When People Don’t Get It: Tips for Parents and Children with ADD/ADHD

This is my face whenever someone makes comments such as: “ADD/ADHD doesn’t exist, you know we are all a little ADD”.  Most of the time these are well meaning people, trying to make me, or someone whose child has been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD feel better. Let us just be clear. It does exist.

If you have it, you know you do not think like everyone else. You know that most individuals learn to control their impulsive behavior by the time they are adults. You know that everyone does not have a brain that highlights and underlines every single thought and piece of information that it encounters.  If you are hyperactive, you know that what you do in an average day would exhaust someone without your energy. You know that hyper-focus can be your best friend or worst enemy.

Everyone may feel like they are distracted and can’t keep it together at times. Some people are forgetful, or they might even feel like they can’t sit still occasionally. This is not the same as the compulsion to move that accompanies hyperactivity, nor is it the brain that refuses to shut down so your body can sleep.

It is also not the feeling that you have, as a kid, when it seems like everyone else has some secret knowledge that enables them to turn assignments in on time, write neatly, and accomplish tasks in an orderly, timely fashion.

 As a child, even with the best of intentions, I struggled with behavior and focus in the classroom.  I grew up before medication. I can remember overhearing other parents telling my parents that what I needed a was “firm hand” and to learn self-discipline. More than one of my teachers labeled me lazy and unmotivated.

What saved me was a mom that understood that I needed to move, that I needed an outlet for my energy and creativity, and that I needed help with organization.  My mom made sure that I had space to run, a garage for my experiments, and tools and supplies for my creative pursuits. She encouraged me, and always told me I was smart. I am grateful that my mom figured out that I needed help with learning how to manage my time and organization. She was always willing to try new things to help me succeed. She never made me feel that school was about my grades. She wanted me to understand that working hard and learning were what was most important in life.

If you have a child that struggles with organization, procrastination, and focus, with a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD, or without, please remember: no one willfully fails. These are my tips for working with kids that are struggling with focus, procrastination, and organization. If you are a parent who has ADD/ADHD implementing these tips may be difficult, do the best you can. There are links at the end of this post to organizations and websites that provide more information and support.

1. If your child has been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, accept it. Educate yourself. If you suspect that you may also have ADD/ADHD get tested. Many successful and creative people have ADD/ADHD. When I say accept it, I am not saying that you will not have grief and sadness. Feel your feelings, but do not let them paralyze you. Your child needs to know that you love them, and that they may need to work harder than their peers, but that they can succeed.

2. Do not rely on medication alone to help your child. Medication is only part of ADD/ADHD management. Eating well, getting adequate sleep, designing and implementing individual education plans, healthy routines and habits are integral parts of the management plan.

3. Plan, Plan, and Plan some more. You have to have a plan for the day. Get your child to assist in the planning. Write your plan down, post it where your child can see it if they get off track. Instead of squelching spontaneity, having and implementing a plan will create time for your child to work on their own projects and creative pursuits.

4. Allow your child the space to explore their own interests. Creative acts are an important part of self-care. Many ADD/ADHD individuals are very creative and need an outlet for their creativity. I wrote a post about self-care and creativity (here). Working on their own projects can be used as motivation to complete tasks that are not so fun.

5. Do not waste time feeling guilty, blaming yourself, etc. Love your child. Love yourself.  Life may be more complicated with ADD/ADHD, but you will never be bored!

6. Use timers. Get your kids used to using timers to help them manage their time. I wrote a post (here) that addresses using timers to manage your time and get things done.  Children can learn to use timers to check themselves and gain confidence in their ability to self-manage.

7. Avoid negative, ignorant, and foolish people. You know who they are. The people that want to minimize what it is like to live with a child who has ADD/ADHD.  The people who make you feel like you are an inadequate parent, or that your child just needs discipline. This may be difficult if you are related to them. Limit your interaction with people who are critical of your child, or your parenting skills. Stand up for your child and yourself.

8. Do not give up. If you try something and it does not make things better, than try another method. Expect setbacks but do not give up on your child or yourself. Keep trying.

 Here are some links to organizations that offer tips and support:

http://www.chadd.org

http://www.add.org

http://www.additudemag.com

http://www.ldpride.net/

http://www.drhallowell.com

If you are a parent with ADD/ADHD  and your child has ADD/ADHD it may feel hopeless at times. Don’t give up. It is possible to become more organized and have less drama in your life. Work together with your child. Reach out to other parents and friends who are supportive. Believe in you ability to help your child and yourself.

