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Have you ever walked into an electronics store and seen a dozen flat screen televisions arranged along one wall? Now imagine yourself standing there while each of the screens displays a different program. As you watch the televisions, imagine you are asked to look at every blue item on every screen. Your brain quickly scans from monitor to monitor, looking for anything that is blue: a coat, the sky, or a car. After a few minutes you are instructed to find everything round. Now you look frantically for things like tires, doughnuts, and faces. Finally, after a few more moments, you are told to stop and report what the weather is going to be like for the next five days. You look up and see that the screen directly in front of you has just finished the five-day forecast. You missed it.

Imagine the frustration and confusion you would feel at this moment. You would feel tricked or betrayed by the person giving you instructions. Now imagine that it was your own brain that had instructed you to pay attention to the wrong things. This is what it's like to have attention deficit and/or hyperactivity disorder.

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Contrary to what most people think, a person with ADD/ADHD can in fact pay attention to things. They do not lack the ability to focus. In the example above the person was attentive and quick to notice patterns and could see hidden relationships between different images. But since the ultimate goal was to know the weather forecast, the result was failure.

People with ADD/ADHD don't lack the ability to pay attention; they have difficulty controlling what their mind focuses on. For parents or teachers looking from the outside, it appears as though the person with ADD/ADHD simply has a short attention span. This is because they may not be able to focus on the particular thing they are supposed to focus on. In a reality, a person with ADD/ADHD can have a very long attention span, but they cannot turn it on or off at will. Something has to “capture” their attention. This is why an ADD/ADHD child can have amazing abilities for concentration in one area and virtually no ability to focus on something else. Such a child might have memorized all the facts and statistics in their massive baseball card collection, but be unable to pass a simple history test in school. Such failures are not a lack of will-power or effort. The ADD/ADHD person can have the best intentions and make heroic efforts to pay attention to the right things, but their mind betrays them.

The terms ADD (attention deficit disorder) and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) are often used interchangeably, but they are not exactly the same. People with ADD and ADHD have difficulty controlling their focus and attention. People with ADHD have additional problems with impulsivity and hyperactivity. The hyperactive person is always on the go. They move from one thing to next, often completing none of the tasks at hand. They are driven as if by a motor and have difficulty sitting still.

The impulsive person will speak or act without thinking about the consequences. Such a person might suddenly blurt out something inappropriate. An impulsive child, for example, might suddenly hit another child for no apparent reason. When asked why they did it, they will often answer honestly by saying “I don't know.” For someone who is impulsive the idea and the action are the same. If an idea enters their head, they can feel compelled to act on it.

Even though ADD/ADHD presents some major challenges for those who have it, it also has some powerful advantages. Many have the ability to hyper-focus in certain areas, so that all other distractions are blocked out. It may be difficult to get their attention, but when in this state of mind, they can accomplish remarkable things. Others have the ability to divide their attention between multiple things, something that few people are able to do effectively. You will learn about some of these advantages in this guided solution.

Even though there are some differences between ADD and ADHD, throughout this guided solution, we will be using the umbrella term ADD/ADHD. The treatment and exercises we suggest will apply to both types. We will provide you with steps that will assist you in understanding your own issues or the issues of those you love who have ADD or ADHD. More importantly, you will learn how you or your loved ones can maximize their potential and take advantage of the unique gifts that are associated with ADD/ADHD.

Step 1 - Take the ADHD Evaluation

If you have not already done so, please take the ADHD evaluation now. You can take it for yourself or you can take it for someone you are concerned about. This assessment includes 28 questions and is designed to help you see if ADHD is affecting your life or the life of someone close to you.

This evaluation is geared toward ADHD. The first 17 questions assess inattention and the last 11 questions assess hyperactivity and impulsivity (the “H” part of ADHD). If you have ADD (without the “H”) your score will be lower.

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Step 2 - Learn the Causes of ADD/ADHD

In order to make positive changes, it is important to understand what causes ADD/ ADHD. Once you understand where it comes from and what causes it, you can effectively treat it.

Causes of ADD/ADHD - In this exercise you will learn the primary causes of this condition and separate fact from fiction.

As you just learned, ADD/ADHD is a biological and/or neurological problem. It is the result of brain chemistry and abnormal development in different parts of the brain. It is important to know this because it affects treatment and provides a better understanding of the problem.

Today, scientists believe that different components of ADD/ADHD are related to slight abnormalities in the frontal lobes (which control reasoning and judgment) and parts of the basal ganglia (which control some motor activity).

You can think of the prefrontal cortex (or the frontal lobes) as the part of the brain we use to make plans and the basal ganglia as the place where those plans get carried out. A problem in either of these areas can cause the symptoms linked with ADD/ADHD.

You can learn more about the about the biology of ADHD in this article from Dr. Jared Maloff.

Read Article

Some studies suggest ADD/ADHD is related to the connectors that link different parts of our brain. These chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, allow the brain to function normally. Without them a message from one part of the brain does not get communicated to another part, stopping the thought from getting put into action.

