Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Your Holiday Home

guest blog by Karen Sampson Hoffman

The holidays are here. Questions like, “Which traditions does our family want to celebrate and continue?” have been answered. It’s the little things that are snowballing that need to be addressed now. Such as cleaning the house.

Getting ready for the holidays at home can test anyone’s patience. With ADHD in the mix, you may get overwhelmed quickly. You may find it difficult to start or stay on task. Can you offer to co-host holiday events with another family member, perhaps even at that person’s home? If that's not going to happen, we've got some tried-and-true suggestions to offer you.

Develop routines
Maintaining a home is such a big project that a few generations ago, nearly every family had a full-time home manager. Today, it is more common that single and partnered adults work outside the home. The challenge can still be met, even with ADHD in the mix.

FlyLady (flylady.net) is the best-kept secret of many CHADD members, according to what they tell us. So named for her love of fly fishing, FlyLady is all about “baby steps” and routines. She explains how to develop a routine to tackle the holiday season and the rest of the year, and her plans and control journals work well for anyone affected by ADHD. Since you design your own routine with her guidance, it will fit the needs of your life.

Make a plan
Scout your dwelling and note what needs the most work, what needs the least work, and the best hiding places for stuff. That includes cramming things under the bed, but only for quick cleanings during the holidays.

Set a timer
Once you have a plan, set the kitchen timer for 5, 10 or 15 minutes. Then attack the first room. Pick up, stuff away, clear out of sight. When the timer dings, reset it for the next room, whether the first is done or not. Repeat the picking up in the second room. Ding; same for the third. Set the timer again, grab something to drink or nibble and sit. Rest for the fourth round. Ding, and you’re back to the first room. Do this until each room is picked up, dusted, and vacuumed and any additional scrubbing is completed. Repeat the process for as much time as you have available. Breaking it up over a couple days or a week is a good thing, too.

Follow these handy tips

  • Leave a second garbage bag at the bottom of the pail, underneath the current one. That way you have one handy in a pinch without having to hunt for it.
  • Keep one extra of each household product — soap, can of soup, paper towels, etc. — on hand. Don’t fill your cupboards with more than you need, but make sure you have a back-up at the ready so you don’t lose your stride.
  • Keep all cleaning supplies together — a mop bucket makes a great container to stick everything in so you can move from room to room quickly.
  • A good rule of thumb: If you use it in that room, find a place for it to live in that room. That goes for brooms (kitchen pantry), vacuums (living room closet), laptop computers and accessories (family room entertainment center), and tablecloths (dining room china cabinet). This works well with cleaning supplies, too (perhaps high up in a cabinet if there are small children in your life).

Heed the voice of experience

The best ideas often come from those who walk the same walk. Here are some strategies submitted to us by CHADD members.

Make running lists. Notebooks and smartphones are great for this. Make a list for everything from groceries to library books, and keep your lists in one place for easy reference.

Limit the number of guests. Make it a small party; a dinner party of six is more manageable than 26. Since this is a holiday season, make use of the time by having two small dinner parties with different guests. Another possibility would be to host a small, intimate party at home, and then make reservations for the larger group at a favorite restaurant.

Call your favorite grocery store and find out about its holiday meals. Many stores now prepare the entire meal at a reasonable cost. Order ahead, pick it up the morning of your holiday meal, and follow the store's reheating instructions. Serve in your own dishes — and who would know?!

Online shopping is good. If the online store includes gift-wrapping, go for it! Have gifts sent to their recipients rather than to you. One wise member pointed out that wrapping gifts as soon as you get them helps to avoid the 3 AM crunch before the big day.

As another wise member wrote to us, “Change the expectations so the holiday works for you, not the other way around.”

If all else fails…

Humor and spontaneity go a long way during the stress of the holiday season. Allow yourself to be creative when faced with a domestic challenge.

Perhaps one of the most creative solutions we’ve heard came from a CHADD member who wrote that he once had a stack of newspapers piling up in the dining room for a couple of years. As company was coming rather soon, he struck upon a plan: He placed a board across the tops of the piles and draped a holiday tablecloth over it. The piles were successfully hidden, and the set-up “didn’t look bad, really.”

With a touch of irony, he added that his newspaper/holiday table stayed in place for a few more holidays before finally making its way to the recycling bin.

Karen Sampson Hoffman, MA, is the coordinator of the NRC's Ask the Expert series. She writes from St. Denis, Maryland. This blog is cross-posted on CHADD's Creative ADHD Parenting blog.

Another version of this post appeared in 
Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Career Choices and ADHD

guest blog by Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, MS

People with ADHD have a wide range of intellectual abilities and interests and therefore pursue a wide variety of vocations. There are adults with attention deficits in traditional careers such as medicine or law, as well as those with jobs that tap their creative and physical abilities, such as art, modeling, acting, electronics, music, computers, or auto repair. Some young adults find that college is not for them and that learning a trade has greater appeal.

For individuals with ADHD, finding a job that can hold their interest and commitment for a long time is critically important. Many prefer jobs that are active, include changes in routine, and involve a variety of different issues or people throughout the work week. Selecting the right career is crucial and will require more planning for someone who has attention deficits. And while this post primarily addresses teens and young adults with ADHD, the advice on making career choices and recommendations of assessment tools apply equally to older adults.

The career selected by a young adult with ADHD should maximize his or her strengths and minimize deficits such as poor organizational skills or lack of attention to detail. Keep in mind that some extremely bright individuals with ADHD excel academically in both high school and college. They may be skilled at many things and have trouble narrowing their job options. Or they may have trouble staying focused long enough to make a career decision.

Identify skills and interests

Identifying skills and interests should be helpful in finding a good career match. Students with ADHD can begin talking informally about these issues with parents and guidance counselors as early as high school.
What do you enjoy doing?
What special skills do you have?
What vocations match your strengths and interests?
What do you do with your spare time?
Are you outgoing and do you enjoy talking a lot? Work in sales might be a perfect choice.

College students can explore job options through career study and personal development classes. Students don’t have to declare a major upon entering college. During the first two years, most students take basic academic requirements anyway, such as algebra, English, and history. Some college courses offer an opportunity to explore career options and to make decisions about a college major. The curriculum may include vocational testing, career discussions, filling out job applications, strategies for job interviews, and writing resumes and letters for job interviews.

Another way to find out more about various careers is to talk with professionals who currently work in the field. Informal interviews can be lined up through personal and professional contacts.

Here are some additional steps a person can take to identify the most appropriate career.

Vocational testing

For students with ADHD, vocational interest testing can be conducted in high school, at a technical institute, or at college to help identify strengths and career interests. Guidance counselors can schedule such testing for high school students. In college or technical school, the student services office can help schedule the testing. Vocational interest testing is usually free for students.

The Strong Interest Inventory is one vocational test that some colleges use. Students answer questions about things they like or dislike. The scores give them a pattern of interests and show how their interests compare with those of successful people in different occupations. Scores are obtained for six general occupational themes:

  • Realistic
  • Investigative
  • Artistic
  • Social
  • Enterprising
  • Conventional
Approximately 115 possible occupations are listed within these themes. Learn more about the Strong Interest Inventory at www.cpp.com.

Computerized career programs

Interactive computer programs are available that explain various careers. For example, Educational Testing Services developed SIGI PLUS, which describes detailed aspects of numerous occupations, including work activities, settings, educational requirements, average income, top earning potential, average work week, and employment outlook. This computer software or simulator programs are available on most college campuses. Talk with staff in the counseling and career planning office at your college or visit www.valparint.com for more information.

