It’s Never to Late to Find Your Tribe

Today I find myself thinking about the approximately 85 percent of adults who have ADHD but don’t know it. To feel outside the mainstream, unlike your peers, and to have no explanation can leave you feeling like a wanderer in uncharted wilderness.

To be criticized and looked down on by others for being different can lead to low self-worth and a general sense of inferiority. We all need to feel appreciated and understood. For many adults who have lived with ADHD for decades, feeling understood and valued is not a familiar experience. If they don’t know about their ADHD, they think there is something wrong with them — a moral failing, a defect, whatever.

Neil and I were in that place for the first thirty-five years of our marriage. We could find no explanation for some of the ways that Neil functioned that made life extremely challenging. After seeking help from psychologists and educators and anyone else we could think of, we eventually stumbled upon the correct diagnosis on our own when Neil was over sixty years old.

We were in a restaurant. Our conversation, as it often did, went to our distress over how challenging our lives were. Suddenly the word “attention” popped into my head as being related to something Neil had done (or perhaps had not done!). One of us remembered having heard of something called “attention deficit disorder,” though neither of us knew anything about it. We quickly left the restaurant and headed home to our computer.

Right away we located information about ADHD and screening tests for Neil to take. We chose one of the screeners, and as I read off each description Neil checked every single box. Not one characteristic was foreign to our lives. At the same time that we found our unofficial diagnosis, we also found our tribe. We had a name for what Neil had been living with for over sixty years and because there was a name, we knew other people were living with the same challenges.

Shortly after that evening, Neil was diagnosed with ADHD and began seeing a psychologist who was experienced with ADHD. Several medications were prescribed by a psychiatrist, one after the other, but none seemed to help him. (We now know that for about 20 percent of people with ADHD, there is not a drug that is effective.) We began attending CHADD support groups in our area. We began reading about ADHD. I began seeing the same psychologist because the impact of ADHD is not confined to just the ADHDer.

Even though at times our progress has seemed much slower than I would have liked, we have lived the last dozen years of our life together differently from the first thirty-five, because we have a name for one of our biggest challenges and because we began to know other members of the ADHD tribe. We didn’t feel so isolated, confused, or ashamed.

Today we learn from our ADHD friends and mentors and are supported by them. We also reach out to offer support to others who are much like we were when we rushed home from the restaurant to check out our latest theory. If you or someone you know thinks ADHD might be affecting them, I encourage you or them to boldly reach out to a professional who really understands ADHD. It’s never too late!

There is no blood test, so a lot of questions need to be asked about your life experience, sometimes even involving family members who can attest to your childhood behaviors. Each ADHDer is unique, so you won’t find anyone else exactly like you, but you will find a tribe of enthusiastic, creative, bright, supportive people who have walked in shoes very much like yours, and you’ll start marching out of the wilderness. It’s quite a wonderful feeling!

Linda Williams Swanson is a partner in Free To Be Coaching, LLC, in Warrenton, VA. Her website is freetobecoaching.com; visit the site and contact her or her husband, Neil, for a complimentary exploratory session. They are presently accepting new clients from age 13-90. (Linda and Neil do most of their coaching either in person, or by phone, Skype, or FaceTime. High school students are usually coached in person.)

Are You Ever Too Old?

It’s not just for kids anymore! What we know as ADHD was originally understood to be a condition that affected little boys. Over time it was recognized that girls could also have ADHD, though more often girls have the inattentive type as opposed to the hyperactive/impulsive type that shows up more in boys. Around twenty years ago, ADHD was finally accepted as something affecting adults. Some children do seem to grow out of their ADHD symptoms as their brains mature, but in more ADHDers the symptoms change and they learn to compensate as they move into their 20s and beyond.

How are older adults diagnosed with ADHD? Often they see it in their families. PsychCentral reports here that there have been over 1800 studies regarding the role of genetics in ADHD. A 2009 review of those studies showed that genetics accounted for 76 percent of the risk of having ADHD. Some parents discover their own ADHD when their children are diagnosed. In just the same way, some grandparents or even great-grandparents begin to question whether they might have ADHD when the youngest generation in their family has some children who are diagnosed. If that has been your experience, you might want to follow up and find some answers! A diagnosis or at least greater understanding of ADHD is worth pursuing at any age, because it is never too late to learn more about how we function and because there are treatment options available to ADHDers of all ages.

Some of the baby boom generation and even those who are older (my husband and I were born during World War II rather than after it) had no idea that the challenges we faced could be explained by an ADHD diagnosis. My husband, Neil, was diagnosed after turning 60, following decades during which we sought help for behaviors that he couldn’t explain and I couldn’t understand.

A combination of medication and coaching has been suggested by some as the best way to proceed with treatment, though many other things such as nutrition, exercise, and good sleep habits are critical.

Stimulant medications have been on the market since at least  the 1930s, and I understand they are actually safer than aspirin when used as directed. They help around 80 percent of those who try them, though each individual will have a unique response and may need to try more than one drug in more than one dose to achieve the optimal level of help.

