What is ADHD?
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts a persons’ entire self. Not only does if effect attention and impulsivity, but it can lead to mood disorders, low self esteem, chronic stress, addictive behaviours, along with a number of other conditions. There are 3 types: Inattentive /Distractible Type, Impulsive/Hyperactive Type, and Combined type.
Studies show that it is a chronic condition, and often affects one through adulthood and across a person’s lifespan. ADHD affects ones work life, social life, emotional functioning, school and academic performance, mental and physical health, relationships and family, marriage and parenting.
ADHD has many different presentations and can look different in how it manifests person to person. However, most folks with ADHD have difficulty with regulating attention, focus, and concentration and many struggle to regulate emotions. If you have ADHD, you may have problems with time management or difficulty with organization, completing or initiating tasks, or struggle with restlessness and impulsivity. ADHD is recognized as a disability by major government institutions and health authorities in Canada and the US.
The neurobiology of the ADHD brain is different from those with neuro-typical brains. Neuro-divergent is a word used to describe the way in which people’s brains differ from neuro-typical brains. The following is a list of the symptoms experienced by those with ADHD
- Difficulty with remaining focused on tasks when the task feels boring such as paperwork, reading, or tasks that are repetitive.
- Challenges with stopping or changing focus when the task is rewarding and of high interest
- Struggles with switching from task to task when doing something that is stimulating or of high interest (hyper focus)
- Difficulty with initiating and focusing on important tasks that are priority (at work, school, or home) instead of the stimulating task.
- High distractibility to sounds, sights, or internal thoughts and feelings
- Struggling to pay attention to details resulting in numerous and ongoing mistakes (at work, home, or school)
- Losing belongings like keys, wallet, phone, jacket, etc.
- Forgetting to complete tasks at work, school, or home even if they are daily or regular occurrences
- Problems with listening skills
- Zoning out while being spoken to-being distracted
- Problems with reading-unable to focus on reading material
- Lost in thought or daydreaming during work, school, or task time
- Acting in impulse or reacting without thinking first
- Decision making without thinking things through
- Spending on a whim- or without thoughtful planning
- Interrupting while others are speaking
- Blurting things out thoughtlessly that others find rude, offensive, or inappropriate
- Speaking ones mind without thinking first- No filter on what is shared with others
- High level of emotional reactivity
- Ending/switching jobs or relationships abruptly and suddenly and often
- Internal sense of restlessness
- Difficulty relaxing
- Excessive mind activity or racing thoughts
- Difficulty with staying on topic- mind rapidly switches focus from topic to topic
- Verbose- talking excessively too fast or too much
- Desire for excitement and high risk situations
- Attempting to do too many tasks or activities at the same time
- Acts as if driven by a motor-cant sit still
- Fidgety, foot tapping, hand drumming on table, unable to stay still
- Mood problems-feeling happy and elated one minute and down and depressed the next
- Feeling overwhelmed and flooded unable to come back to a balanced state
- Outbursts and emotional reactivity
- Irritability, impatience, lack of frustration tolerance
- Highly sensitive to real or perceived criticism
- Heightened sensitivity to stimuli
- Difficulty calming down when upset
Executive Function Skills
In order to complete tasks of daily living and to execute plans and reach our goals, our brain needs to develop and use a set of skills called executive functions. These include things like working memory, organization, planning, prioritizing, time management, task initiation and focus. If your executive function skills are working well, you will find ease with completing tasks and managing thoughts and feelings at work, home, school, and in relationships. If your skills are weak, you will most likely struggle with the demands of daily living in all domains. Everyone has particular strengths and weaknesses in executive functions; however, people with ADHD tend to have more weaknesses than those with neuro -typical brains. Understanding your particular brain, its strengths and weaknesses and learning how to improve them is one of the cornerstones to ADHD treatment. The use of evidenced based interventions, skills and strategies makes it possible for the brain to change, develop and strengthen at any age. Through skill development, coaching, and therapy, one can not only improve weakness but also tap into innate strength and potential.
Studies show there are more than 40 executive function skills that can be chunked together into 12 categories. Peg Dawson and Richard Guare, authors of the book Smart but Scattered named the following 12 Executive Function Skill Categories.
Response Inhibition/Impulse Control
The ability to pause and think things through before speaking or taking action
The ability to consistently know what time it is, to estimate how long tasks take to complete, and arrive on time for appointments and scheduled activities
The ability to remember dates, details, information, and commitments without needing reminders
The ability to stay on task until completion even when interrupted or bored
The ability to create and follow a daily plan at work, home, and school, and to focus on the important tasks
The ability to function well in high stress situations without resorting to maladaptive coping mechanisms in order to self regulate
The ability to stay calm when dealing with problems and upsets and to come back to baseline quickly when under stress and emotional activation
The ability to begin a task on time without leaving it to the last minute
The ability to adapt to unexpected change and to switch from one to another effortlessly
The ability to “think about thinking” or to plan, monitor, and evaluate ones thought and/ or learning process
Goal Directed persistence
The ability to set goals and to refrain from acting on desires for short-term pleasure or impulses that may get in the way of completing the goal
The ability to create and maintain systems for organizing in the home, work, school, etc.