Personality testing

The Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory test may provide helpful information to teens, young adults, or anyone involved in choosing a career. Individuals answer approximately one hundred questions about themselves and the way they conduct their daily life. Based upon their scores, one of sixteen personality styles will be identified. This test provides labels for differences in personality that we observe in work colleagues and family members on a day-to-day basis.

The Myers-Briggs identifies opposite extremes of four basic categories:

  • Energy preferences: Extrovert — Introvert
  • Perceptual preferences: Sensing (realistic) — Intuitive
  • Decision-making preferences: Thinking (objective) — Feeling
  • Lifestyle preference: Judging (goal directed) — Perceiving (flexible/spontaneous)

The Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory is an interesting exercise that may help individuals gain insight into their personality, how they think, make decisions, and live. The more a person understands about himself and how he relates to others, the more he may learn to get along better with people and be more productive at work. Many people are curious about who they are and what makes them tick; this test takes advantage of their natural curiosity. Learn more about the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory at www.cpp.com.

A longer version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue! 

Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, MS, has over forty years combined experience in a variety of professional roles, including teacher, school psychologist, mental health counselor, administrator, lobbyist, advocate, author, and publisher. She is the mother of three grown children and grandmother of three, all with attention deficit disorders. She has served on CHADD’s board of directors, executive committee, and President’s Council and was inducted into the CHADD Hall of Fame in 2006. Among her books are Teaching Teens with ADD, ADHD, and Executive Function Deficits: A Quick Reference Guide for Teachers and Parents (Woodbine, 2011) and Teenagers with ADD and ADHD: A Guide for Parents and Professionals (Woodbine, 2006). She coproduced the DVD Real Life ADHD: A Survival Guide for Children & Teens, featuring thirty teens speaking from their own experiences.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Challenges of an Entrepreneur with ADHD

guest blog by David Giwerc

Adults with ADHD are 300% more likely to start their own businesses, writes Garret LoPorto in The DaVinci Method (Media for Your Mind, 2005). While you may find that invigorating, failing to identify and understand your ADHD can have dire consequences for your business. Learning how to harness your strengths and create daily momentum while managing your challenges requires a delicate balance of awareness, skills, and experience. These factors can make or break your ability to create, manage, and sustain a profitable business.

My undiagnosed ADHD affected my success as an advertising executive. It was also instrumental in making me a successful entrepreneur.

In 1984, I was living in Manhattan and working my dream job for a division of one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. I was twenty-eight years old, single, making money, and working with nationally recognized clients and their brands. I wore an expensive, stylish suit and sported the confidence of a young man whose every interaction was a possibility to bring in more business and more money.

As a sports enthusiast, I loved my job. I handled all of the professional sports marketing in stadiums for the giant Miller Brewing Company. I had six field account executives who reported directly to me and were responsible for the NFL, NBA, and MLB teams in their regions. My love of sports and my sincere excitement for my clients’ business goals made this important account a natural fit for me.

Creative stuff came so easily to me. While others spent hours preparing a pitch, I could invent a presentation on a dime and practice it in my head. I knew that scripts didn’t work for me. I was spontaneous, and rehearsing a script would have driven me crazy. I just needed my mind map with its keywords and circles, something I usually jotted down on a napkin or index card.

The creative side of my job came naturally to me, but I dreaded the administrative tasks of submitting expense accounts, writing reports, and the different things going on in the business. It was just brutal. The attention required for these activities had always been a struggle. I knew that if I spent too much time on administrative tasks, it was going to take me away from those areas where I excelled. So, what did I do? I ignored the administrative stuff altogether.

You can imagine the result: Paperwork piled up until it became a small mountain of unfiled reports, unfinished forms, and unanswered correspondence. I became immobilized just thinking about it. It wasn’t that I was lazy or didn’t want to do it. I didn’t know that my ADHD was creating internal neurological battles in my brain. When the task involved people, presentations, projects, and pictures, I was a hundred percent dedicated to doing great work. But with the administrative side, the harder I tried to pay attention, the more my brain shut down. Fortunately, the substantial support staff at the large advertising agency compensated for my lack of administrative abilities.


Years later, when I made the decision to go into business with my dad, a successful builder, I assumed my creative marketing skills would be the magic wand to success, freedom, and financial reward. I never took into account all the support structure I had in place in my corporate position, and assumed my dad would provide those same mechanisms in our new partnership. Big mistake. My dad, albeit super successful, had no administrative support. He had an office and a telephone, and he expected me to take care of the rest.

Our first five years together were a nightmare. Until I discovered my ADHD and was properly diagnosed and treated, I struggled with overwhelming anxiety, emotional volatility, and piles of incomplete paperwork that my dad expected me to complete.

When I became aware that ADHD was a challenge of inhibition that required being able to put on the internal brakes of my mind, I learned to pause to pay attention to what I was paying attention to and focus on what I could do really well.  By noticing the disharmony in my body, I shifted my negative focus on difficult tasks to using my marketing and presentation skills that energized and motivated me. My dad and I were eventually able to convert our struggling business into a successful, respected apartment community.

I almost quit until my dad hired administrative support so I could do what I did well. After working with my dad for over a decade, he was ready to retire and I was ready to help him sell our business. We eventually sold it to a large, diversified, well-run regional real estate management company.


Entrepreneurs with ADHD are full of creative, stimulating ideas, but they need to clearly identify their daily intention. They must see how their attention and subsequent actions are closely aligned with their intentional purpose. ADHD, creativity, and entrepreneurship can be a wonderful team when understood and when the strengths of entrepreneurs are integrated into daily actions.

In 1996, I began my own ADHD coaching practice, working with executives and entrepreneurs with ADHD. I had discovered a significant void in the marketplace. It was the solution for many individuals with ADHD who need the support and partnership of well-trained ADHD coaches who specialize in working with entrepreneurs and executives with ADHD. I was equally passionate about training future coaches to empower people with ADHD to live the life they truly deserve. My attention was focused on my heartfelt intention of creating a training program desperately needed by millions of people with ADHD, and I created the ADD Coach Academy.


Do you think you are a potential entrepreneur? Here are some of the lessons I learned over the course of my career.

  • Understand your unique brain wiring.

Identify how you process information and select tools that can capture your spontaneous, creative ideas in the most productive manner. Even before I knew I had ADHD, I would draw mind maps; circles represented the main ideas and the spokes of the wheels represented the subtopics. I literally came up with campaign ideas and presentation outlines using index cards, napkins, anything on which I could write my spontaneous ideas. I would convert them into strategic ideas, campaigns, presentations, even new product innovations. Later, when I became an entrepreneur, I always carried a pocket notebook to capture ideas that would just pop up in my brain.

  • Identify what you can't do so it doesn’t get in the way of what you can do. 

Pay attention to what you’re paying attention to, identify what stimulates your brain with a positive intention, and pursue it. Administrative tasks are necessary for the maintenance and profitability of your business, but if they’re not the best use of your strengths, you’re going to have a difficult time activating your brain and creating positive forward momentum.

I once had a client who needed a loan to expand his business. He invited the bank to come make a pitch, but right in the middle of the presentation, he excused himself to get a cup of coffee and never came back. Not a great way to get the extra capital you need to expand your business! He wasn’t being rude or thoughtless; his ADHD interfered with the process because it wasn’t the role for which he was best suited.

Delegate roles and specific tasks to those in your company who have the right skills. If the best use of your attention is creating effective presentations and enforcing the mission of the company, don't disengage your brain and make it difficult to gain any kind of positive momentum.

  • Pay attention to your successes and strengths.

Identify what energizes you so you can sustain your business efforts throughout the day. Take breaks and focus on tasks, exercise, or music that provides instant energy, positive emotions, and empowers you to initiate important tasks.