Stimulants are very effective in treating ADD/ADHD. It is not clear why stimulants work, but the belief is that people with ADD/ADHD have decreased dopamine, a chemical vital to the brain working properly. Lower levels of dopamine mean some signals are easily lost. This causes the person to become distracted. Stimulants raise the dopamine to a normal level. This increases the transfer of signals and normalizes the ability to focus attention.

Some experts think that hyperactivity is not caused by the brain. They suggest that it is just a way people with ADD/ADHD try and stimulate their own brain in order to stay on task. This helps explain why fidgeting can help with concentration. This article by Lynda Williams explains how moving about or fidgeting may actually help you focus on the task at hand.

Read Article

Step 3 - Understand the Different Types of ADD/ADHD

When you see the name attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, you may be left with the idea that attention deficit and hyperactivity are the only two components that comprise the disorder. This is a common misconception based on the name alone. In fact, there are three core components that make up ADD/ADHD

  • Inattention (attention deficit)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity

Our evaluation divided these into two parts. We tested inattention separately. Hyperactivity and impulsivity were tested together since these two are usually linked. But in real life one person with ADD/ADHD can look very different from another person with the same condition. This is because each of the three components may be present in varying amounts. One child with ADD/ADHD may struggle in school. Another child may get good grades but struggle to behave well in class. Yet another child may be well-behaved and get good grades, but have problems keeping track of tasks or appointments.

What Breed of Dog Are You Most Like? - In this quirky and fun exercise you will identify which components of ADD/ADHD are strongest in you.

You may have questions about whether you or someone you care about has ADD/ADHD. These are of serious concern. Understanding ADD/ADHD can make a huge difference in whether you get the help you need or continue to struggle.

Linked here is the response to a question asked of Ms. Lynda Williams, a credentialed teacher and author, about symptoms of ADHD. Listen and see if your symptoms line up.

Expert Response

Step 4 - Discover the Positive Side of ADD/ADHD

To this point we have been talking about the difficulties someone with ADD/ADHD may face. Although ADD/ADHD can create some difficult challenges in life, there are also some positive traits linked to ADD/ADHD.

Positive characteristics of many people with ADD/ADHD:

  • Extremely intelligent
  • Visionaries/dreamers
  • Insightful
  • Creative
  • Artistic
  • Passionate
  • Compassionate
  • Creative thinking/ problem solving
  • Endless energy
  • Spontaneity
  • Great passion for interests
  • Ability to multi-task

Some symptoms of ADD/ADHD that may be a problem in a younger person may turn into positive traits when they are older. For example, hyperactivity may cause quite a few problems in a young person, but as an adult this person may enjoy the endless energy. They may have the ability to accomplish more and be productive for long periods of time.

Impulsivity, when managed well, can manifest itself more as spontaneity. People who are spontaneous can find sudden and unexpected joy in life by trying new things and breaking out of a routine. Spontaneity also allows a person to look at a problem from a different point of view and come up with creative solutions.

Other positive traits are evident in people who have ADD/ADHD from a very young age. Children and adults with ADD/ADHD tend to have rapid and quick thinking minds. They have the ability to think outside the box. Many are able to hyper focus and therefore accomplish extraordinary things in areas they feel passionate about.

The Positive Side of ADD/ADHD – In this exercise you will discover the upside of ADD/ADHD by matching positive attributes with characteristic symptoms.

There are many famous and successful people in history who have demonstrated symptoms of ADD/ADHD. Albert Einstein struggled with schoolwork and failed several courses, including math. Einstein, of course, went on to make great contributions to the world of science. Many experts believe Einstein had ADD/ADHD.

David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue Airways, has been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. Mr. Neeleman has a positive take on his condition. He once said, “Along with the disorganization, procrastination, inability to focus, and all the other bad things that come with ADHD, there also comes creativity and the ability to take risks.”

Michael Phelps has attributed his success as a swimmer and Olympic champion in part to his ADD/ADHD symptoms. The ability to tune out everything else and concentrate for a long time on one thing is the ability to hyper focus. Michael Phelps uses this ability when it comes to practicing swimming. He can focus so intensely on swimming that this single-minded thinking drives him toward perfection and success.

Having ADD/ADHD does not mean that you cannot achieve or reach your goals. On the contrary, the positive characteristics of ADD/ADHD, such as the ability to think outside the box and solve problems in new ways, certainly helps some people with ADD/ADHD make important contributions in a variety of fields.

Famous Folks with ADD/ADHD - This exercise will help you see what people with ADD/ADHD can achieve. Some people say their success came in spite of having ADD/ADHD. Others say they were successful precisely because of it.

When you look at your own situation or that of a loved one with ADD/ADHD, you can do so without seeing it as limiting. It can be a gift that allows you to see the world and live your life in a unique and original way.

Step 5 - Practice Strategies for Managing ADD/ADHD

Your ADD/ADHD may have you crying out for some answers you can use now. This step will provide you with a couple of easy ways to help focus your attention today.

