There is very little knowledge, and far too much opinion, about ADHD in the western world. Stigma follows the diagnosis, and the proliferation of half or non-truths about its nature runs rampant. Most parents approach their child’s ADHD similar to a life sentence, and act as though accepting diagnosis means accepting that their children will never be ‘normal’ or have the live the life that has been dreamed for them. The fact of the matter is that those with ADHD who have achieved success have not done so in spite of their diagnosis, but because of it. Understand and accept this fact, and as a parent you can help establish coping mechanisms in your child that can unlock the unique power of their mind.
What ADHD Is Like.
Those with ADHD rarely have any say in what they’re thinking about. They are simply ‘strapped-in’ to their own mind, watching a constant torrent of thoughts stream past them every second of every day. Thoughts trigger other thoughts at a blistering pace for nearly every conscious second, and approximately 90% of a persons ‘cognitive bandwidth’ is taken up simply watching the spectacle of thoughts and ideas as it occurs day-in and day-out.
Simple things like doing the groceries, to a person with ADHD without strong coping mechanisms, is a significant struggle. Keeping a mental list of things you need to buy at the forefront of your mind requires every ounce of energy your mind has to give, which is why those with ADHD have a reputation for forgetfulness. Those with ADHD only have a small sliver of their attention to give, and a constant torrent of competing thoughts seeking attention. All it takes is one thought sneaking in to push out another, and before you know it your ADHD significant other forgets the eggs.
The Focus Myth.
It’s said that those with ADHD cannot focus.
This is unequivocally, categorically, absurdly false.
Those with ADHD are capable of levels of focus that approach super-human. It is simply the case that those with ADHD cannot, by mere conscious effort, control what they are focused on.
From Monday to Friday, Jonny cannot focus at school. He is constantly disorganized, rarely ever invested in school subject matter, constantly fidgeting and moving around. His teachers say that he has tremendous potential, but he simply needs to ‘apply himself’. He finds increasingly clever ways of getting around schoolwork of any kind, constructing a web of lies and misinformation between teacher and parent to avoid homework.
On Saturday and Sunday, his behavior is completely opposite to his reputation at school. He wakes up before anyone else, and plays video-games in the basement. Out of sight and out of mind, he has been known to play 6-12 hour stretches without interruption unless stopped by parents. You know he has homework he needs to do, but simply getting the boy to eat when he’s into his media is a struggle. He gets so absorbed that he will ignore his appetite, personal hygiene, often ending a day of games with dry and bloodshot eyes having ignored any need for rest.
Teachers say he cannot pay attention, but you clearly see that, in the right circumstances, his actions and choices are dominated by a single-minded focus you cannot comprehend. How do you help him?
Focus is the Problem, Not The Solution
If focus is your child’s problem, stimulation is the solution.
We’ve seen with Jonny, and the same is true of all those with ADHD, that the amount of focus is not a problem, rather the direction. Those with ADHD are constantly paying attention, just to things that rarely have relevance to their day-to-day living. Either they are watching a torrent of thoughts flowing past their minds eye, or they are entirely engaged with some task they enjoy immensely, in this case video games.
Jonny’s gaming is about dedicating his focus to a task that provides something for his mind to focus on. Without it, his mind can be loud, uncomfortable, and often exhausting place to live. Ten thousand thoughts each crying out for attention day and night is a recipe for suffering, and with his videogames he can silence them.
Homework, on the other hand, is perhaps the least stimulating task available to Jonny. His game provides light, sound, complex problem-solving, lightning reaction, strategy, and interpersonal cooperation/competition. Math homework represents hours in a quiet room staring at a piece of paper, trapped in a mind that needs more.
What’s the environment like where he ‘does’ his homework? Perhaps it’s the dining room table. A single light, straight-backed chair, and low visual ‘noise’. This place denies his mind sensory input, which he accommodates by doodling, crafting escape strategies, and thinking about anything but the task at hand.
You cannot reasonably be expected to make Jonny’s math homework stimulating. You can, however, make the space more stimulating and easier for him to spend time in. Simply swapping out his chair for a wobble chair can go a long way to making him more comfortable with the space, and therefore more comfortable with the prospect of doing homework. Constant movement means constant stimulation, and with stimulation taken care of he is more able to dedicate his mind to the task at hand.
How Medication Works
You give Ritalin or Adderall to someone without ADHD, and they become energized. You give it to someone with ADHD, and they become calm. Why?
Because the ADHD mind requires stimulation to focus, and these medications provide it. With the requirement for stimulation taken care of, those with AD
HD are able to turn their focus to a given task. While they are not a ‘silver bullet’ solution to the problem of ADHD, they can be tremendously helpful when utilized strategically and responsibly.
Children with ADHD require stimulation to focus. If they don’t have it, they will focus all their energy into securing it. If they do have it, they are capable of focusing on other things. Medication provides them stimulation for hours at a time, and while its not necessarily the case that they’re guaranteed to focus on what you want them to focus on, they become considerably more capable of controlling the direction of their mind. With control taken care of, teachers, parents, and your child can co-ordinate to ensure that mental energy is invested in the right tasks.
Ottawa Youth Counselling
A subsidiary of Capital Choice Counselling, Ottawa Youth Counselling represents a network of Ottawa mental-health professionals specializing in youth-oriented mental health services. If you believe that you or your child is in need of help with ADHD or focus related problems, we invite you to get in touch. Simply let us know what you need help with, and we can co-ordinate connecting you with a local mental-health professional that best suits your needs.