Create a success diary—a notebook, folder, box of pictures, anything that can contain records of your achievements and identify what worked in the past. Keep it readily available. Your success diary externalizes your memories by providing visual or written prompts to remind you to focus on your strengths. By revisiting your achievements, you will become energized and your enthusiasm will energize your employees and customers.

A success diary can help you bypass negative patterns that immobilize you and impair your executive functions. Overcome negative thinking by revisiting successful experiences, which automatically evokes positive memories and emotions that provide positive energy to activate your brain.

  • Identify support for challenging tasks.

When you go into business for yourself, you must identify what kind of support you need for tasks that derail you but are crucial to the financial success of your business. You must also identify what support you will need in order to use your creative strengths daily.

  • Respond rather than react.

Pausing to contemplate your best options gives you the ability to consciously respond versus spontaneously reacting to business situations as they arise. Without putting on your mental brakes, you cannot access your best options. You will have a tendency to react with old patterns of behavior/action that have not served you well in the past.

A longer version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!

David Giwerc, MCC, MCAC, BCC, is founder and president of the ADD Coach Academy. For over fifteen years, his coaching practice has been dedicated to empowering entrepreneurs and executives who have ADHD. He serves on the advisory boards of the Professional Association of ADHD Coaches and the Attention Deficit Disorder Association. Giwerc is the author of Permission to Proceed: The Keys to Creating a Life of Passion, Purpose, and Possibility for Adults with ADHD (Vervante, 2011).

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Can I Ask for Workplace Accommodations?

guest blog by Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA

You know about accommodations for students with ADHD at school, but you may not know what is available for adults with ADHD in the workplace. If you are aware that you can ask for accommodations at work, do you know how to do it? Do you know how the rules are different at work versus school?

Fortunately, the Job Accommodation Network has everything you need to know on the topic — from deciding whether to ask for accommodations to information on which accommodations to request and how. Best of all, their services are free and confidential.

JAN is funded by the US Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy and operated in collaboration with West Virginia University and private industry. Its purpose is to provide guidance to employees, employers, clinicians, and government agencies on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. JAN's goal is to work toward practical solutions that benefit both employer and employee. According to co-director Lou Orslene, in 2011-2013 JAN served over 45,000 customers through its consulting service, supported over 3.3 million webpage requests, and provided more than 150 trainings.

Work law vs. educational law

It’s important to recognize that the laws governing accommodations in educational settings are different from those governing the workplace. Therefore, the protections available and the process of acquiring accommodations also differ. “The working world is different because the intent of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act is to level the playing field for individuals with disabilities,” according to JAN principal consultant Beth Loy. “This means that the ADA prohibits discrimination in all employment practices, which is different than requiring schools and parents to work together so that a student in public school receives an appropriate education.” An employee must be able to perform the essential functions of the job, perhaps with the assistance of reasonable accommodations.

A common misconception is that certain conditions are designated as qualifying for protection under the ADA, and therefore an individual with one of those conditions is automatically granted accommodations. Rather, it is the individual’s performance that matters. If a diagnosable condition (such as ADHD) impairs someone’s ability to perform the essential job functions, then he or she can ask for accommodations under the ADA. However, someone can have a diagnosable condition, but if it does not significantly impair their function in this specific job, then the person is not entitled to accommodations.

One does not need to qualify under the ADA in order to access JAN’s services, however.

What are reasonable accommodations?

While there are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes “reasonable,” since it depends on the circumstances of the job and employee, JAN consultants can provide guidance and potential solutions for a specific situation. A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.  This also includes adjustments to ensure that a qualified individual with a disability has rights and privileges in employment equal to those of employees without disabilities.

Many employers are hesitant to talk about accommodations because they fear they will cost too much. However, employers often report that the benefits employers receive from making workplace accommodations far outweigh the low cost. “In 2012, employers reported that providing accommodations resulted in such benefits as retaining valuable employees, improving productivity and morale, reducing workers’ compensation and training costs, and improving company diversity. These benefits were obtained with little investment. The employers in the study reported that a high percentage (57 %) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $500,” said Lou Orslene. In addition, tax incentives and funding through other organizations can reduce the financial cost.

Possible accommodations for ADHD

Because people with ADHD work in all sorts of jobs, it is difficult to provide accommodations that will be helpful in every setting. However, “the most common accommodations discussed in this area involve allowing extra time (additional training, longer test times) and reducing distractions (headset, white noise machine),” said Beth Loy. “Individuals may need organizational cues such as electronic organizers, flow charts, and checklists as well. These types of job accommodations are very successful and low in cost.”

Some of these accommodations can be quite creative as well. One employee who worked in a cubicle contacted JAN for ideas on how to reduce distractions from overhead fluorescent lights and air flow from above. The solution involved CubeShields, which mounted to the cubicle walls and blocked those distractions (cost: just over $30 each). Another employee worked in a computer server room and was frequently distracted by the constantly blinking lights from all the equipment. The individual was accommodated with LightDims stickers that block most or all of the light (cost: less than $10 per pack).

You can find a list of possible accommodations for ADHD and other condition on the JAN website. This list can give you specific ideas, as well as a sense of what is possible.

Should you ask for accommodations?

Maybe you are worried about the possible repercussions for disclosing a disability and requesting accommodations. This is an individual choice and is informed by the quality of the relationship between the employee and employer. Sometimes you can ask for accommodations without invoking ADA or disclosing anything. For example, you can ask to move to an unoccupied desk in a less noisy area by explaining that you will get more work done there. If you frame the request as being to the employer’s benefit also, most will be happy to discuss it with you.

If you feel you need to go through more official channels, Beth Loy offers some guidance. “First, disclose when you need an accommodation. In general, you should disclose your disability when you need to request a reasonable accommodation — when you know that there is a workplace barrier that is preventing you, due to a disability, from competing for a job, performing a job, or gaining equal access to a benefit of employment like an employee lunch room or employee parking. Don’t wait to disclose until after you begin to experience work performance problems. It is better to disclose your disability and request accommodations before job performance suffers or conduct problems occur.”
(The question of whether to disclose a diagnosis of ADHD was covered in detail in the April 2009 issue of Attention magazine.)

How to ask for accommodations

Unlike in educational settings, there is no single way to ask for accommodations in the workplace. In general, the employee with a disability is responsible for letting the employer know that an accommodation is needed. Though not required by the ADA, JAN suggests that employees ask for accommodations in writing (see Ideas for Writing an Accommodation Request Letter on the JAN website.) If your employer has its own form (ask human resources), then it is probably best to use that. Be aware that an employer has the right to ask for information about your disability and to request a medical examination, but it must be job-related and consistent with business necessity.

An earlier version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!

Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA, a psychologist in private practice in West Chester, Pennsylvania, is the author of Understand Your Brain, Get More Done: The Executive Functions Workbook (2012) and More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD (2009). He is a member of the board of directors of CHADD and a contributing editor to Attention magazine.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

More Friendship Boosters

 guest blog by Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA

Last week on this blog, I addressed the importance of friends for adults with ADHD and discussed a few ways to enhance and protect those friendships. For adults with ADHD who want to improve their ability to build and keep supportive relationships, it's important to manage expectations and be open to fair criticism. Let's look at these two friendship boosters this week.

Manage expectations

Since we can’t see inside other people’s heads, we have to make the best guesses we can based on what we see. This leaves a lot of room for error, especially because we all tend to assume that other people do things the same way we do. Undiagnosed and untreated ADHD very much lends itself to this kind of misinterpretation. I sometimes say that ADHD is a disorder of actualizing good intentions or of turning your intentions reliably into actions. Therefore, you may need to work a little bit harder to ensure that people are clear about your intentions, especially when your actions might suggest otherwise.