Strategy 1: Break Tasks into Bite-Sized Chunks

One of the challenges of living with ADHD/ADD is the difficulty with organization. This lack of organization can affect you in all areas of your life. Getting things done at work or remembering what you need at the grocery store can be hard to do. Sometimes, seemingly ordinary tasks require a great deal of effort to complete.

Try this: Choose a task you need to accomplish. Now break the overall task into a list of the individual components of the task. If they have a particular order in which they need to be done, list them in that order. List even the smallest details.

Example: Cleaning out the garage

  1. Pick up trash and place in trash bins
  2. Make a pile of items to be donated to charity
  3. Assign a place, such as a shelf, for tools, storage, gardening, etc.
  4. Place items on their appropriate shelves
  5. Sweep floor
  6. Take out trash
  7. Get items to charity donation center

As you accomplish each task, check it off the list.

Accomplishing Tasks One Step at a Time - This exercise will help you make larger tasks more manageable and easy to do.

Strategy 2: Use Selective Multi-Tasking to Focus Your Attention

Have you ever been driving in heavy traffic and felt the need to turn down the radio so that you could concentrate? Have you ever been speaking to a group and felt frustrated that some of your listeners were apparently doodling on their papers instead of listening? Many people assume that people can only give their full attention to one thing at a time. The truth, however, is a little more complicated than that.

Generally speaking, the human mind performs best when focusing on one thing at a time. But there are circumstances where multi-tasking actually helps a person with ADD/ADHD concentrate and stay focused. Multitasking can help a person with ADD/ADHD concentrate on the primary activity, if the secondary activity uses a different perceptual sense and is easy to do. For example, a student who is studying his biology textbook may benefit from listening to music. The primary task (reading) uses sight. The secondary activity, listening to music, keeps his mind from wandering away from his biology textbook. Another example is a person who doodles during lectures. By using sight and touch to draw, the doodler can keep his mind focused on what he is hearing. Doing two things at once actually focuses the ADD/ADHD brain on the primary task.

You may have to experiment to find the activities that help you focus your attention. Try a few. You will find a sense of comfort and confidence when you find one that works for you.

Strategy 3: Take Advantage of “Short Attention Span”

Even though an engaging topic can keep a person with ADD/ADHD focused for hours on end, the more mundane tasks present a problem. People with ADD/ADHD often struggle to hold still and pay attention to less-engaging tasks. In these cases, their attention is short indeed. If that is the case for you, sometimes it is easier to just embrace that characteristic and use it to your advantage. You can do this by planning to spend only 10 minutes on a task and then allowing yourself to move on to another task. You will return to the first task later.

Strategy 4: Take Advantage of Your Inclination to Be Moving

You can also embrace your body's inclination to always be on the move and apply it while you are working. You may find, for example, that reading is easier for you when you are riding your exercise bike. It may also help you if you do your paperwork while standing rather than just sitting at the table.

It's a good idea to experiment with short periods of attention and finding ways to move your body while you work. The following exercise uses both strategies as a way to accomplish some of your more tedious tasks.

Round Table Focus – This exercise creates a working environment that will take advantage of your individual attention span and the need to move your body.

As you experiment with different strategies, you will find that some things work better than others. Everyone is different and will have different methods for focusing their attention. We recommend that you ask your friends with ADD/ADHD about their methods for focusing their attention.

Step 6 - Learn More about Managing Your ADD/ADHD

Managing attention deficit and hyperactivity is not something we can completely address in a few short steps. You need to continue to get more education and learn additional strategies that will work for you. These steps take time, but this guided solution should give you a start on managing your ADD/ADHD. As you move forward, you may find it useful to explore our other resources on ADD/ADHD.

MyExpertSolution's Top Choices for Learning More about ADD/ADHD:

Want to learn more about parenting a child with ADD/ADHD?

“Helping Students with ADHD in the Classroom” - Article by Lynda R. Williams, MS
“Intervention Suggestions for Parents/Teachers with a Distractible Child” - Article by Dr. Jared Maloff Psy.D.
“Parenting Strategies for Connecting with Your Teenager” - Audio by Dr. Kevin Skinner, LMFT, Ph.D.
“Dealing with Difficult Kids” - Audio by Brett Williams, LMFT

Are you stuggling because your partner has ADD/ADHD?

“When Your Partner's ADD is Driving You Crazy” - Article by Leslie Rouder, LCSW

Are you interested in medication for ADD/ADHD?

“ADHD Medications: Using the Therapeutic Window for Best Result” - Audio by Dr. Charles Parker, MD
“ADHD: Building and Working with Your Medical Team” - Audio by Dr. Charles Parker, MD

Would you like to learn how the ADD/ADHD brain differs from a normal brain?

“Neurotransmitters and Their Role in the Healthy Brain” - Audio by Dr. Charles Parker , MD

See all ADD/ADHD resources
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