Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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More Good News for ADD 9-1-08



"Stop fidgeting and listen!  Watch what you're doing!  When are you going to learn from your mistakes?  You’d lose your head if it weren't screwed on!..."  If you grew up with an ADD brain you heard these admonitions too often.  You probably started believing there was something wrong with you.  Well, you have a nonlinear brain in a linear world.  Your attention is great when you are interested, but you are easily overwhelmed, lose focus and especially lose interest when tasks are boring and tedious.  I'll continue my discussion of updated research and new ideas in this article.  It turns out that you were actually helping yourself as a child when you ran around or wiggled, fidgeted and doodled despite teacher or parent criticism.


Organize your life space one area at a time: office, home, workplace, to optimize success.  Feeling overwhelmed because of disorganization is all too familiar. A peaceful and functional environment will decrease this stress dramatically.  The key is organizing for function, not for beauty.  If you use a professional organizer, contract with an organizer trained in ADD organizing.  You must start to reduce clutter by discarding unneeded items, then prioritize essentials and put them in clearly labeled open areas, never behind doors or lost in drawers.  Use clear plastic containers.  Place necessary items where they are most useful and can be seen clearly: for example, keys, glasses, purses or umbrellas hung or shelved by the door. Use staging areas (way stations, temporary areas and project areas.) Start by organizing one home space for yourself to give you breathing room and incentive to attack other areas.  The book "Organizing Solutions for People with Attention Deficit Disorder", Susan C. Pinsky, Fair Winds Press, 2006, is invaluable.  The book addresses all areas of the home and home office with charts, pictures and clearly written text.


Use movement to sustain interest.  Body movement is a major contributor to an increased concentration of beta brain waves and neurotransmitters in the executive areas of your brain.  Moving around and walking is an antidote to boredom.  So plan your day with this in mind.  Morning exercise is great to get your day started, but is not sufficient for the ADD brain.  You can also plan to work while walking around different areas.  Sitting at a desk all day is doomed to failure.  So use varied work areas.  You can, for example,  complete paperwork at your desk, then on top of the file cabinets, then on a table, take a brief walk outside, move to another office area, carry your work to the local coffee bar, whatever will keep your mind clicking away and your interest level heightened. You can use active sitting, for example with a fitball seating disc balance cushion on your chair. Yes, you can and should wiggle and fidget and click your pen, whistle, hum, read out loud, pace, stretch, sing with or without music, whatever you need to keep your brain activated, as long as you're not bothering others.


Maintain interest with multi-sensory stimulation and creative toys or activities.  A must-read book, "Fidget to Focus: Outwit Your Boredom" describes a variety of possible approaches using movement and stimulation to keep the ADD brain energized.  (Roland Rotz and Sarah Wright, iUniverse, 2005.) You can use any or all of your senses.  You can use time creatively, for example racing yourself to complete tasks.  You can use interesting and intense smells for focus such as lemon oil or orange essential oil.  You can engage your taste buds with intense flavors such as sour lemon drops, and you can change temperatures by changing locations or using fans. Watching a fish tank or moving screensaver may provide visual interest. Attractive pictures or posters stimulate more productivity than the bare walls we used to recommend.  Intense color also piques interests, and many ADD brains are enlivened with colorful ink and highlighters as well as fluorescent post it notes.  Action toys and "creative fidgets" are often useful to focus attention, sometimes while working ( ex. playing with something in your hand) or in between tasks (ex. Drumstick Spinology).  As previously mentioned, beta hemi-sync music will provide auditory input for brain stimulation. Interesting resources and websites are listed for follow-up at the end of the book.


Use background "multitasking" creatively.  The ADD brain can be energized by using background stimulation to enhance foreground focus activities.  Although some people with ADD prefer to work in quiet environments, many retain their focus more effectively with background noise or music, even muted TV or radio, as long as the noise stays in the background stimulating the brain while the main activity stays in the foreground.  Yes, you can doodle all you want in lectures or meetings, as long as the doodling does not become an artistic activity which grabs interest away from the listening activity.


Manage time using planners and taskmasters.  Critically important is adoption and use of one organized system to list and prioritize tasks.  Whatever planner or calendar you use, be sure to protect yourself against loss with clear labeling of return information and promise of reward. Paper task lists can be used with priorities labeled A for "do now" tasks, B for "fill-in" tasks, and C for "good ideas" for the future.  Your list can stay in your planner or be added to your PDA.  Additional ideas are to use a digital voice recorder and/or send yourself reminder e-mails or voicemails. Computer programs such as Life Balance by Llamagraphics are available to assist you in going beyond listing and into categorizing, prioritizing, even creative thinking.