When you can, it’s even better to set things up ahead of time, before anyone gets the wrong idea. This is where expectation management comes in—that is, actively managing the expectations that other people have of you, telling them what they should and shouldn’t expect you to do. Because ADHD affects an adult’s ability to consistently do what others expect, expectation management is an especially important skill to develop.

For example, if you tend to run late, you may want to tell a new friend, “I’m really bad at getting places on time. I try to, but I still tend to run late a lot more than I would like. So if I’m late getting to the restaurant, just call me and I’ll tell you when I’ll get there. Better yet, call me before you leave to make sure that I’m not running too far behind. If I’m really late, order an appetizer and it’s on me.” This way the friend doesn’t expect you to be on time and then get resentful when you’re not.

This doesn’t mean that you get a free pass whenever you tell someone that you’re not good at something. Most people probably won’t go for that one-sided arrangement. Rather, expectation management has the goal of preventing bad feelings, misinterpretations, and resentment.

We all make our own choices in life. It isn’t your job to be perfect for anyone or to make choices for others. However, by being clear about what you do and what the other person can do in response, you are both in a better position to be happy in the friendship.

Be open to fair criticism

Friendships should have more good moments than bad, but conflict, anger, frustration, and disappointment are an inherent part of relationships. So the challenge is to find a way to deal with these other emotions in a manner that doesn’t interfere too much with enjoying the good parts of the relationship.

If your goal is to have a strong friendship that lasts over time, then you need to be able to be honest with each other. This means not just the good news, compliments, and things that you agree on, but also the bad news, criticisms, and disagreements. You may not always like what you hear, but it may be good to hear it.

We all blow it sometimes. If you have ADHD, especially if it's untreated, you probably feel as if you blow it a lot more than you wish. Fortunately, treatment can improve your batting average. For those other times, the ability to offer a good apology is a great skill to have. When you need to mend fences, remember to take the following steps:

•    Admit what you did wrong, even if it wasn’t your intention.
•    Recognize the impact on the other person.
•    Say what you will (try to) do differently in the future.
•    Make amends, if necessary.

You may not have complete control over your ability to do all the right things at the right times, but you do have the ability to fix things afterward. Remember that the hallmark of a good friendship is resilience—the ability to rebound from trouble spots. We’re judged only partly by our actions, but mostly by our intentions. A good apology may not change the action, but it can reveal the intention.

This post originally appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
Join the conversation about adult ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

A clinical psychologist based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA, specializes in diagnosing and treating children, teens, and adults with ADHD. He is the author of More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD (Specialty Press, 2009) and Integrative Treatment for Adult ADHD (New Harbinger, 2007). He is a member of the CHADD board of directors.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Friendship Boosters for Adults with ADHD

 guest blog by Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA
ADHD is definitely not an invisible condition. It may not always be obvious why people with ADHD do the things that they do, but there won’t be much doubt about what they do. Therefore, part of managing your ADHD involves managing how you relate to other people.

Although we all make the occasional social blunder, most people are pretty forgiving if it doesn’t happen too often. However, those with ADHD tend to use up their free passes too quickly, causing others to make deeper assumptions about their character. As a result, people with ADHD can be seen as irresponsible, self-centered, or rude, even though they’re really not (or at least not any more than anyone else!).

As in other parts of their lives, adults with ADHD know what they should and shouldn’t do but have trouble sticking with that plan. They know they should pay attention to people and remember what they are told, but they find their attention wandering. Or they interrupt people for fear of forgetting their comment before the other person stops talking. They too frequently put their foot in their mouth. They may express both positive and negative emotions strongly, which can overwhelm some people. They may also miss the nonverbal cues that are so important in social interactions or run late too often.

It’s important to remember that when it comes to improving your relationships and friendships, you don’t need to strive for perfection. Often, some partial improvements are enough to make things much better and create a situation where your positive qualities outweigh the negative feelings the other person has about your ADHD-based behaviors.

Real-life friendships have suffered in our cyber-driven world, yet they are just as important as ever. Adults with ADHD need good friends too. Supportive relationships have an important protective effect for both our mental health as well as our physical health. Five ways you can boost that benefit include:
  • Know yourself.
  • Find good friends.
  • Consider disclosure carefully.
  • Manage expectations.
  • Be open to fair criticism.
This week, let's talk about the first three friendship boosters.

Know yourself

In order to be able to manage your relationships effectively, you first need to know yourself and what you want. What do you expect from your friends? What are you willing to give in friendships? With what sort of people do you get along best? What sort of people get along best with you? What are you willing to be flexible about and what won’t you budge on? These answers will make it easier to find what you’re looking for.

Find good friends

It’s much easier to be a good friend if you start with people who are good friendship material; that is, people who are a good fit for you. They appreciate your good qualities and are willing to overlook or at least tolerate the things about you that they don’t appreciate—and vice versa. Sometimes we stay with the same friends out of habit, even though we may have outgrown them. Or perhaps they were never really great friends to begin with, but they were there, so we kept them.

Because of prior social difficulties, some adults with ADHD will settle for friends who don’t treat them very well or who make them the butt of too many jokes or negative comments. Even though it isn’t always fun, they tolerate it because it’s familiar and at least they can keep the friendship. Although I understand how this can develop, I would hope for better for them. So it may be worth thinking about the dynamics in some of your friendships. Are you treated with respect and fairness? If not, it may be worth politely pointing it out and asking for a change. If ADHD-related behaviors have made you the easy target in the group, then working on your ADHD gives you much more credibility to ask to be treated better. Of course, your friends have the right to continue doing what they do, but you also have the right to find other friends.

If you feel like you need some new friends, the easiest way to find them is to look around at the people that you already know as acquaintances. Are any of them possibilities to be promoted up to friend status? You can also put yourself into situations where you can meet some new people. Your local CHADD chapter is one obvious place, but look for situations where people gather. You may need to try a number of things before you encounter someone that you click with. You probably will also have to try a few times before anything comes of it. Don’t take rejection personally—not everyone is interested in making new friends, so it isn’t anything about you.

Of course, if you’re one of those folks who get bored with people after a while, you’re more likely to hang in there if you start with interesting people. It’s fine to have multiple shorter friendships, but it’s helpful to have at least some longer ones.

Consider disclosure carefully

I’m often asked by clients and audience members at presentations about whether someone should tell friends about having ADHD. There are no right or wrong answers, since it depends on the circumstances, the openness of the person with ADHD, and the trustworthiness of the other person. My hope is just that the decision to tell someone is well thought out, rather than impulsive or based on what turn out to be shaky assumptions. To read more about this topic, see my article, “To Tell or Not to Tell,” in the April 2009 issue of Attention magazine.

NEXT WEEK: It's important to manage expectations and be open to fair criticism.

This post originally appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
Join the conversation about adult ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

A clinical psychologist based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA, specializes in diagnosing and treating children, teens, and adults with ADHD. He is the author of More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD (Specialty Press, 2009) and Integrative Treatment for Adult ADHD (New Harbinger, 2007). He is a member of the CHADD board of directors.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

ADHD: Don’t Like the Name? There's Still Hope!

by Jeff Copper, PCC, PCAC, MBA

People seeking an ADHD diagnosis often ask, “Can’t they change the name?” Others find the term ADHD so off-putting that they refuse an evaluation, even when life isn’t working very well.

Authorities on ADHD understand completely. After all, they became ADHD professionals to help people. But could there be reasons to keep the name intact? Let’s take a closer look.

