Have you ever caught yourself saying, “Oops! Having an ADD moment!”? Unfortunately ADD/ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is something that not only has become over-diagnosed but also has found itself used constantly and comically: “Sorry I forgot to bring the root beer – I’m so ADHD!” And although it has become a punch line, a comedic end to a story, for those who truly have it, ADHD is far from fun.
ADHD is something that affects a person and the people in their lives – from family members to coworkers. In this article I will first describe ADHD from both a child’s and adult’s perspective, and I will offer practical tips to help.
Alex* is a 10-year-old boy in the fourth grade. Alex was held back in preschool and has struggled in school for some time. Through no fault of his own, Alex is a frustration to his teachers and other kids around him. He has an IEP (Individualized Education Program) and has seen the school counselor on more than one occasion. He has undergone hearing and vision tests to help rule out why he struggles in school. He often misses out on fun activities such as class parties due to behavioral issues and awesome field trips because he simply forgets to take the permission slips home to his parents.
Now, I want you to put yourself in his shoes for a moment. Close your eyes for a few seconds and prepare to be Alex as you read this.
“Today was a horrible day for me. I woke up late and my mom yelled at me because I couldn’t find my backpack or my shoes. I also forgot to set out my clothes for today like she told me to. I made my mom late for work and I’m afraid she will lose her job because of me. When I got to school my homeroom teacher yelled at me because I forgot to do my math homework. The other kids got 10 minutes of free reading time but my teacher made me do the homework. I hate math. I don’t get it. I don’t understand it. My teacher always gets frustrated because she shows me over and over again how to do the problems and I still don’t get it. I also get yelled at because I move around too much and draw on my pages when I should be paying attention. I just can’t help it. Today I got so frustrated with my math homework that I tore it up right in front of the teacher and got sent to the principal’s office, and he lectured me about the importance of learning and being respectful to the teachers. I was sad. I felt so bad. Later I had to go to reading. I especially hate my reading class. The teacher is nice to everyone else but me. Today she made all the kids take turns reading a paragraph in a story. I hate when we do that because I don’t read good. When it was my turn I had my head down on my desk hoping she would forget about me. She called my name and a few of the class bullies looked at me smiling – they ALWAYS laugh at me when I try to read out loud. I tried to read the paragraph but the words were so huge. I slowed down and used my paper ruler to underline each word and practiced sounding the word out slowly like I had been taught, but the kids kept giggling. I stopped reading and my teacher told me I would get an extra assignment if I didn’t participate with everyone else. I got angry and threw my book across the room. Sometimes I make gross noises so at least the kids laugh at something I did on purpose. Other times I ask to go to the bathroom and I just cry. My grades suck. I suck. Everyone hates me. I hate myself.”
Now picture yourself in Adelia’s* shoes. Adelia in a young woman who struggled throughout high school and into adulthood. She works in an office but is in danger of losing her job because she constantly makes mistakes and loses things necessary for the completion of tasks. Sometimes she forgets to turn in work on time and has forgotten to answer important emails. Let’s look at a day in the life of Adelia from her point of view:
“I woke up late this morning and am in a rush to get to work. This happens almost every day. I know I need to get to bed earlier but I fall so behind in everything all the time that I need to stay up late to get work done. Honestly, sometimes I go to bed late because I start a project and then get distracted by a million other projects. I can’t seem to ever just focus on and complete one thing. My wife was frustrated with me also. She was looking forward to going out to dinner tonight with me and now I will have to stay late at the office. Things have been rough with Vanessa* recently. She is annoyed by my flakiness, my failure to return texts or calls, my forgetfulness in paying bills that result in us paying extra fees, and the fact that I make us late to everything. She thinks I have no common sense and also accuses me of not caring about her because I interrupt her a lot when she talks. I really don’t mean to. Anyway, I spent 15 minutes trying to find my car keys and when I got to work I was reprimanded for both being late and for failing to return an email to a potential client that cost us their business. My friends make jokes about me all the time. I am the friend that they have to give a different meeting time to make sure I arrive on time. They think it’s hilarious, but I think I’m a failure. I also struggle with things I want to do. I used to love reading. Now I can’t read more than a few sentences without getting distracted by my phone or other things. WTF is wrong with me?”