Thanks Mom, for not giving up.

Tips for Coping with a Family Member’s Illness: Trying to be Still when All You Want to do is Run

We all have times in our lives when we have to wait to see how things will work out. We can’t flip to the end of the story to see if our favorite characters make it.

I am in that space right now. My dad is dealing with some health issues. No matter how hard I try I can not bend the space-time continuum to see if everything will be okay, and I get to enjoy my dad for many more years. Life stress can cause anyone to indulge in, or develop unhealthy behaviors.

Stress, for those of us with ADHD can lead to some incredibly destructive behavior. Our normally hyper-charged system goes into overdrive from the extra adrenaline in our systems.We often suffer from raging insomnia, and do wildly impulsive things based on our addictions of choice. We make poor decisions because we are tired. Our struggles to focus are intensified as routines are interrupted by ourselves, or the need to care for others.

We struggle to keep still, to fight our urge to bolt. Our desire to seek the comfort of distraction and movement intensifies. Excess is the hallmark of our lack of coping. We may find ourselves over-eating, over-spending, over-drinking, over-exercising, over-reading (yes, it is possible), starting a new hobby, or deciding that now is the time to start building that addition / greenhouse / remodel a bathroom.

Unable to cope with our discomfort and lack of control, we start every project on our to-do list, creating even more stress. You do get a lot of things done, but you often end up exhausted and more stressed, as well as adding to the stress of those around you.

 This is not my first time at the cancer rodeo, standing in the chute, waiting to see how bad, or short the ride might be. These are five tips for coping when a family member has health issues:

1. Breathe. Stop, and make yourself take ten slow breathes.
2. Sit. Stop, and make yourself sit. Set a timer and take ten minutes to check in with yourself and what you are feeling. If possible sit outside. Spending even just a little time in nature is good for you.
3. Hug. Hug the people around you, hold on tight (not in a creepy way). Remember they are stressed too.
4. Stop starting new things. Finish what needs to be finished.
5. Set a timer for a certain time everyday to stop what you are doing and think about the person you are worried about, pray, meditate, send woo, send love, chant, whatever your spiritual beliefs are just do it. Just doing this one thing consistently kept me grounded through a best friend’s battle with cancer.

I hope these help. They have helped me keep it together when my life felt like it was exploding.

Ten Tips for Improving Your Sleep–No Really

This is how I imagine most of us would like to sleep, tucked in, snuggled up, with no worries. For most of my life I have not slept well, which results in afternoon episodes like this

  and morning face that looks like this

until I have had my caffeinated beverage of choice.

I worked night-shift for years, figuring if I wasn’t sleeping I might as well make some money while I was awake.  As a day sleeper, I developed an unnatural hatred of leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and weed-whackers during that time. I still have periods of insomnia, that combined with my hyperactivity have resulted in re-upholstered chairs, stripped wall-paper, and thousands of written words (NANOWRIMO I am talking about you) in the middle of the night.

Sleep really does make a difference.  Some studies have suggested that going without sleep affects reaction times and judgement as much drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana. Lack of sleep has also been linked to weight gain, poor immune response and depression. Twenty-four hour access to the Internet, unlimited streaming movies and television are often blamed for sleep disorders.
As someone who had issues with sleeping well before the advent of cable television, WI-FI, and smart phones I don’t think that simply turning off your devices is the answer. Individuals with ADD/ADHD often have sleep issues related to hyper-focusing on a project, anxiety, hyperactivity, disorganization, and over-commitment,

The following is a list of things that I have complied that have helped me sleep better. I don’t address the sleep issues that come from raising children, because I don’t have  a clue how to address them. If you have any answers or suggestions, please share them!

I hope these suggestions help you to sleep better, and as always do the best you can.