Look up the word “deficit” in the dictionary and you’ll find definitions that include phrases like “falls short,” “a disadvantage,” “a loss,” “a lack.” Look up “disorder” and you'll find phrases like “lack of,” “irregularity,” “a disturbance.” “Deficit” and “disorder” make up half to two-thirds of the labels “attention deficit disorder” and “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

How negative can you get? Both terms bully the mind of the innocent and ignorant away from hope and toward despair. They blind people to hope and possibility and suggest giving up.

Hope inspires; it propels and ignites. Despair victimizes and disempowers. So, why don't we change the label? Why not pick a new name? Simple solution, right? Wrong!

Dr. Russell Barkley’s executive function deficit disorder construct focuses on ADHD as a self-regulation issue and not so much as strictly a deficit of attention. In an interview with Dr. Barkley on Attention Talk Radio, I asked him, “Why not change the ADHD label, just change the name?” He responded:

Well, I doubt that it will be changed. I know in DSM-5 it won’t, but there’s a very practical reason for that. It’s not because science hasn’t shown this isn’t an executive disorder. It is.

It’s that the term “ADHD” appears in so many laws and regulations and rulings and protections and in schools and in the Americans with Disabilities Act and in the IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act], the Social Security Administration, that if you change the name of a disorder those laws don’t apply any more to the people with the new name, and you can disenfranchise them from a lot of these hard-won protections and the civil liberties and the entitlements they’ve won over the last twenty years. So, we don’t change names of disorders too quickly, because we know that there are legal, political, and just practical side effects from doing so, and we don’t want to be too cavalier about that.

I have to admit this wasn’t the answer I was looking for, but his argument has merit. While the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t have a Rosa Parks-like figurehead, this was a major effort by many individuals, some of whom faced personal hardships to move this forward. The protections, civil liberties, and entitlements hard-won over the last twenty years have changed lives! They have enabled countless individuals with ADHD to live fulfilling lives more easily.

If you are affected by ADHD you are being asked to “take one for the team” and to make a sacrifice for the greater good by accepting this name. Most likely ADHD has caused you or your child some inconvenience. Will one more inconvenience be that much of a bother, if it would “un-do” protections put in place for those with ADHD?

In the end, we don’t despair over the ADHD label, for there is hope. There is hope for a better tomorrow in the ADHD community.

We’ve come a long way... even though we aren’t so thrilled with the name!

This post originally appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
Join the conversation about adult ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

A certified ADHD and attention coach based in Tampa, Florida, Jeff Copper, PCC, PCAC, MBA, specializes in coaching adult individuals and entrepreneurs who have been diagnosed with ADHD later in life. He is the host of Attention Talk Radio and Attention Talk Video. Learn more at digcoaching.com.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Breezing into Summer, Part Two: Get into Vacation Mode

guest blog by Terry Matlen, MSW, ACSW

Last week's blog talked about transitioning into your summer routine at work. But summer also means family vacations, which are supposed to be relaxing. Camping trips, beach outings, a week in the woods... it’s something you dream about all year, and as the time draws near, you’re practically jumping out of your skin, raring to get out of the rat race and into your bathing suit. But jumping out of your daily routine into vacation mode can literally make you feel like a fish out of water.

Adults with ADHD have a notoriously difficult time dealing with transitions, even good ones. Going on vacation means switching out of work mode to days of nonstructured, free time. At work, you typically know what’s expected of you, and at home, you and your partner keep the whole family on schedule and manage all the details of daily life. When you’re on vacation, you’re still to trying to “manage”—but without the routine—and the change can be unnerving. What time should you wake up? When do you eat lunch? What do you do with all your free time? Read? Hike? Swim? Your hyperactive brain is searching, but it no longer has a road map to guide you.

Transitioning from work to play can be difficult for anybody, but for the adult with ADHD, the initial feelings of being lost can be more intense, and the adjustment period is often longer. It’s ironic how the one thing you crave—time off—can actually backfire and cause you stress whether you have inattentive ADHD (body in slow motion/brain in overdrive) or hyperactive ADHD (brain and body in overdrive). If you struggle with hyperactivity, relaxing might not be part of your makeup. When you’re used to full days at home and at work, and then suddenly find that there are no demands, no places to go, no one to answer to, and you’re suddenly “doing nothing” (such as reading or strolling the beach), it can feel like stepping off a cliff into a gaping void. The change is that drastic. This “free falling” can kick off some serious anxiety and/or depression.

Your ADHD brain needs to focus on something. It craves stimulation. If you’re an inattentive type, you may go more inward, but you still need something to focus on outwardly, like writing, painting or some other quiet activity. If it doesn’t find some sort of focus, it can succumb to negative thinking, such as ruminating, worrying, or obsessing.

Then just as you’ve settled into vacation bliss, it’s time to transition back to work and home, thereby stirring up the anxiety pot again. It seems that you just can’t win. The good news is that there are a few things you can do to help make your transition into summer go more smoothly.

Tips for transitioning into summer vacation

Here are some suggestions to help you ease into your summer vacation.

•    Be sure your vacation matches your temperament. If you are drawn to excitement, go for high-adrenaline activities. If you crave solitude and tranquility, consider peaceful surroundings with quiet activities. Try to balance your active time versus kick-back time.
•    If possible, plan ahead so that you don’t have a massive heap of work waiting for you when you return to work. This might mean taking on a bit more work before heading off on vacation.
•    Remember that though you’ve left your home and work behind, you’re still traveling with your ADHD brain. You need to take into account that change can be difficult. Few adults with ADHD will admit that taking vacations can sometimes cause more stress than staying at home: There’s the planning, packing, traveling, settling in... all things that may be difficult. There’s the expectation that you are going on vacation to have fun, so when you find yourself struggling to switch out of work mode into vacation mode, don’t beat yourself up. Be patient and give it some time.
•    Plan ahead. Before heading out to your destination, make a list of things you’d like to do once you arrive. This added structure will prevent you from letting the days fly by without a plan and will help minimize potential anxiety and/or depression. Be sure to include downtime in your schedule!
•    Acknowledge that it may take you more time than it takes others to transition. Let your body gradually get used to the time and rhythm change.
•    Try to keep certain things consistent, like sleep schedules and mealtimes. These can be your constants to help keep you grounded.
•    Build in other routines throughout the day, such as a walk after lunch.
•    Coming home is yet another transition, so be easy on yourself. Upon returning home after vacation, ease back into it. Don’t plan any big events or important meetings as soon as you return. Allow yourself to gradually get back into your routine the first few days back home.

Following these tips should ensure an easy transition to and from vacation so that you can enjoy your time off to the fullest.

A longer version of this post appeared in the June 2014 issue of Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
Join conversations about managing adult ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

Terry Matlen, MSW, ACSW, is a psychotherapist, consultant, and writer, specializing in ADHD. She is the author of Survival Tips for Women with ADHD: Beyond Piles, Palms and Post-Its and The Queen of Distraction: How Women with ADHD Can Conquer Chaos, Find Focus, and Get More Done and the founder and president of the popular website, ADDconsults.com. A nationally recognized speaker on ADHD, she is immediate past coordinator of the Eastern Oakland County CHADD chapter in Michigan.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Breezing into Summer, Part One: Easing the Transition at Work

guest blog by Terry Matlen, MSW, ACSW

 Summertime, and the livin' is easy... or is it? One would think that a slower pace at work, while bosses and coworkers are taking their vacations or enjoying long weekends at the beach, would be just what the doctor ordered for the stressed-out adult with ADHD. Less chaos and office politics to deal with, a quieter environment, a slower pace, right? But for many, transitioning into the slow, quiet summer days at work or taking off on family vacations doesn’t always equate with “easy” and often causes more anxiety, not less. How can that be? There are a number of reasons for this.

