That phrase, spoken more than fifteen years ago by my then-ten-year-old son, still brings tears to my eyes. He wrote this to his teacher on the first day of fifth grade. She had given him a “get to know you questionnaire.” This was his answer to her final question, which asked the students if there was anything else she should know about them.
If only we could freeze those moments. I would love to say that he continues to feel that way all the time but that is not our reality. Having children with ADHD and other executive function-challenges can be compared to life on a roller coaster. As a retired teacher, guidance counselor, and now an ADHD/EF coach, I feel that my experiences have prepared me for the next stage of parenting. But it is not easy. I have come to realize that it’s a marathon not a sprint.
Most parents, after their child is diagnosed, feel that they need to solve the problem. They want to help their children overcome their disability and protect them from the world. Frequently, we feel that we did something wrong, that we must fix the situation or find a magical answer. I was no exception. After researching this topic for many years and filling several rooms with books on ADHD, EF and positive psychology, I have come to the realization that the best gift we can give is to accept them for who they are.
We do not need to give up future plans for our children but we do need to accept them as they exist. We can be aware of their weaknesses and help them develop their strengths. As parents, we need to help them recognize that as they approach life differently, they can achieve their goals.
Those diagnosed with ADHD and EF challenges must learn to adapt to our competitive society and to appreciate themselves. We also must help professionals, family members and others to refrain from squeezing our square pegs into round holes. What if, instead, we delighted in their differences? As their parents and coaches, we have the power to concentrate on their strengths, provide support when needed, and most importantly, not allow them to use their diagnosis as a crutch.
If these children are brought up to recognize their gifts, just imagine what they could accomplish. If we help them recognize their situation as an opportunity to develop strategies that will allow them succeed, they will become stronger and more adaptable.
I can only imagine the number of negative verbal and non-verbal messages that these individuals receive on a daily basis. What if they could depend on their families to be supportive and their homes to be an oasis of positive reinforcement? What if they could trust our verbal and non-verbal communication would instill a sense of well being, rather than a source of shame and inadequacy?
What if we were able to accept the fact that we, as parents, do not have the power to fix our children or find a magic answer?
What if we concentrated on what we can control, and helped our children realize that they are creative, resourceful and whole? What if we helped them recognize that life is not black or white? What if we helped our children realize that because of their differences, not in spite of them, they have much to offer?
What if every individual diagnosed with ADHD and executive-functioning challenges could say: “I have ADHD but I don’t let it stand in my way.”
Written by: Cheryl Breining, LMSW, M.Ed, MS, ACC, CPCC, Edge Coach, Certified Life and Parenting Coach, The Life Coaching Corner Inc., Contact her at www.thelifecoachingcorner.com.
Robert Tudisco Former Executive Director of the Edge Foundation Speaks about Living with ADHD.
What is executive function?
If do much reading about ADHD sooner or later you are going to come across the term “executive function” and wonder what in the heck is that?
Simply put, executive function is a term that psychologists and medical professionals use to describe the higher functions of our brain that help us control and self-manage ourselves. Here’s one technical definition: “The administrative portion of the brain that coordinates and regulates organization, time management and perception, deferred gratification, prioritization, attention, impulse control and persistence at tasks.” So what does that really mean?
Executive function is most easily understood by looking at a few examples:
- When you resist that piece of chocolate when you are on a diet, you are using the executive function of your brain to defer the pleasure of that yummy chocolate right now for your longer term goal of losing weight.
- When you bite your tongue instead of telling someone off, your executive functions help you evaluate consequences (you might hurt their feelings or make them mad at you) and control the impulse to blurt out your opinion.
- If you have a project in school that you really dislike but you know you need to accomplish in order to pass the class, executive functions help you make a plan to break down the project into bite sized pieces, stick with it when you are feeling frustrated or bored, and ask for help when you get stuck.
- Getting ready to leave the house on time, you use executive functions to keep one eye on the clock and the other on the things you need to get into your backpack before you run out the door to catch the bus.
