October 14-20 is ADHD Awareness Week.
By Gail Goldberg, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Therapy Services
“I have always had a motivation problem,” a young adult, often a man, says to me. “I haven’t lived up to my potential. I’m having problems in my relationships and my job that I could have avoided if I had just gotten my act together sooner.” Adults who share reflections like these were not diagnosed with ADHD in childhood; they were simply labeled as behavior problems, disorganized, or unmotivated. Now the hyperactive or inattentive child has turned into an adult who has “issues” in dealing with the complexity of everyday life.
Many people are not aware that ADHD affects adults. They just think of the child who can’t sit still or who “acts out.” But, in fact, about 4.7 percent of adults live with ADHD, and not all of them have the hyperactivity.* Since there is not a simple test to diagnose ADHD, how can you tell if you have it?
If you’d describe yourself as a person who can’t seem to quite “get it together,” ask yourself these questions:
- Are you often late to appointments, birthday parties, and other events?
- Do you often procrastinate or don’t finish a task?
- Are you messy or disorganized?
- Do you make impulsive choices that adversely affect you and your family?
- Do you cause yourself and others frustration as you frantically look for misplaced keys, papers, and other items?
- Are you super-competent in some areas, yet have great difficulty in others?
What about these relationship snags?
- Do you lash out in anger?
- Do you forget to do things your family members or friends ask for?
- Do you get distracted during conversations, no matter how personal?
- Do others consider you selfish?
- Do you make promises and fail to keep them?
- Do you fall into self-criticism and/or apathy?
If this sounds like you or someone you care about, there is hope! ADHD and its accompanying difficulties can be managed with appropriate dynamic strategies. Consulting a psychiatrist who understands adult ADHD and what treatments are effective can be helpful.
Medication is often used as a first step in increasing brain coordination. As a person wrestling with ADHD becomes discouraged, depression and anxiety can emerge. Medication and therapy often help these symptoms, but more treatment may be necessary.
ADHD, we now know, interferes with “executive functioning.” This mysterious term covers organizational difficulties and the patterns described above. I have found that it helps to think of organization in the realms of time, space, and thought processes.
Being on time is possible! The steps toward time management include several ways of coaching yourself.
- Make a To-Do list. This seemingly simple act helps train the mind to break down the task into its component parts. It can be satisfying to check off items on a list, as it becomes an organizing habit.
- Imagine yourself. Picturing yourself ahead of time doing the day’s sequence of activities can help produce action that is more confident and therefore more efficient.
- Be aware. Mindfulness is an important skill, which brings one into the moment with full awareness. For example, practice watching yourself put your keys down. Feel the movement of placing them there. Feel the texture and temperature of the keys and of the table as you place them. Take a mental snapshot of where they are and name the location.
- Change your attitude. Instead of saying, “I am messy,” say, “I am a person who likes things to be in order” — because that is probably true. Deliberately enjoy the process of getting organized! Recognize that you may be a bit of a hoarder, over-valuing things that you could easily do without. Coach yourself, out loud, to put away and throw away at the moment. Use-color coded bins to sort and keep track of things. Life is easier when these acts become habits.
- Remember. Often a person with ADHD has an excellent memory when given memory tests, yet is known to be forgetful! There are hundreds of strategies to bring your senses into play, augmenting your focus. These range from visuals like post-it notes on your bathroom mirror, to auditory cues, such as making up songs and ditties.
- Get it done with stepping-stones. Executive functioning difficulties show up especially in projects with multiple steps and varied tasks. It is difficult to think in the hierarchical sequence required to organize and pay all the bills or prepare a meal for ten people. Concrete, in-sight organizers, such as white boards or index cards, sometimes are more useful than using computer-based organizers. “Chunk” tasks into steps, arrange and rearrange the sequence, add and delete steps. These “step”ping-stones can augment your thinking processes.
Knowing the symptoms and getting control over ADHD can be life changing because it can help you bring more consistency and stability to your life and improve your relationships.
*Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D., Kevin Murphy and Mariellen Fischer, “ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says” (New York: Guilford; Guilford.com, 2008, 2010).
Here are some links to more resources:
By Gail Goldberg, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Therapy Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
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