As an adult with ADHD, you may need the energy from those around you to help you stay charged, attentive and on track. It can be extremely difficult to stay focused on work-related projects and meet important deadlines without the routine and stimulus of having colleagues around you. Knowing your boss or supervisor is in close proximity and/or checking on your progress can help provide the accountability you need to keep plugging away until the job is done. But when the boss is away, the mice will play. Your ADHD brain needs structure and external expectations to hold you steady.

No two people with ADHD look the same or have the exact same symptoms. The person with the hyperactivity component might struggle more when things are too quiet and calm, whereas the person with the inattentive type of ADHD might find the calmness around her helpful in getting more work done, but there’s still that need for accountability. Not having that stabilizing force around can leave you feeling lost at sea.

Though most people without ADHD jump at the chance to slow down during the summer, either at work or by going on vacation, it’s not always easy for the adult with ADHD. Changing routines is often difficult, in general, and summertime is no different. Recognize that you will need to prepare ahead of time for these transitions so that you can maintain your productivity at work or enjoy a happy, carefree vacation.

Tips for transitioning into summer at work

Here are some suggestions to help you ease into your summer routine at work.

•    If your boss or supervisor is ready to head out on vacation, clarify with him/her what is expected of you while s/he’s gone. If there are upcoming projects with deadlines, mark them in your planner.
•    Make a visual schedule to give you additional structure. Post it where you can see it throughout the day.
•    Use a checklist system to give yourself immediate positive reinforcement for tasks completed.
•    Utilize electronic reminders to help you stay on track. Smartphones have beepers and messages you can program. Computers have software programs to help you stay on task.
•    If you’re comfortable, buddy up with a coworker who can help you stay accountable.
•    Schedule in physical activity such as taking a brisk walk three times a day.
•    Use this time to get out and make new contacts or sales. Plan ahead to attend conferences, do on-site visits, networking events, and/or other activities that are structured and will enable you to interact with other people.
•    Turn off the sound indicator ("ping") on your email and the ringer on your phone to cut back on distractions.
•    Set specific times of the day to read email, such as morning, just after lunch, and at the end of the day so you don’t get lost in the email/Internet abyss.
•    Use a timer for tasks and give yourself a reward when you finish a task, such as taking a walk to the water cooler or having a short chat with a coworker. Just be sure that you don’t become a source of distraction for others in your efforts to keep yourself stimulated!

A sudden change in the surrounding workflow can be unsettling to say the least, but planning ahead and feeling prepared can make all the difference.

NEXT WEEK: Tips for Transitioning into Your Summer Vacation

A longer version of this post appeared in the June 2014 issue of Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
Join conversations about managing adult ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

Terry Matlen, MSW, ACSW, is a psychotherapist, consultant, and writer, specializing in ADHD. She is the author of Survival Tips for Women with ADHD: Beyond Piles, Palms and Post-Its and The Queen of Distraction: How Women with ADHD Can Conquer Chaos, Find Focus, and Get More Done and the founder and president of the popular website, ADDconsults.com. A nationally recognized speaker on ADHD, she is immediate past coordinator of the Eastern Oakland County CHADD chapter in Michigan.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Try a Goal-Oriented Summer

guest blog by Abigail Levrini, PhD

 Ah, the lazy, carefree days of summer: barbeques and impulsive eating that lead to weight gain, frequent shopping and vacations that lead to debt, irregular sleep cycles that lead to exhaustion… sounds fun, right? Yes, summer should be fun, but not in that self-destructive sort of way!

Why not use the summer months to accomplish something, whether you continue working on old goals or set new ones? Instead of feeling stressed and depressed come fall, by setting your summer goals now and creating a plan, you will feel much better once the leaves start to change—and you can still enjoy the occasional barbeque as a guilt-free reward for your hard work.

With my adult ADHD clients, I find much of the year is spent on goals related to executive function either in the workplace or at home. Goals linked to time management and organization are the most popular during fall, winter, and spring, when people are under pressure in their workplaces to meet deadlines and children are in school (also under pressure to meet deadlines).

Then comes summer. For an adult with ADHD, it’s a little bit like going from the rigorous routine of boot camp to the free-for-all of spring break in Cancun. Fun, yes, but it can leave you hung over and full of regret.

Looking at it from another angle, summer is a perfect two- to three-month time frame to set and reach those goals you aren’t able to focus on during the rest of the year. Improving exercise and nutrition, developing good sleep habits, nurturing relationships, spending time on a hobby, improving your financial outlook, or planning for the future are examples of good summer goals.

Golden rules for goal-setting

The first step toward improving the ability to set and reach goals is to learn how to create an effective goal. In Succeeding with Adult ADHD: Daily Strategies to Help You Achieve Your Goals and Manage Your Life (APA, 2012), Dr. Frances Prevatt and I offer the following golden rules for creating an effective goal:

1.    Make your goal measurable.
2.    Make your goal process-based.
3.    Make your goal time-sensitive.

Let’s start with the first golden rule. In order to make goals measurable, you need to define them in such a way that after a period of time you can produce an evidence-based yes or no answer to the question, “Did you accomplish your goal?” In other words, how will you know whether you have exercised more, eaten better, improved sleep habits, spent time on your hobby, and so forth?

Secondly, making a goal process-based ensures you will consistently monitor and focus behavior in a way that will not only help you to achieve the goal, but more importantly, learn to understand your behavior along the way. For example, it is not enough to say that you will run a 5K by the end of the summer if it means you will sit on the couch eating potato chips until the night before the race, and then lay on the couch in pain for weeks afterwards. Instead, focus on the process. What will you do on a weekly and even daily basis to make sure you achieve your goal with quality results?

Finally, make the goal time-sensitive. Simply put, you must include a deadline by which time your long-term goal should be accomplished, otherwise it is left out in oblivion to dangle forever and ever. The trick here is to be realistic. Don’t think that although you haven’t read a book in two years you will be able to read nightly for the next month. People commonly make this mistake when it comes to things like exercise and nutrition as well (an important part of ADHD symptom reduction). If you haven’t set foot in the gym for five years, don’t aim to run that 5K in three weeks. It’s not going to happen. Remember, any amount of goal-directed behavior you engage in is most likely more than you were doing the week prior, and that is something of which to be proud. A realistic goal may be to get to the gym once a week all summer long, which may not be ideal but is better than not going at all.

Breaking goals down into smaller steps

Once you have created your goals, the next step is to begin the task of breaking down your goals into smaller, weekly “baby steps.” Because a two- or three-month summer goal can seem big and overwhelming, now that it has been recorded, put it aside. Now focus on the very first step you will need to take in order to eventually reach your goal. Think small. Think easy.

For the first few weeks, your job is to set (and complete) objectives that are well within your capabilities. By doing this, you will increase your confidence, enabling you to slowly take on more and more challenging objectives. For example, if you created a relationship goal centered on reducing arguments and communicating better with your spouse by summer’s end, your first week’s objective may be to record what are the current pitfalls in your communication. If you created a goal to exercise more frequently, maybe your first week’s objective is to talk to two active friends about athletic activities that they find fun and interesting.

When writing down your weekly objectives, be as specific and detailed as possible. It is not enough to write, “Run two miles.” Instead, attempt to specify how, when, where, and what you are going to do: “After work, take twenty minutes to change and stretch. At 6:30, go for two-mile run from home to the high school and back at an easy pace.”

Don't feel you need to work on every summer goal every week. Tackle your top-priority goals first. You may also have more than one objective pertaining to only one goal. The art of creating weekly objectives that are “not too big and not too small” can be a challenge for anyone. Don’t hesitate to enlist the help of a coach, counselor, or friend to help you map out your goal-directed behavior.

