above without support, and need an adult to help provide a calm, structured environment with one clear task to work on at a time. Keep your or your child’s workspace completely clear except for that ONE thing that is being worked on. Some studies report significant improvement by adjusting diet such as lowering sugar, caffeine, and artificial food coloring intake. As we learn to use the tools above, we learn to create a healthy environment for ourselves.
80% of children and 70% of adults diagnosed with ADHD who take their prescribed medication notice a significant improvement in symptoms. For the other 20-30% medication is not effective. While ADHD medication can be abused, it can have a significant positive effect on overcoming your attention and hyperactive challenges. Some of us have been extremely careful because of the over-prescribing of these types of medications for children, however we shouldn’t let those who abuse medication be the reason that we don’t get help for our children.
7. A Combination Solution.
Medication or any one of the tools listed above are rarely a complete or long-term solution individually. The most successful solutions for managing ADHD involve using multiples of the solutions listed above.
Successfully living with ADHD involves cultivating your strengths while managing the challenges. Learn to understand the tasks and work you are good at. Focus on exercising your strengths. Because ADHD is often hereditary, it is important for parents with ADHD to face it and deal with it. This can be a tremendous support to their children. Often learning to thrive means accepting that your brain operates a little differently than some of your friends and family. If you or someone you love is struggling with being attentive, staying focused, or being hyperactive, I want to let you know, there is hope!
A NOTE TO TEACHERS AND OTHER EDUCATORS:
Miss Schmidt, a teacher with abundant experience in dealing with challenging children, explained how positive reinforcement works so much more effectively than always calling these children down. The child needs to understand they are responsible for their actions, without blame or demeaning comments. It is of utmost importance to truly care about these children to effectively make a difference. A good start to the day makes a significant difference in students having a good day at school, as do getting up on time, eating a good breakfast, and having adequate time to get ready. Once in the classroom, children with ADHD can easily get overwhelmed if they have too much to manage, too many different rules, too many subjects, too many distractions. Try to help them focus on one thing at a time. Also, children with ADHD are already living with self-doubt and need their parents, teachers, and others to believe in them and to let them know “You’re worth something, you’re a good person, I believe in you.”
Scattered Minds by Gabor Mate
In this breakthrough guide to understanding, treating, and healing Attention Deficit Disorder, Dr. Gabor Maté, an adult with ADD and the father of three ADD children, shares information on:
· The external factors that trigger ADD/ADHD
· How to create an environment that promotes health and healing
· Ritalin and other drugs
· ADD adults
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD) has remained a controversial topic in recent years. Whereas other books on the subject describe the condition as inherited, Dr. Maté believes that our social and emotional environments play a key role in both the cause of and cure for this condition.
Teaching Tips for Challenging Behaviors by Kelly Gunzenhauser, Debra W. Kitzmann
Manage and monitor behavior to improve student success using Teaching Tips for Challenging Behaviors for pre-kindergarten– grade 2. This resource includes tips on record-keeping, physical development, language and literacy, attention span, cognitive development, social and emotional development, dealing with parents, and ways to help students monitor their own behavior.
You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy? by Kate Kelly, Peggy Ramundo
There is a great deal of literature about children with ADD. But what do you do if you have ADD and aren’t a child anymore? This indispensable reference—the first of its kind written for adults with ADD by adults with ADD—focuses on the experiences of adults, offering updated information, practical how-tos and moral support to help readers deal with ADD. It also explains the diagnostic process that distinguishes ADD symptoms from normal lapses in memory, lack of concentration or impulsive behavior.
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