Coaching is also helpful for people over 50, because they have habits and self-concepts that have been in place for decades. A coach using a strengths-based approach can help a client question whether those habits and beliefs are really true and whether they are serving the client well. The coach can also help the client become aware of the many strengths that may have been unappreciated over the years but that may point the way to a new life that builds on the positive qualities of the ADHD brain.

The bottom line is – you are never too old to check out any hint that you might have ADHD. Your life experience can improve dramatically. Neil and I have seen the truth of that statement in our lives and are delighted to help others like us through our coaching! Our web page is freetobecoaching.com.

Linda Williams Swanson is a partner in Free To Be Coaching, LLC, in Warrenton, VA. Her website is freetobecoaching.com; visit the site and contact her or her husband, Neil, for a complimentary exploratory session. They are presently accepting new clients from age 13-90. (Linda and Neil do most of their coaching either in person, or by phone, Skype, or FaceTime. High school students are usually coached in person.)

Beginner’s Mind

Recently I have been giving some thought to the Buddhist concept of beginner’s mind. Not being a real student of Buddhism, I had to look the phrase up and found it in the first sentence of a book by Shunryu Suzuki called Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. That full sentence reads, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” I haven’t read the book, but the first sentence speaks volumes.

We’ve had the joy of spending quite a bit of time with our grandchildren since the first one was born twelve years ago. What could be a better model of a beginner’s mind than the curiosity and inventiveness of a small child for whom everything is new and fascinating? There is such openness and wonder and joy as they learn about all things!

Somehow we come over time to believe that it is important to be the expert and that there is something negative about asking questions and revealing that we have gaps in our knowledge — as if we could ever know everything there is to know about anything!

There are a couple of wonderful books that address this issue using different terms and I recommend both. One is Marilee Adams’ Change Your Questions Change Your Life: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work. The other is Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Adams describes what she calls the “learner” mind as opposed to the “judger” mind, and she emphasizes the importance of the type of questions we ask. I see the learner mind as somewhat similar to the beginner’s mind, and the judger mind as similar to the expert’s mind.

Dweck uses different terminology, but she seems to be getting at the same point. Her terms are “fixed” or “growth” mindsets, and it’s pretty clear from the terms how they relate to the Zen concepts.

I’ve learned in my coach training the vital role of curiosity in coaching. A coach approaches each client as resourceful, whole, and complete, so the coach’s job is to ask curious, open-ended questions that help the client find the answers within him/herself. Of course, there is a lot for a coach to learn about how to ask the best questions at the appropriate time, and that involves learning how to listen attentively to the client. There is also a place for sharing some knowledge that the coach may have about, for example, ADHD. But in general a coach asks curious, open-ended questions of the client in order to help the client discover the best answer from within him/herself. The coach is not an expert on the client. The client is.

So you see, there’s a special place for a beginner’s mind in coaching. I’m going to try to learn from my 8-month-old grandson!

Linda Williams Swanson is a partner in Free To Be Coaching, LLC, in Warrenton, VA. Her website is freetobecoaching.com; visit the site and contact her or her husband, Neil, for a complimentary exploratory session. They are presently accepting new clients from age 13-90. (Linda and Neil do most of their coaching either in person, or by phone, Skype, or FaceTime. High school students are usually coached in person.)

Halloween!

On October 1, I challenged myself to do three things every day of October: write a blog entry, walk two miles (or do equivalent exercise), and practice 45 minutes of yoga.

The last day of October is here, and this is my 31st blog entry! Quantity is undoubtedly not quality, but I hope that most of the posts have conveyed something useful. If you’ve been following along, I hope you have been introduced to some people and web sites in the ADHD world that will make your life more understandable and enjoyable.

Up until yesterday I also had an umblemished record as far as my commitment to exercise and yoga, but yesterday when the time came I couldn’t bring myself to get moving. Last evening, we attended two very interesting presentations in Fairfax, Virginia, at Bridges Therapy and Wellness Center, about an hour’s drive from our home. If you are in our area, go here to see a calendar of their upcoming presentations, some of which may be related to ADHD.

We didn’t return until after 10 last night, and I couldn’t make myself do the exercise and yoga. I felt OK about that decision, since it had been a stressful day and that was the best choice for me last night. Sometimes we need to be kind to ourselves.

So now I’m pondering what happens next.

As far as this blog is concerned, my plan is to move to weekly posting, most often on Wednesdays. If you are interested in keeping up with my world of ADHD and the larger world of ADHD as well, sign up and you’ll hear from me with a short post once a week.

I also plan to stick with the yoga and walk/exercise as a daily regimen. Exercise is clearly essential for general health, but it is also vital for ADHD health. And I just love yoga. The DVD I discovered this fall is perfect for relaxation and stretching, but some strength and balance are elements I’ll be looking to introduce soon.

If you are reading, consider commenting and subscribing. I’d love to hear from you!

 

Learning Styles

Do you know your learning style? This is not something that I was aware of way back when I was in the early grades of school, but it seems like something useful to know about oneself. I just wish I knew a good way to determine mine.

There are learning style screeners online, just like there are for ADHD. In my experience, the ADHD screeners are more accurate and reliable.