Finally, but perhaps most important: Reward yourself for meeting your weekly objectives and your overall summer goals. Relax poolside with a glass of lemonade after swimming several laps to work toward your exercise goal, watch a movie with the family after your vacation planning session, or enjoy a glass of wine on the deck after you and your spouse spend some time practicing “active listening.”

For achieving your overall summer goals, indulge in a slightly loftier reward you can look forward to all summer long—one that will help you stay motivated. Dance the night away at an outdoor concert or have a fun, carefree, relaxing night on the town. After all, fun is what summer is all about, right?!

A longer version of this post appeared in the June 2014 issue of Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
Join conversations about managing adult ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

Abigail Levrini, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and ADHD specialist with nearly a decade of experience as an ADHD coach and counselor. She has published numerous scientific articles on ADHD and presented her coaching model in professional settings throughout the country. She is a recurring speaker for CHADD and served as the board president for the DC/Northern VA chapter of CHADD 2009-2012. She has been a featured expert on NAMI's Ask the Doctor podcasts and is coauthor of Succeeding with Adult ADHD: Daily Strategies to Help You Achieve Your Goals and Manage Your Life (APA, 2012).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Best ADHD Advice Ever

guest blog by Katherine McGavern

If you’re reading this blog, odds are good that either you have ADHD or you live with someone else’s ADHD. Early on in your ADHD travels, you heard about or read the solid statistics showing that the most successful ADHD management comes from the use of both properly prescribed medication and behavioral training.

You are probably looking for another new strategy, one more idea, some fresh thinking about or unique approach to the management of this quirky brain. You may already have read many of the thousands of articles about ADHD management and medication and even attended workshops and classes. You should be doing these things, because when you live with ADHD, the more you—and your loved ones and colleagues—know about it the better.

But you are wasting your time if you think that any of these inventive approaches and new theories will work unless—before the meds and before any behavioral training—the three critically important foundational elements of ADHD management are in place. So, what are these fundamentals? Sleeping, eating, and exercising—or SEE.

I know what you’re thinking right now: “Seriously? Thank you, Captain Obvious.” And under normal circumstances, your indignation would be warranted. Who doesn’t benefit from sleep, food, and exercise?

But hold on. We’re not talking “normal circumstances” here. We’re talking about the fact that ADHD is a neurobiological condition, and the fact that ADHD brains are demonstrably, measurably different from non-ADHD brains, in ways modern neuroscience is finally allowing us to see and analyze for the first time ever. A brain that is physiologically unusual will naturally produce behaviors that are also unusual, and unfortunately, often problematic, such as:

  • impulsive, interruptive blurting out of inappropriate comments
  • a disinclination to make or follow any work plan
  • the habit of starting one project after another and leaving most unfinished
  • the chronic inability to be on time, or to judge correctly the amount of time required for a task, or to keep to a schedule
  • an inability to stop working on a project when good judgment or circumstances say it’s time to stop
  • a disinclination to perform any administrative tasks—even urgently required ones—because they “feel boring”
  • frequent forgetting, regardless of importance
  • a lack of awareness of the impact of all of the above.

So what’s so important about those three fundamentals, regular sleep, eating, and exercise? ADHD brains are (or can be) like wild animals. Unconcerned with the conventional limits of time, or rules, or oughts and shoulds, this brain is happiest going where it wants to go, when it wants to go, and staying there as long as it wants to stay! For all its amazing positive attributes—resilience, inventiveness, generosity, big-heartedness, originality, a great sense of humor, spontaneity, and kindness, to name just a few—it can also be, well, a brat. An ADHD brain really likes having its own way, and it has no qualms about hijacking your schedule or putting you in the doghouse yet again while it spins through space entertaining itself.

Imagine trying to control a powerful, unbridled horse that’s galloping full-tilt toward a cliff… or having to drop everything you’re working on to charge after a much-loved but unruly and untrained dog that’s racing out of sight. Remember the tiger in Life of Pi? How it took all the wits and skills and stamina Pi had to keep that tiger from eating him? Like that tiger—extremely dangerous, but manageable with skills and determination.

An ADHD brain can take you on an unbidden mental chase in a nanosecond, undoing all your best intentions and leaving a pile of unfinished business, missed appointments, hurt feelings, and deep regret (among other things).

If you have ADHD, you need to be in your best possible shape every day to manage this powerful, free-spirited brain, because if you don’t manage an ADHD brain, it will manage you.

For people who don’t have ADHD, eating, exercise, and sleep are almost discretionary in terms of impact on their effectiveness and output. But for people who have ADHD, proper eating, exercise, and sleep are mandatory. They provide the energy, strength, clarity, and staying power that’s needed hour by hour, day by day, every day, to stay in charge.

You simply cannot develop the tools you need to keep this brain under control all day, every day if you’re tired, or your blood sugar is low, or you’re out of shape and running on empty. So before you use one more new calendar, download a snappy new app, buy five more clocks, or adjust your meds, make sure these three fundamentals are in place every single day:

  • SLEEP enough. Every night. Whatever it takes. On a regular schedule if possible. No all-nighters. (Okay, maybe one a year when you’re on a roll, if you must; ADHD brains love all-nighters.)
  • EAT enough. Make sensible choices, at regular intervals. No skipping, even though some meds may make skipping easy. Don’t do it. Do not skip meals. Periodic healthy snacks which provide both protein and fruit sugar will keep you alert and productive all day. And always have water nearby; hydrate throughout the day.
  • EXERCISE enough. At a reasonable, not a killer level. At least three times a week, though daily is best. Thirty minutes is fine. Use it to kick off a work block, or to take a break from one. Just do it.

Post these three points where you can see them every day, and pay attention to them—if, instead of being run around by your ADHD brain, you want to be the one who’s in charge.

Katherine McGavern coaches adults with ADHD and is a certified Parent to Parent teacher. She presents talks on ADHD to teachers (K-12), community organizations, and parent groups; provides training on ADHD to student teachers at The College of New Jersey; and is a member of the editorial advisory board of Attention. McGavern is a co-founding member of CHADD Mercer County, and facilitates at their monthly meetings in Princeton, New Jersey.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Choosing Apps for Executive Function Challenges

 by Therese Willkomm, PhD, ATP, Stacy Driscoll, MEd, and Linda Beliveau

If you have issues with executive functioning, you probably have issues with organization. It seems cliché to say it, but there’s an app for that. As a matter of fact, there are many apps out there that keep you on task and scratching things off your to-do list.

Don’t just download the first organizational app with high ratings, however. When you have ADHD, you need to consider exactly which features will help you the most—and which ones might send you over the edge.

How do you enter information into the app, and how is it conveyed to you? If it takes five steps to enter a reminder about an appointment, it’s not the app for someone challenged with cognitive demands. Think about the steps in having to recognize the prompt, take action, find and open the device, tap on the app, put the device away, and then execute the task. It’s best to focus on apps that have few steps in the stimulus-response sequence.

It doesn’t have to be typing that gets information into an app, though. There are apps that use voice, video, pictures, icons or gestures, and more for the input piece. For the output, you might decide you want to get pictures as reminders, or videos, music, alarms—the list goes on. Wearable technology is becoming more popular, too. You can also set the level of engagement with an app. A banner prompt appears across the top of a device and disappears—but an alert shows up in the middle of the screen and is harder to ignore.

Wearable technology is becoming popular, too. The Pebbles Watch receives reminders from your cell phone, as long as it’s within fifty feet. When your watch vibrates, a quick glance at your wrist tells you to take action. As a bonus feature for those with executive function deficits, the watch can help you find your cell phone (ever misplaced that?). Just push the middle button and your phone plays the music you’ve chosen—even if it’s in silent mode.

