By Emily Rubin Persons
You lose your keys almost every other day. You did the homework but forgot to hand it in – again. You started doing the laundry, but the phone rang, and hours later the laundry is still sitting there.
You are securing new clients, but you’re not getting paid because you can’t get the paperwork done. You’ve got five creative projects started but you don’t know what to do first. Your kid can spend hours building a complicated Lego set but has a meltdown over a short homework assignment. You are busy all day, but you have accomplished nothing. You don’t like big parties because you just can’t follow the small talk.
That’s ADHD. It is not an excuse, it’s an explanation.
What is it?
There are many ways to define ADHD. It could be called a challenge of executive function since the brain is inefficient in planning, organizing, remembering and self-regulating. These executive functions, including impulse control and managing emotional reactions, are controlled by the prefrontal cortex, which is weaker in ADHDers. So, the ADHD brain is more emotional, wired for interest, lives in the now.
Dr. Ned Hallowell, a leading authority on ADHD, says it’s like having a turbocharged race-car brain with bicycle breaks. About 11 percent of children are now diagnosed with ADHD, 3 to 5 percent of teens and 4.4 percent of adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers for teens and adults will increase since most don’t grow out of ADHD and are diagnosed later.
What is the impact?
Most importantly, there is not one version of ADHD; it manifests itself in different ways for each person and changes over time. For many, because they process differently than the standard rules required in schools and workplaces, they see more failure than success. There is a shortage of attention because the brain can’t tolerate being bored and will do anything for stimulation. Impulsivity – action without foresight – is what gets many into trouble as well as always questioning authority, questioning rules and frequently changing jobs.
For most, the working memory is weak which causes the forgetfulness. Think of working memory as a 2-inch-by-2-inch Pos-it stuck to your forehead for everything you need to remember. For someone with ADHD, that Post-it is the size of a small postage stamp with room for just one or two things to remember.
What are the superpowers?
Yes, superpowers! An ADHD brain is not defective nor is it slow or incapable of focusing. In fact, the brain goes much faster than other brains and is constantly taking in lots of different stimuli. Since the brain is wired for interest and can hyper-focus, this is when the magic can happen. People with ADHD are imaginative, creative, spontaneous, young at heart, non-conformists, highly observant, excellent at brainstorming, authentic, unique, excellent in crisis due to their hyper focus, have quirky humor, embrace change and are highly intuitive.
Think about ER doctors, entrepreneurs, reporters, scientists, firefighters, electricians, comedians, nurses – all positions that require thinking outside the box. These are filled with ADHDers.
What to do about it?
Have patience, give lots of love and be curious. Due to the now/not now brain, the lack of hindsight and foresight means mistakes will happen repeatedly. Assignments are forgotten, laundry piles up, a promise not kept. It is not on purpose, so don’t get mad. Get curious. Think about the obstacles that prevented success. Help get to the “why” and build from there.
In addition to medication, the solution for many is to work with a trained ADHD coach who will partner to help the person (child or adult) learn to confidently manage their attention, distractions and impulsivity. Most importantly, by reducing frustration and stress and working from a positive strengths-based approach, a trained ADHD coach helps the person get to their true “who.”
What are some resources?
There are many websites, podcasts and books that offer a wealth of insight, strategies and tools about living with ADHD. A few of my favorites are Understood.org, Additudemag.com, Dr. Hallowell’s website and podcast Distraction. Peter Shenkman’s podcast “Faster Than Normal,” CHADD.org, ADD.org, The Child Mind Institute, “Driven to Distraction” by Hallowell and “Square Peg” by Tod Rose.
Don’t squash the ADHD mind, embrace it!
Pleasantville resident Emily Rubin Persons has become a trained ADHD coach and professional organizer. While researching and learning about ADHD for her son, Persons saw a great need for compassionate coaching to help others build skills to have a more balanced and successful life. SKIPcoaching.@gmail.com Skills for Insightful Planning