  1. Create a routine before bed. It works for kids because it sends signals that it is time to wind down and go to sleep. A cup of tea or beverage of choice can help.
  2. Avoid screens about two hours before bed. Back lit screens stimulate your brain, and the soap opera that is Facebook and social media can keep you awake. Although cute pictures of babies and pets may make for happy dreams, trying to sleep after reading a political rant, a social outrage piece, or some terrible news before bed stimulates your brain in a negative way.
  3. Make your bedroom as dark as it can be, and make it a tech free zone. No computers, no TV, and if your cell/smart phone is your house phone locate it so that you have to get out of bed to get to it, do not put it on your bedside table.
  4. Prepare for the next day. Get your clothes out, make the lunches, make a list of what needs to be done. Empty your brain of all tasks that you know you need to do and haven’t done. This prevents the wake up at midnight, “Oh damn, I forgot I need to…” syndrome that keeps you from going back to sleep.
  5. Limit caffeine. I know this sounds simple but finding out how late you can drink a caffeinated beverage and still sleep is vital. I know if I have anything with caffeine after twelve noon, I will be wired until one or two in the morning. Find out your threshold and deploy caffeine strategically.
  6. Take a warm bath or shower before bed. It works for kids and it can work for you too. If you want to get fancy try some lavender bubble bath or soap.
  7. Exercise. You know you should. Remember taking a walk around the block, gardening, and playing with your kids counts.
  8. Check in with yourself. Do you have aches and pains that keep you awake? Do you need a new mattress or pillow?If your bed is not comfortable you will not sleep.
  9. Are your animals keeping you up? I sleep better if my dogs are with me but some people don’t. Don’t be afraid of establishing new rules about who sleeps where, remember you are the boss, even if the cat doesn’t think so.
  10. Take a minute before you fall asleep to think of good things in your life, even if it takes you more than a minute, it is time well spent.
Bonus tip: If you are re-upholstering chairs in the middle of the night while your partner is sleeping, don’t use the staple gun.

The World from the Ferris Wheel

   
We went to the County Fair this weekend.  My kids have gone every year since they were born. Last year was the first year they were tall enough to ride the kiddie rides. This year the first ride they wanted to ride was the Ferris Wheel. 
I asked my daughter what she could see when we got to the top. “The whole wide world, mama, the whole wide world.” I asked my son what he could see and he said “Everything but the moon.” 

My future farmers and visionaries. 

Abandoned Places: The Mansfield Reformatory

Mansfield Reformatory 2014

Abandoned and historic places appeal to me as a story teller. I imagine what the place was like before it was abandoned. I imagine how the people lived. I think about their stories, ordinary and extraordinary.  Sometimes a small object creates a connection for me, and people as abstractions become real.
 I took this picture in the superintendent’s quarters while on a tour of the Ohio State Reformatory. Finding something so intimate in the midst of what has been stripped of the personal, like this rusty hairpin brought home to me the reality of people living inside an operating prison. Who did it belong too? Did it belong to a woman who lived here when it was an operating prison?
Was it lost as she hurried out to some event? Did she stop and look for it? Did it fall from the hair of a visitor, or a tourist?
I am still sorting out my feelings about the tour. I was fascinated, and horrified by what I saw. The prison opened in 1896. One hundred fifty-five thousand men, and boys as young as fifteen, passed through this hell on earth until it closed in 1990.
How many are still alive? How many wished they were dead while here? How many didn’t care? Did they deserve it? Guilty or innocent? So many stories waiting to be told.
Here are few more pictures I took.

This is 8′ x 5′.  It housed two prisoners.

The cells faced the windows.

The showers.

Six tiers of cells

If your are interested in visiting. The Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society (http://www.mrps.org) manages the tours and is dedicated to preserving the reformatory.

5 Tips for Going Back to School Without Loosing Your Mind

School started this week for my kids. It is bittersweet. Woohoo! For 3 hours I don’t have to worry when it is too quiet, sort out squabbles, or pay attention to anything but my own work. Dang! Now we have to get up at the same time five days in a row, brush hair, pack lunches, and wear clothes other than bathing suits.

I am so happy to have my time back, but I have to acknowledge that keeping my kids organized when I struggle myself is daunting. Parenting with ADD/ADHD can be difficult. It is enough most mornings to get myself out the door, on time with everything I need.  When you add walking and feeding the dogs, and two little people that have to be reminded to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush their teeth and hair to the mix, and I am overwhelmed at times
After arriving at school, one more than one morning, with no one’s hair brushed, including mine, I decided I needed a checklist, and a schedule for the mornings. I created a routine and started preparing as much as I could the night before. As a parent, I really want to help my kids learn good habits for getting out of the house in the morning. These are my top five survival strategies for back to school.