Today nearly every device comes equipped with a camera app and an app to organize photos. These apps aren’t just for cute photos of kids and pets. You can document and organize anything with pictures or videos. Lose receipts often? Take photos of them and put them into a designated folder. Have trouble remembering the steps to complete a certain task? Take photos or short video clips, save them in a folder, and you’ll have the directions whenever you need them.

Of course, apps are a tool, not a treatment. They’re not all universally beneficial to everyone with ADHD. Still, with a little exploration and consideration of features, there’s no doubt that apps can help reduce the cognitive demand in completing tasks and organizing information. 

Here are some popular apps available on Apple's iOS platform that people affected by ADHD have found useful.


- Simple Tailor Software
Alarmed ~ Reminders+Timers - Yoctoville
Any.Do - Task & To-Do List, Task Manager, Daily Reminders & Checklist Organizer - Any.Do
Calendar Alarm—CalAlarm 2 - DEVART
2Do - Guided Ways Technology Ltd


Priority Matrix
- Appfluence LLC
30/30 - Binary Hammer
KanPlan - Houda Hamdane
Awesome Calendar - YunaSoft, Inc.
iSecretary - Ernest LS
Inspiration Maps - Inspiration Software
Popplet - Notion


- AssistiveWare
Book Creator - Red Jumper Studio
Picture Scheduler - Peter Jankuj
Forgetful - IBEX
Choiceworks - Bee Visual

A longer version of this post appeared in the December 2014 issue of Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
Join conversations about managing adult ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

Therese Willkomm, PhD, ATP, an associate professor in the department of occupational therapy and director of ATinNH, the assistive technology program at the University of New Hampshire. Stacy Driscoll, MEd, an assistive technology assistant at ATinNH, is the founder of LifeLong Assistive Technology. Linda Beliveau is the technology integrator at ATECH Services.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Peeling Mangos and Eating Bananas Upside Down

 by Kirsten Milliken, PhD, ACC

This week I was standing at my desk (yes, I have a standing work station and I love it!) and looked across the room to see a co-worker peeling a mango. He was just about to eat it like a banana. “Wait!” I said. “Are you really peeling that mango like a banana?” “Yep! It’s just one of the ways I’ve learned to eat a mango.” Brilliant! I love mangos and always just want to pop one in my lunch bag, but figure it would be too messy to eat. This man had just peeled the skin so the mango looked like a flower. It was not only a great idea, it looked beautiful.

On to the second part. We had a whole conversation about how to eat various fruits. He apparently had much experience in choosing and eating exotic fruits. I know mangos aren’t that exotic. My question to him was how he ate a banana. I once heard in a movie (someone can tell me which one it was, because I forgot) that monkeys eat the banana from the opposite end that we peel them from. It’s true—it’s easier to eat a banana “upside down.” And doing so provides much more interesting conversation than doing it the “regular” way.

What the heck does this have to do with play? It was just something I noticed that I thought looked pretty and was a cool idea. I took the opportunity to have a playful conversation about eating fruit. Now you know: Almost anything can end up in this space. Because almost anything can be looked at in a playful way.

Got a story to share? Start or join a conversation on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

Kirsten Milliken, PhD, ACC, is a licensed clinical psychologist, a certified ADHD coach, and the founder of PlayDHD. She lives in Portland, Maine, with her two amazing children and two really freaky dogs. Dr. Milliken is passionate about helping those with ADHD communicate about the ways that ADHD affects them and coaches them to develop skill sets that build on their strengths in order to manage the day-to-day challenges of ADHD. She created PLAYDHD to create a specific awareness of the connection between ADHD and the value of play. Her website, playdhd.com, is dedicated to the art of using play in managing symptoms of ADHD, achieving goals, and enjoying life. She is an active member in the ADHD Coaches Organization (ACO), CHADD, Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA), International Coaches Federation (ICF), and a graduate of the ADD Coaches Academy (ADDCA). She regularly presents at ADHD conferences on the subject of play. She also hosts the PlayDHD podcast, is a frequent guest and former co-host on Attention Talk Radio, and contributes to various other websites serving the ADHD community.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Planning for Every Life Chapter

guest blog by Wilma Fellman, MEd, LPC

We have volumes of materials on how to deal with the symptoms of ADHD in school and in the workplace. But have we considered ADHD in the so-called retirement years?

More people than ever are retiring from their major life’s work and wondering what to do with the rest of their lives. Since many are leaving their careers at younger ages, analysts predict that this group will not be seen rocking on the porch waiting for its favorite game show to start. This high-achieving group has no intention of fitting in to the old image of a retiree. Instead, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that “due to the aging baby-boom generation, workers ages fifty-five and older are expected to make up over one-quarter of the labor force in 2022.” 

If we think about the lifespan in chapters, we see that there are five:
  • The Young Student
  • The Post High School Student
  • The Young Worker
  • The Major Work Achiever
  • The Post Work Selector
 Most folks are used to planning for chapters one through four. Those of us with ADHD know all too well the necessity and value of careful planning for those first four chapters in order to get to that Major Work Achiever stage as comfortably and effectively as possible. But few of us give any thought or preparation to the fifth chapter.

Many adults with ADHD have spent years with tutors, coaches, medication, counseling, and strategies in order to maximize our strengths while minimizing our challenges. Yet all too often we totally ignore doing any planning, creating any support systems, and giving any thought to what will make the fifth chapter—the "retirement" years—the best one yet.

Time to reevaluate ourselves!

As we did for chapters one through four, adults with ADHD need to undertake a systematic process and reevaluate ourselves, noting current strengths and then mapping out a plan that will do more than simply fill time.

If we were wise early in life—or had the benefit of others around us who were wise—we systematically gathered facts about ourselves. This information pointed us toward an area of life work that would allow us to shine and be the best version of ourselves. With such knowledge, we'd be self-aware enough to know what works for us and what doesn’t—and (equally important) why. We would then be able to make better life and career choices and accomplish more of our goals.

A systematic approach to career and life planning would look like this:
  1. Understand how our interests, skills, and accomplishments together match with certain job clusters in the World of Work.
  2. Evaluate our personality, values and aptitudes in order to identify how these factors add into the layers in #1.
  3. Identify how our early career dreams, energy/focus patterns and school/work habits add into the mix of #1 and #2.
  4. Look at our success/challenge patterns to see how they have affected schooling and/or work histories. Identifying patterns (using #1- 3) is essential to problem-solving and conquering the barriers.
  5. Develop a concrete plan based upon the “hard data” of putting layers 1-4 on top of each other, with the knowledge that there is now sound reason to believe the plan will work.
  6. Establish a plan for long-term support, identifying strategies, accommodations, and modifications needed for continued success.
If the systematic approach to career and life planning works for chapters one through four, wouldn't it enable folks retiring from their main career to begin their next chapter with a fresh look at what currently makes them tick? Is it instant? No. It takes roughly eight to ten weeks to collect, synthesize, and understand what makes us tick. But the payoff is huge in terms of finding what really works for us.

Wouldn’t taking the time to reevaluate our strengths and challenges again result in better and more exciting choices? Think of the possibilities!

A longer version of this post appeared in the February 2015 issue of Attention magazine, available through our free app, which you can download on the App store. Current CHADD members can access it through the app at no extra cost.

You can also start or join a conversation about ADHD and "retirement" on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

Wilma Fellman, MEd, LPC, has been a career counselor specializing in ADHD, learning disabilities, and other challenges, for more than thirty years. She is the author of Finding a Career that Works for You: A Step-by-Step Guide to Choosing a Career (Specialty Press/ADD Warehouse, 2006).