You yourself are the most important taskmaster and time manager.  Learn to use auditory and/or visual cues to keep yourself on task.  Whatever system you use, it is essential to remind yourself periodically: "What should I be doing now?  Am I on task or have I become distracted?  What do I need to do to finish necessary tasks?"  Prominent and strategically placed visual notations can add in maintaining task focus as long as the notes don't become part of desk clutter. Use lots of clocks and watches with timers, buzzers, flashing lights or vibrators.  Global Assistive Devices sells creative taskmaster products to keep you on your timeline.  The firm also sells specially designed alarm clocks using a vibrator placed under the pillow or mattress for early morning awakening if this is a problem.


Reduce temptations.  You probably know the temptations which can distract you from necessary activities.  These are the temptations which will not stay in the background but will occupy the foreground of your mind and cause you to lose track of time.  Make a list of these activities and use them only as time-limited rewards.  For example, if you are tempted to read news articles when you turn on the computer, design your start page to be a functional but blank page so you will go right to your task without diversion.  If you love chat rooms or online games, protect them with passwords or make them difficult to access so that you will not be tempted to stray away from necessary tasks.


Manage time when hyperfocusing.  The ADD brain does hyperfocus, losing track of time especially when interested and engaged in a task.  The best approach is prevention.  Establish a timeline and set alarms to make sure that you keep to your schedule.


Choose your work and other activities to use your skills and avoid situations which increase ADD deficits. Inventory your strengths and dislikes and make choices accordingly.  Your ADD brain style will provide you with benefits for certain types of activities but can disadvantage you in other situations.  If for example you are creative, have an active imagination and think out of the box, you would not want to choose a repetitive desk job!    


Techniques to increase self-awareness and self-monitoring will increase your organization and attention to task. Have you been accused of being spacey and distractible?  Do you lose track of possessions?  Multisensory self-awareness approaches are particularly useful to help focus the ADD brain.  Use more than one sense at a time to reinforce and strengthen brain functioning.  You can act with intention, feel kinesthetically the objects you are touching or placing, visualize your actions in your mind, subvocalize to yourself about what, when and where issues, or even talk aloud to yourself when not observed.  Give yourself positive and encouraging messages.  These self-awareness cues can be used, for example, when you are moving your car keys.  See, feel, think, touch and vocalize as you move and place the keys.  Congratulate yourself instead of calling yourself a dummy for losing possessions.  A book which describes this approach is "Finding Your Focus", by Judith Greenbaum and Geraldine Markel, McGraw-Hill, 2006.


Use organizing activities for your right brain.  The book, "Four Weeks to an Organized Life with AD/HD" By Jeffrey Freed and Joan Schapiro, Taylor, 2007, conceptualizes the ADD brain as right brain dominant and describes strategies to gain perspective and plan activities from this point of view.


Manage your emotional reactions to ADD.  An experienced therapist/life coach/ADD coach will be very helpful in managing the roller coaster life of many individuals with ADD.  A written resource for dealing with ADD emotional issues is the fourth edition of a book and handbook by Lynn Weiss, "Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults" and "Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults Workbook" both Taylor, 2005.


Alternative approaches.  Exercise, diet and adequate sleep are important foundations for dealing with any life issue including especially ADD.  Problems in these areas: a couch potato approach, hypo or hyperglycemia, or sleep disorders, all will cause more attention problems. There is some promising research showing that omega-3 fish oils can decrease ADD symptoms while food additives and excitotoxins may increase ADD behaviors.  While research has not shown a clear correlation of sugar consumption to ADD, general health principles do include limiting sugar.  Active approaches to meditation, such as yoga or tai chi, are also useful.  Neurofeedback approaches attempting to rewire the ADD brain have been developed and show some promise, although these approaches tend to be expensive and their long term success has yet to be proven.


Know your rights. ADD problems may qualify for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The Job Accommodation Network, a service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, US Department of Labor, has developed a useful brochure, "Employees with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder" which describes job performance problems possibly due to ADD and provides lists of possible accommodations which may be requested or required under this law.  You can access this at: www.jan.wvu/edu/media/adhd.pdf.


Now for my humor section.  Since I know all of you turn to my articles to benefit from my ”mature” wisdom, here goes a pearl of that wisdom: "Time may be a great healer but it's a lousy beautician!"