1.  Use scrap paper and make a morning checklist. Tape to to your coffee pot, or tea cup. For a more permanent solution use a write on-wipe off, or chalk board. Hang it on door that you go out in the morning. Nothing is too trivial, create little check boxes for hair, teeth, clothes, lunches, backpack, and anything special you need to remember.

2. Layout your clothes the night before. Get the kids to lay out their clothes. This avoids the last minute “I can’t decide what to wear” moments that can really derail the morning schedule.

3. Schedule times for breakfast, showers, clothes on, teeth brushed, and out the door. Be flexible, and always allow more time that you think it will take. Set a timer to go off ten minutes before you have to leave, this allows time for everyone to make sure that they are ready to go. This really helps if everyone has to leave at the same time. If you have staggered schedules for your kids set the timer accordingly.

4. Set up a family calendar. Use it. Commit to looking at it before you go to bed, and in the morning, after a caffeinated beverage of your choice.

5. Give yourself enough time in the morning. Do not be unrealistic about how long it takes to get everyone ready, and out the door. I have dogs that have never slept past 6:30. I depend on them to wake us up, and I never set an alarm clock. If you lack furry alarm clocks, or if your dog/cat is unreliable, be sure to set an alarm. Get up when it goes off. Ban the snooze button, it is so not worth the stress of rushing around.

Breathe. Expect the first month of school to be chaos. Work with what you have, and make changes little by little.  Bonus Tip: Always make sure that you have a comb in your car in case you still forget to comb hair.

You talkin’ to me?! Anger Management and ADHD/ADD

I know you’re not talkin to me…

 Anger, that red hot feeling of pure rage and adrenalin surge that obliterates any rational thought. Most people when they get angry are able, most of the time, to control their impulses and step back.  For people with ADD/ADHD the trip from slightly annoyed to explosive outburst is short. The consequences of uncontrolled outbursts range from strained family relationships to jail time.

 In my own life anger management ranks as high as impulse control on my list of things that complicate my life.  I am still learning to control my anger, and learning to respond in a reasoned and controlled way.  It helps that I am trying to model good behavior for my kids. I love their reminders to “use my words” and “inside voice, mom”. If nothing else it breaks the tension and sometimes it is all I need to get back to normal.

Writing helps too. When I am angry it helps to write it down. Writing forces me to identify just what is pissing me off so much. Writing also forces me to slow down and think. Writing has saved me from myself more times than I care to think about. Here are my tips for anger management.

1. Identify your triggers. Avoid them. This will be more difficult if your triggers are human, and related to you. In that case, try and limit your interactions. If you find yourself triggered by co-workers, supervisors, or your work place, you might want to consider finding a new job. Seriously, your mental health is worth it.

2. Understand that frustration is the most common emotion that leads to anger. Identify what frustrates you, and fix it. Angry because you can’t find your keys, and you are running late for work? Make a plan the night before, keep your keys in the same place. Do what you need to do to make your life less frustrating.

3. Eat. Pay attention to your diet. Make sure that you eat in a way that maintains an steady blood sugar. As much fun as it is to eat a box of doughnuts and wash it down with coffee, be aware that low blood sugar after the binge can precipitate angry emotions. We have all been so hungry that we were angry about everything. Eat.

4. Get enough sleep. Stop laughing. Do the best you can. It really does make a difference.

5. Write it down. Make a list of everything making you angry. Identify what you can change, avoid or let go of. Get it out of your head and on paper. Sometimes when I am done, I just rip the paper to shreds, and toss it out. Find your own ritual to let go of your anger. If your are a fiction writer use your emotions to craft scenes of ultimate destruction, and revenge.

6. Take a walk. Go for a run. Put on loud, angry music and dance. Get the physical feelings out safely. Do not use this as an opportunity to intimidate others with your behavior.

7. Get help. If you find that your outbursts are causing problems in your life, find a mental health care professional to talk to. Some employers have employee assistance programs that provide free anger management counseling, and classes. Many hospitals offer anger and stress management programs. Take advantage of free and low cost programs in your area.

Anger management is possible. It is also our responsibility. Step back, take a breath, count to ten. Do what it takes to get your anger under control. Do it for yourself. Do it for your relationships.

Writer’s block? I don’t have time for that.

Age: One Day
This is how old my kids were when I started writing my thesis.
This is how old they were when I finished.
At the celebration lunch.

You did it Mom!