LD Online, a great source of information about learning disabilities and ADHD, identifies some of the major areas of executive functions:
- making plans,
- keeping track of time,
- keeping track of more than one thing at once,
- meaningfully including past knowledge in discussions,
- engaging in group dynamics,
- reflecting on our work and evaluating ideas,
- changing our minds and making mid-course and corrections while thinking, reading and writing,
- finishing work on time,
- asking for help,
- waiting to speak until we’re called on, and
- seeking more information when we need it.
ADHD and Executive Functioning
The challenge with understanding how ADHD and executive functioning are interrelated is that EVERYONE can have executive function troubles at different times – it’s a matter of degree. When you have ADHD you are more often challenged by executive functions than people who don’t have it.
Let’s assume you have ADHD. When something is interesting to you, you are all over it. No executive function problems there, right? However, you’ve probably also found that difficult or uninteresting tasks can be very difficult to pay attention to – even when it’s something that is important such as remembering your girlfriend’s birthday or paying your water bill. Executive functions help reveal why ADHD isn’t simply a matter of will power or caring enough. As Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D., Yale University School of Medicine says,
Most people, those who do not have ADHD, can usually make themselves pay attention to tasks, even tasks that are boring, when they recognize that they just have to do it. People with ADHD find it much more difficult to make themselves pay attention unless the task is one that has immediate interest value to them. The core of their problem is … being able to manage their mind to focus on tasks they need to do, even when those tasks are not immediately interesting.
An ADHD coach works with you to support and build your executive functions
The role of a coach is to address executive functioning challenges with structured support and accountability. Their long term goal is to help you figure out strategies and accommodations to work with your ADHD so you can accomplish everything you care about and need to get done to achieve your goals. Edge Coaches will help you with executive functions such as:
- goal setting,
- confidence building,
- prioritizing, and
- persisting at tasks.
You can learn to work with your ADHD strengths – hyperfocusing on things that are interesting for example. And you can learn ways to stick with it to do those boring tasks (like filling out paperwork, showing up on time or passing a prerequisite class) so you can accomplish your dreams. What are you waiting for?
The power of positive thinking
Focusing on our problems is normal: Everyone tends to focus on problems. It’s probably evolutionary in nature-we evolved in a dangerous world where being able to notice threats was key to survival. Therefore, negative, troublesome, threatening things tend to capture our attention like nothing else. Yet narrow and negative thinking can lead to stress and depression, which can lower performance and reduce connectedness, both in relationships and in thoughts.
The power of positive thinking: A broad and positive focus helps you identify more resources and make more connections. Positivity-feeling good-helps creativity, perseverance, confidence, competence, and even longevity. It is tempting to feel that health, wellness, and financial success are what contribute to happiness, but it turns out that happiness predicts these things, not the other way around.
In further studies of positivity and negativity, it turns out there is an ideal ratio between the two. The ideal ratio of positivity to negativity is between 3:1 and 11:1. In other words at least 3 positive thoughts to each negative one. In this range, people have the resources to change, grow, and bounce back from adversity. They feel both supported and challenged, which develops resourcefulness and creativity. Business teams operating in this ideal zone have the highest profitability, customer satisfaction, and performance reviews.
Too much of a bad thing: People who live in an environment where the positivity to negativity ratio is below 3:1 languish. They don’t have enough resources and inspiration to pick themselves up out of the muck and see all the things that are available to them. Unlike the more positive folks, they are on a downward spiral. Sadly, it is estimated that 80% of people fall into this category.
Turn up the positive volume!
Notice, remember, articulate and savor what is already there. Practice noticing the good stuff, because there is plenty of it around. From the aroma of that first cup of coffee in the morning (even if we made a mess making it), to the parting “Bye! I love you. Have a nice day!” (even if we had to say it several times because we kept forgetting things as we tried to get out the door), to the great coaching session where both feel pumped by the end, there’s a lot to notice and feel positive about. Notice, too, how we contributed to the good stuff, notice how we are actively creating the positive experiences. Then allow yourself to feel empowered to improve your life and develop your resourcefulness and creativity!