Perhaps you are reading this and I have just described your kid. Perhaps I have just described you. ADHD is frustrating no matter the age. Below are common symptoms for kids and adults struggling with ADHD. Do any resonate with you?
- Feeling “on the go” or driven by a motor
- Disruptive behavior
I Think My Child Might Have ADHD. What Do I Do Now?
In children, ADHD may show up as behavioral issues and is often mistaken for Oppositional Defiant Disorder. If your child is showing signs of ADHD, the best thing to do is take them to a pediatrician or pediatric psychiatrist for testing. This does NOT mean automatic medication. Once ADHD has been tested and confirmed, your child’s physician or psychiatrist will help come up with a game plan including counseling with qualified therapists and will help you work with the school to set your child up with an education plan that will help him or her succeed. Medication may be advised. I imagine as a parent it would be difficult to medicate your child, but if they can’t have even small victories in school because they can’t focus, their self-esteem could suffer and their behavior can follow suit. Ask yourself if you would medicate your child for a rash or a serious medical illness. If the answer is yes, please consider treatment for your child for ADHD if the doctor recommends it. Most doctors that treat children for this only prescribe if it’s absolutely necessary. ADHD is a lifelong frustration that can be managed if it’s caught, diagnosed, and treated.
Little Victories: Lifestyle Changes to Help Kids with ADHD
While you navigate possible meds, therapies, and education plans for your child, there are things you can do at home to support him or her:
- Set timers. FOR EVERYTHING. Figure out what the most trouble spots are in a day and set timers for them. For example, your child keeps getting distracted and is often late for the bus. Have three or four timers or alarms, each with a different sound or severity. One alarm could signal breakfast, and the next alarm could signal getting shoes on, and the final alarm could signal that it is time for the bus.
- Create a schedule in the home and stick to it as much as possible. The schedule should include schoolwork, play, chores, and other important family activities.
- Bedtime is crucial. Establish a nighttime routine. Make sure all phones/tablets/devices are removed from the room. Believe it or not, even when the screens are black they emit a blue spectrum light that disrupts sleep.
- Work WITH your child when it comes to homework. Find out their learning style. Experiment with study styles and figure out what works. They may do well with 15 minutes of study at a time followed by five minute periods of moving about. They may need to come home and play for a half hour or run around or ride bikes outside before they start their homework.
- Offer prizes for victories, such as 50 cents for each day they have less than three interruptions, etc.
- Comply with the doctors and therapist recommendations.
- Give them so much praise! They need it.
Little Victories: Lifestyle Changes to Help Adults with ADHD
- Comply with your doctor’s recommendation for treatment. Your doctor may prescribe meds and encourage you to go for ADHD coaching or counseling.
- Set timers. Yes, adults can benefit from timers too!
- Set goals for yourself and reward yourself for completing the goals.
- Find a job or career that will work with you and not against you. Everyone with ADHD is unique. Some thrive in a fast-paced service industry such as working as a barista, bartender, or server. Sounds weird right? There is so much to have to remember! However, some people thrive because they are always moving and things have to be done at a faster pace so there is less time to forget them. Figure out what’s right for you.
- If you are a student, learn HOW and WHERE you study best. Some people need to be at a library; others do well at coffee shops or bookstores. One thing to try is studying with a friend who is good at keeping you accountable. Set a timer for 45 minutes and get to work. When the timer goes off, set a 10-15 minute timer and look around or grab coffee and a snack. Then set the 45 minute timer again and get back to work. Get creative!
- Buy the book More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD by Ari Tuckman. This book will change your life. It is a FANTASTIC resource for adults and will even help if you have a child with ADHD. It is written for the ADHD reader and it’s beyond user-friendly. Order it. Now.
ADHD doesn’t have to be the end of the world, and while it’s frustrating, it’s also very manageable. The trick is to diagnose it, treat, and stay on top of it. Let us help! Contact Deepwater Counseling at 734.203.0183 ext. 700 and get the help you or your child deserves.
*Names and details have been changed to protect privacy