One year.  Did I mention that we moved out of state, and went on a trip that lasted a month? It was crazy hard, and sometimes I don’t know how I did it.

I do know that I created some rituals and routines to keep my words flowing. I had a deadline. I could not wait until I felt like writing, or was inspired. Writer’s block was just not an option.
I found that creating small rituals helped me focus when I did have time to write. When I talk about rituals, I am talking about little things that reminded me that I was at the keyboard for a reason. Here are some tips to help you stay on track and keep your writing project going.

1. Use every second. Work when you can. Even if it is only for thirty minutes, it will add up.

Yep, I worked every time they napped.

2. Always take five minutes at the end of your work session to make a note to yourself about what you need to write, or accomplish the next time you work. This saves time when get back to writing, and keeps the project moving forward.

3. Keep your project materials together. Searching for materials wastes time, and distracts you from writing.

4. Find a way to organize your notes and materials that works for you. Once you find a way, stick with it until the end of the project. If you are tempted to stop work to reorganize, resist. Reorganizing is a huge waste of time. If you want to try a different method, save it for the next project.

5. Write, even when you don’t feel like writing, when you want to quit, when you are sick and tired, and would rather do anything else. Keep going.

6. Ask for help when you need it. I had a babysitter once a week for six hours. I did not go to the grocery store, do laundry, sleep or any of the hundred other things that needed to be done. Guard your work time.

7. If you work with music on, create a playlist that you use for all your work sessions for your project. Music can help shift your mood, and stimulate your writing. My playlist was called “Write the MotherF*$^er”.  I still use it.

8.  Make yourself accountable to someone. If you are in school, this would be your advisor. If you are working on your own, find a critique group or writing partner.

9. Do not point a baby you just fed at your research notebook. This is a bonus tip. I was cleaning out my project files last week  and I found my thesis research notebook. It still smells faintly of baby vomit.

10. Believe. Believe in your project. Believe in your ability.

I believe in you. Get to work.

Maps are for Kids

I love this picture of my kids at the zoo. They love looking at the map, pointing out all the things they want to see. They avoid the pre-marked routes, and trace with their fingers the shortest way to their favorite animals. They understand that just because someone else has marked a trail you, don’t have to follow it.
 In life trying to force yourself to follow someone else’s route to where you want to go is like trying to cram your foot in a shoe that is too small.  Embrace the difficulty, and joy of finding your own way. Draw your own route.

Creative Acts and Self-Care

When I make time to write and create I feel like this 

powerful, strong, and alive. 
When I don’t take care of my creative needs I feel like this
 cranky, cantankerous, and bitter.  
Taking care of yourself by making time to do the things that you like to do is vitally important to your mental health.  If you have attention issues, and struggle with keeping up with day to day household activities, making time to write or draw, scrap book, or just sit and read a book may make us feel like we are cheating, because we are not doing the thousand and one other things we “should” do.   
The truth is it is okay, and very necessary to take of our creative needs.  Self care goes beyond exercise, eating well, and sleeping. Spending an afternoon writing, painting, drawing, or doing crafts is a way to get your brain to shift out of overdrive.  Sitting meditation is very difficult for ADHD individuals, although the benefits are fantastic, sitting still is so torturous that often we fail, and then feel bad about failing. Creative pursuits are a form of meditation. Getting lost in a project is soothing.  The problem for many people with ADD/ADHD and creative outlets is that we want to try and do everything, then we feel overwhelmed, and wind up doing nothing.  Here are five tips on how to balance creative needs and the rest of your life.
1. Schedule creative time at least once a week.
2. Limit yourself to three creative pursuits.  One that can be done indoors, one that can be done outdoors, and one to do when you are tired or need a break from the other two.
3. Set a budget! This is hard but necessary. By limiting what you can spend on your chosen creative outlet, you can cut down on the overwhelm that can occur with too many supplies.
4. Give yourself permission to be the creative person you are. If others do not understand your need/desire to spend an afternoon writing about your imaginary friends, or making scrapbooks, or painting, or making bird houses, find supportive people who do understand. 
5. Set a timer!  It is so easy to hyper-focus and lose track of time, a timer will keep you on schedule. I set a timer when I write so that I don’t forget to pick up my kids from school.  A timer is also useful when bargaining with kids/spouses around creative time as in ” please leave me alone until the timer rings”.
Make time to create.  Enjoy the process. Take care of yourself.