Confession time: I have ADHD. Always have. Always will. I’ve lived with it for so long, I have developed my own weird ways to manage it- plus my highly engaging, enjoyable job makes ADHD less of an issue. Many members of my family have ADHD as well. All of us are competent professionals with degrees. One of the most enduring (and annoying) ADHD myths is that ADHD makes one stupid, or, at the very least, makes academic success impossible. This is so very, very not true!
If you want to manage ADHD well, you have to get creative. I’m going to start a recurring feature on this blog: ADHD tips and tricks. Every time I learn one from a fellow therapist, think of something I do that helps my ADHD, or find something that really works for a child I know, I’ll write it here. Starting now, here are five tricks I use at least once a week that you could modify to use with your child or children with ADHD.
1. Standing desk! Seriously, being able to move my body while I work makes me so much happier and more focused. At work, I just raised my adjustable desk to max height. I’m short so that worked. And heck, for kids, all you need is an adult-size desk that is adjustable. Adjust it so the child’s elbows are parallel to the work surface.
2. Drawing during meetings/lectures. I go to tons of training as part of my job. I carry a sketchbook and sketch during every training I attend. It helps me to focus. At one training I went to, the people sitting at my table were amazed to realize that I had been retaining the information better than most of them while I was drawing. Research supports the idea that drawing during class helps kids retain information. I’ve written “able to draw during lectures” into the accommodation part of an IEP for my clients if schools seemed unwilling to allow it.
3. Interspersing the interesting work with the not-so-interesting. I can’t sit and document for an hour straight- but if I document for 10 minutes, then make a phone call, then walk to someone else’s office to ask a question, then come back to paperwork, I focus better-and get more done. With kids, I try to “chunk” sessions, with part of the session being more active work (painting at an easel, maybe throwing a ball around while talking) then a less active drawing or sculpture activity. Kids focus better on what I am saying if they can be active and have variety in what we are doing. With homework, try working in breaks! They are motivating and, counter-intuitively, they help things get done faster.
4. Music while working. Music allows that part of the ADHD brain that gets distracted to get distracted just enough to allow for focus. I’m not sure WHY this works, but it works for me and many people I know who have ADHD.
5. Physical activity multiple times a day. Your kid with ADHD needs to start his or her day with activity and take regular active breaks during the day. I bike commute, or, if I am not able to do that, I ride my exercise bike or go on a walk or run every morning. Can your child walk or ride a bike to school? Can they get up earlier and be active at home before they leave for school? At school, is your child missing recess due to behavior problems? If so, they might not be getting enough physical activity breaks in their day. Can you talk to the teacher about alternative consequences? Or maybe the teacher would let your child work on his or her classwork standing in the back (see first tip) or sitting on a yoga ball. Both can get some of those ‘wiggles’ out.
I’ll keep adding tips as I think of them. I hope this helps a few people modify their life or their kid’s life. Academic success is very possible with ADHD but you do need to come up with creative ways to accommodate you or your child’s ADHD. Keep working on it and don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it! Success is possible.