Recently I took two different online screening tests, each promising to let me know my learning style. The first one told me that without a doubt (of course based on what I entered into the test) I was an auditory learner. That made sense to me. I majored in music in undergrad school.

But then I took a different test, and this time the results were presented in percentages. That test showed that I am 45% tactile, 35% visual, and only 20% auditory. It also makes sense to me that I might be a tactile learner, since I do learn better through hands-on methods, but the lack of consistence between the two screeners was a bit confusing.

I guess the main thing about learning styles is the fundamental fact that not everybody learns the same way. If you don’t “get” something when it is presented in one way, that doesn’t mean you won’t pick it up quickly if it’s presented in another way. Experiment. Try different ways of taking in information. Be patient with yourself if it takes you two or three tries to figure out how to approach something in a way that works well for you. And be patient with others when they don’t pick up something easily that seems like kindergarten material to you. I really have to work on that last point!

Linda Williams Swanson is a partner in Free To Be Coaching, LLC, in Warrenton, VA. Her website is freetobecoaching.com; visit the site and contact her or her husband, Neil, for a complimentary exploratory session. They are presently accepting new clients from age 13-90. (Linda and Neil do most of their coaching either in person, or by phone, Skype, or FaceTime. High school students are usually coached in person.)

 

Dr. Dodson

If you ever see Dr. William Dodson’s name, whether as author of an article (or his upcoming book) or as speaker on a webinar, my recommendation is that you take advantage of whatever is being offered. I find him to be extremely clear and knowledgeable in many aspects of ADHD. He can tell the history of what we’ve known about the condition, how it has been treated for various ages of children and adults, what medications can do, how to handle co-morbid conditions, and much more.

This afternoon I listened to him speaking on an ADDitude webinar. If you can track it down (or an earlier one), I recommend that you do. Click here for ADDitude’s webinar page.

As can happen with many speakers one hears multiple times, there can be material that is repeated. But in the case of Dr. Dodson, I find that (so far at least) I can’t hear the information he shares too many times.

Today he repeated the “formula” that I refer to several times a week for myself or for clients: neurotypicals can become engaged by something because it is important or rewarding or because there will be consequences for not engaging; ADHDers are not engaged by any of those three, but rather are drawn to things that are interesting, challenging, novel, or urgent. Today he said that this is 100 percent sure. He said you won’t find an ADHDer who has been motivated by importance. It just doesn’t happen. Has that been your experience? I wonder if that, in itself, is diagnostic of ADHD.

Today some of the new things I learned were these:

  • the average age of diagnosis for adult ADHD is 36
  • ADHDers have an average IQ of 120+ which is sufficient for PhD work
  • 8.4 percent of adults meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD
  • there are several times when ADHD is especially likely to be picked up across a lifetime: when a young child is hyperactive; when a child with high but unmet potential is being screened for a learning difficulty; at the start of middle school when there is a heightened need for organizational abilities; at the start of college or independence if internal structures have not been built; and when something good happens, such as a promotion or the birth of a child, when the ADHDer runs out of steam
  • the average family goes through eleven clinicians before finding someone competent to help with their ADHD
  • American physicians diagnose what they know which is depression and anxiety, not ADHD
  • for 43 percent of American physicians, ADHD doesn’t even exist because there is no training about it.

I could go on, but you get the point. There is a lot of richness in what Dr. Dodson has to share with us, so check out his web site here and search out his writings online. You will be richly rewarded!

Linda Williams Swanson is a partner in Free To Be Coaching, LLC, in Warrenton, VA. Her website is freetobecoaching.com; visit the site and contact her or her husband, Neil, for a complimentary exploratory session. They are presently accepting new clients from age 13-90. (Linda and Neil do most of their coaching either in person, or by phone, Skype, or FaceTime. High school students are usually coached in person.)

Fall

It’s my absolute favorite time of year. Even though today here in Virginia the temperature is decidedly un-fall-like (82 degrees), the trees are brilliant gold and orange. The sound of the wind is unique to the season, as it urges more and more leaves to surrender and drop with every new gust.

The trees are shedding their old habits (their 2014 garments) to enter a season of rest in preparation for receiving their new garb. We human beings often think of changing habits when the new year rolls around, but this is at least as appropriate a time for contemplating rest and renewal.

With all that we have been offered this month of ADHD Awareness, we might also enter the season of Thanksgiving a few weeks early. But Thanksgiving is a movable feast anyway, given the importance of gratitude in our daily, not just annual, lives.

ADHDers like variety, so I’m enjoying taking a new look at seasons and holidays for their meanings, not just where the live on my calendar. My guess is that will mix things up a little, stimulate my interest and creativity, and bring more joy into my life.

Linda Williams Swanson is a partner in Free To Be Coaching, LLC, in Warrenton, VA. Her website is freetobecoaching.com; visit the site and contact her or her husband, Neil, for a complimentary exploratory session. They are presently accepting new clients from age 13-90. (Linda and Neil do most of their coaching either in person, or by phone, Skype, or FaceTime. High school students are usually coached in person.)