ADHD and…

ADHD from a Different Perspective

Attention

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Individuals with ADHD do have a noticeably different way of attending than those who are neuro-typical. I guess, to some who don’t understand ADHD, it may seem that the “inattentive type”, especially, “loses” attention. But if you really take a moment and pay attention, they haven’t actually shut down; they are paying attention to something, even if it’s just the thoughts in their head.

Most people with ADHD will tell you they have an abundance of attention, other things become just SO interesting…and that comes off as distractibility. Imagine walking towards the post office with only 5 minutes left before it closes. You must mail out a package for your boss, but your brain gets hijacked as a car passes by… your mind floods with thoughts of that car, how you just saw it in the coolest commercial, which makes you wonder if you are watching too much TV, and what should you make for dinner?…and you next realize you are 20 yards past the post office, and the lights are off.

Attention when Googled:

at·ten·tion
əˈtenCHən/
noun:
1. notice taken of someone or something; the regarding of someone or something as interesting or important.
“He drew attention to three spelling mistakes”
synonyms: awareness, notice, observation, heed, regard, scrutiny, surveillance

I recently attended the Penn Behavioral Mind ADHD Symposium in Philadelphia where interestingly the issue of inattention was addressed as the “inability to sustain motivation and effort in a subjectively boring situation.” Their suggestion: create secondary reinforcers to get through crushing boredom so as to habitualize behaviors that enable one to “power through the boredom”. The primarily neuro-typical audience was told that ADHD might best be understood as a “Self-Control Disorder”.

While I was thinking that didn’t sound any better than Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the subject of subjective boredom got me curious. This means that what I think of as being boring might be the thing that gets you turned on. For example, my husband LOVES the television show, How It’s Made, on the Science Channel, yet I fall asleep within the first 10 minutes, no matter the topic. Even if it’s on lipstick or shoes, I love both, but how they are made doesn’t even register half a click on my interest scale. I think everyone can understand checking out when they are bored, but the difference for someone with ADHD is that unfortunately, this can include tasks that are vital for good health and happiness, like personal hygiene or safe driving.

Let’s go back to the idea of creating secondary reinforcers to get through our crushing boredom and view yourself as an Environmental Engineer, you have to externalize all aspects in which there are deficits. In other words, if you aren’t going to do it, how is going to get handled? I am reminded of some great advice from the brilliant coach, Jille Bartolome, who explained that when facing tasks that must get done, but they are the ones that do not access your strengths, you can decide to delegate. For example, I hate to clean. In fact, my disdain for cleaning is so intense, I become basically paralyzed and unable to do it. Subsequently, I spent years beating myself up for being so, what…immature?

But, could what was really going on be described as an Interest Deficit? Interest does directly affect motivation. And, although I will never feel motivated about cleaning, I must admit that when the stakes are high enough (such as having friends come over) a sufficient level of motivation is activated. No friend of mine knows the mess I actually create. Truthfully though, I rarely have friends over, so I’ve depended on delegating that task. Thus, an external means for cleaning appears every other week, in the form of a woman named Isabelle, and does the deep cleanse. So, what is really going on here? I am able to clean, but don’t. So, we don’t do things simply because we can, we do things that we WANT to do.

Solution: Create ‘want’ around the things we must do.

Using the example above, the right amount of ‘want’ was manufactured out of my desire to not feel shame or embarrassment. I value what my friends think of me and I want that to be positive. When my friends see me in a positive light, I am happy. My need to be liked is fulfilled. AH-HA! Maybe it’s more about fulfilling a need than upholding my values.

Suggestion: Get clear on what your inner needs and values are so you can begin to live in choice and be your authentic self. You pay attention to what is important to you, so find something important about even the things you don’t want to do. Then externalize your deficits.

photo credit: Hannah. (2012, December 19). Fast Hearts Beating In Time With The Bass. Retrieved March 1, 2014, from http://talllblondieee.tumblr.com/post/38288757161

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NEURODIVERSITY

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Neurodiversity is the concept of embracing the differences in the way each of our brains are wired. John Elder Robison, author of Look Me In The Eye: My Life With Asperger’s, wrote an article for Psychology Today which really described it best, “neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome.”

Through the neurodiversity lens, ADHD, among other neurobiological conditions, does not become something that needs a cure. These individuals are not seen as broken or in need of fixing. Indeed, this idea is becoming increasingly supported by science where ADHD is considered only as some deviation from the standard in the range of cognitive differences.

That’s what I’d like to address right now, our standard of cognitive thinking. I think Jonathan Mooney; author of Learning Outside the Lines, and public speaker, best detailed this while speaking at Oregon State. How we have come to value education, especially reading and spelling, has only come about since the Industrial Revolution. Before that, farming was considered a far more accurate measurement of how smart and successful one was. And before that, back in the times of Greek philosophers, heck, even in biblical times, a talented orator was far more valued than a writer. In other words, these measures of success and value are self-imposed by cultural norms, not objective truths.

“How smart are you?”

 becomes

 “How are you smart?”

Neurodiversity identifies different types of intelligence: artistic, teaching, mathematical, interpersonal, and kinesthetic, among many, many others. This concept is so freeing because it embraces everybody without prejudice. Now, everyone has value, not just the spelling-whiz-kid, and possibilities for contribution and purpose become infinite! As John Elder Robison put it, “Asserting that I am different – not defective – is a much healthier position to take.  Realizing the idea is supported by science is even better.”

So, the whole conversation changes. Neurodiversity does not suggest that culturally inappropriate behaviors be accepted, but that the treatment of individuals with cognitive differences should include help and accommodations. Even these will be unique to individuals; there is no cookie-cutter solution for any issue. This is, in part, why I became an ADHD coach. Coaching addresses each individual uniquely so that they may figure out for themselves what solutions will work for them.

Solution: Embrace the concept of neurodiversity. Find out all you can on the subject, it’s made me a convert.

There are so many people out in the world doing great work in the areas of neuroscience, cognitive behavioral therapy, cultural awareness, education, disability policy, special education (SEPTA), other health clinicians, and community support; there are too many areas to mention in this space.

Suggestion: Go online and search these and other categories for information, just try and stick to reputable organizations, like TED, and individuals, like John Robison and Jonathan Mooney. Ask your doctor, counselor, or others with cognitive differences what they know about neurodiversity and keep that conversation alive using what you learn with your friends and family. Remember, it takes a village.