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  • Holly Eaton

ADHD can be...Oh look! Squirrel!


Life is all about relationships, and all of us struggle with something! So, it's important to learn how to deal with people's struggles (and with your own). Do you know an irritating child or adult who constantly misplaces items or is perpetually late? Do they process their thoughts out loud, rather than thinking them quietly to themselves? Do they fail to listen when you speak, as if they were on a different planet, though they were clearly standing right before you? Do you get frustrated with the fact that, no matter how many times you have told them what their problem is, and no matter how many times they apologize and promise to try harder, their "bad habits" never change? So, are they stubborn or lazy or uncaring?

Consider this. Perhaps this precious person whom you find so annoying is struggling with ADHD. (Perhaps that "irritating person" is YOU!)

Attention Deficit Disorder, with or without Hyperactivity, is a matter of brain-wiring, not of willful behavior, stubbornness, or laziness. The frontal lobe, where executive functions happen, like time management and organization, doesn't work well in those of us with ADHD.

Ironically, the problem is not actually attention deficit (lack of attention) at all. The problem is that the ADHD/ADD brain actually pays attention to too many things. It has difficulty discerning what stimuli to ignore. For example: A familiar song is playing in the background while someone with ADHD is engaged in a conversation or trying to accomplish a task. Their brain has great difficulty tuning out the words to the song, the memory it inspired, vocal textures, or a specific instrument. So remaining focused on the conversation or task at hand becomes unrealistic. Add visual stimulation: a bird landing on a branch outside the window, and kinesthetic input, like the tag in their shirt scratching their neck. Add the awareness of a familiar smell and, well, the ADHD brain lights up in so many areas that it can cause someone to feel like they're drowning in sensory input. Have mercy on this poor soul! And if this describes you, please give yourself grace. You can't help it. Blaming, shaming, and lecturing are never helpful and make us all feel worse.

However, I've heard of some tried-and-true approaches that definitely help people struggling with ADHD:

Structure (or "scaffolding”)

Lacking internal abilities, like time management, attentive listening, remembering, and the ability to organize their internal world or their external belongings, a person who struggles with ADHD is always in need of a way to sort out what's important to focus on in the moment. External tools are crucial: a watch, timer, calendar, daily schedule, an accessible way to make lists, notes (things to remember later), visual reminders of every-day tasks or routines, designated places (labeled) to store important things (like schoolwork, books, I-phone, shoes, purse, keys...), and a checklist posted in plain-sight of exactly what needs to be taken with them on what days of the week. These are a few among many ways to structure, cutting down on stress and increasing productivity. It is especially helpful to have a graceful relationship with someone who understands the struggle and who will patiently walk alongside the person with ADHD, not nagging, but supportively structuring and cheering them on toward success.

Use Colors

I love colors. My calendar is filled with a variety of things to do and places to go every day, and they are all color-coordinated. I write the time and name or place with a flair pen, and I color the backgrounds with colored pencils. I use one color to distinguish my clients' counseling appointments. Another color is used for medical, dental, and mental health appointments (yes, I see a counselor too!). Educational classes or webinars have their own color. I use orange for social activities and purple for things related to church or Bible study. It is visually pleasing and easy to tell at a quick glance what I should anticipate in my day. Throughout graduate school, I used colored pens to take notes, changing the color as the prof slightly changed focus. It kept me tuned into the lecture and helped me when studying for exams.

Interventions

Along with external scaffolding, there are nutritional, pharmaceutical, and neurological interventions that are proven effective, all of which require consultation with qualified professionals. Dr. Daniel Amen has created amazing protocols for various types of ADHD. Neurofeedback has shown great promise without negative side-effects in studies over the past 20 years for resulting long-term success with ADHD, sleep disturbances, and other neurological conditions. For adults struggling with ADHD, practicing mindfulness may be helpful. If you or someone you love struggles with ADHD (or ADD), there is hope! Search online for specifics.

I recently heard some statistics for parents to consider:

-- Until the age of 30, think of the ADHD person as 30% younger than their chronological age. So, if your 16 yr. old wants to get his driver's license, think of him as an 11 yr. old driving that car. If you allow your 15 yr. old daughter to babysit, you need to seriously question the wisdom of trusting a 10 yr. old to be responsible for the lives of vulnerable young children.

-- Until age 20 or so, people with ADHD are twice as likely to die as those without because they are easily distracted, accident prone, and lack impulse control. Another view: ADHD decreases life expectancy by 13 years (twice as much as smoking).

-- Because of frontal-lobe issues, they often fail at functions regarding managing self. They have difficulty with conceptualizing time and don't accurately project ahead, so many people with ADHD make poor lifestyle choices and are accident prone. Therefore, they are three times as likely to die before the age of 46.

I have finally come to realize and accept, now that I'm "seasoned," that God has not made a mistake in the way He fashioned me. I have discovered treasures embedded in my lifetime struggles with time-management, organizational tasks, emotional sensitivity, and a brain that is wired for picking up on a plethora of input. I am very aware of my dependency upon God to succeed in those things He has called and equipped me to do and be. I have great empathy for others who have various life struggles. I am creative and understand what it means to "fight the right fight" rather than spending energy trying to cover up or look good. And I am full of gratitude for healthy, loving relationships with people who accept me as I am and appreciate the gifts that God has instilled in me, right alongside of my deficits.

Life is relationships. And we all struggle. Get the help you need for yourself. And be patient and kind toward others, loving each other with the same kind of ludicrous love with which Jesus Christ loves you.

If you would like to contact me for a counseling appointment, you can email me at holly.eaton@ptlb.com, or call 612-239-4178. My office is located in Rocklin, CA.

God bless us, everyone!

Holly Eaton

P.S. Please consider supporting our counseling ministry here at Principles To Live By. To donate, click HERE. All gifts are tax-deductible and will be used to offset counseling costs for people who need it but can't necessarily afford it. Thank you!

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