YouTube Coming

Today’s blog post will be brief because it is the announcement of our new YouTube channel. Creating that channel and its content has been occupying every possible minute in the last couple of weeks, so it’s definitely what is on my mind today.

Every few days I plan to post a short video on our channel. Each video will feature either Neil or me, and each will be only a couple of minutes long. The subject of each video will be an ADHD “hint” —  a tip or strategy or bit of information intended to give a boost to anyone living with ADHD.

Today I posted the first, introductory video. As soon as I have posted two or three more, I plan to announce the link to the channel, probably by a week from today or perhaps sooner.

I’m looking forward to this project as an opportunity to share information in a digest form to people who might benefit from it. In addition, I see this project as an opportunity to learn, because I know of no better way to learn something than to teach it to someone else!

If you are reading this blog next week and find the YouTube channel helpful, please pass that information along to others who might benefit from it.  Thanks!

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 coach by phone, Skype, FaceTime, or in person. High school students are usually coached in person.)

 

 

 

 

Awareness of ADHD

Last Friday Neil and I gave a presentation about ADHD in our town of Warrenton, Virginia. There were between twenty-five and thirty civic leaders present, and we used the occasion to share some basic information about ADHD. Our hope was that the attendees that morning would leave with a little more knowledge about ADHD, a little more understanding of people who have ADHD, and a little less willingness to buy into the stigma that surrounds ADHD.

After our presentation, we had time for a few questions. People spoke up not only to ask questions, but also to share the ways ADHD was present in their lives. With 10-11 percent of children and 4-5 percent of adults having ADHD, it’s likely that everyone in the room knew someone with ADHD. The sad fact is, however, that around 85 percent of adults with ADHD have it but don’t know it.

Adults with ADHD are much more likely than others to have difficult lives, unless they have received treatment. They have higher rates of divorce, imprisonment, job loss, traffic accidents, just to mention a few areas of challenge where ADHDers need support and wise care.

Some folks have been diagnosed with other conditions such as depression or anxiety and aren’t aware that their underlying condition is actually ADHD. An ADHD diagnosis is critical information. It is essential that the physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and neurologists gain a clearer understanding of what ADHD actually looks like and the implications it has for the individual, his/her family, and society.

So far I haven’t been able to find an online source to document this fact, but I have heard from multiple reliable people that there is little or no training about ADHD in medical schools or graduate schools of psychology. It’s quite reasonable to expect that a doctor who has been trained to recognize anxiety and depression, but not ADHD, will diagnose what she knows. ADHDers are thus not always well served by the people they turn to for treatment.

October of every year is ADHD Awareness Month. If we want to make life more rewarding and positive for children and adults with ADHD, every month should be ADHD Awareness Month. Neil and I have more presentations in our community in the coming months, so check the side bar on our web site for a link to the dates and times. Spread the word!

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 coach by phone, Skype, FaceTime, or in person. High school students are usually coached in person.)

Beliefs

Last week when on a call with other coaches, I was reminded of a writer to whom I was introduced during my coach training. She is quoted in a couple of the ADDCA training manuals, and her name is Mandy Evans. She has written two small but powerful books: Emotional Options: A Handbook for Happiness and Traveling Free: How to Recover from the Past by Changing Your Beliefs. For some reason, those were not among the many books I ordered during my training, so I am happy to have been reminded of them last week. They are now beside me on my desk. At present I am reading Emotional Options for the second time and am looking forward to reading Traveling Free.

Emotional Options is short and deceptively easy to read. I am not sure it will be easy to implement her ideas, but that may be due to my beliefs, of course. As an example of something that sounds deceptively simple, on page two we find: “If you don’t like the way you feel, deal with the feeling first.” That’s what she would like to shout to people who want to feel better and believe that feeling better can only be reached by achieving a particular goal such as making more money or finding true love. It reminds me of the title of another book, Change Your Questions Change Your Life by Marilee Adams. I wonder if Mandy Evans would go so far as to say, “Change your feelings, change your life?” That seems backwards to me, or at least it did before I began to ponder what Evans has to say.

On page three she writes: “Your emotional state will always have a profound effect on what happens next in your life. The choices you make and actions you take when you are afraid lead down a different road from the choices and actions you take when you are happy. The solutions you find to a problem when you feel guilty will not be the same ones you come up with when you feel at peace.” So, I understand her to say, deal with the feelings first, and make your decisions based on merit, not on how you think an action will make you feel.

Evans goes on to explain that how we feel is determined by our private belief systems. We each have such a system, but some of our beliefs are conscious and others are unconscious. It’s those unconscious beliefs that can really throw a monkey wrench into our lives, and we don’t know why because we aren’t aware of the underlying beliefs.

I could go on, but there is no reason to try to condense a book that is already extremely concise and readable. The rest of the book describes the Option Method and lays out a “simple, easy to follow, step-by-step way to identify, explore, and resolve the self-defeating and conflicting beliefs that keep us stuck in pain.” (p. 8) Maybe this little teaser will pique your interest in reading one or both of these books by Mandy Evans. If so, I’d love to hear your comments!

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 coach by phone, Skype, FaceTime, or in person. High school students are usually coached in person.)

 

Questioning and Listening

Is listening a lost art? Where is it taught or modeled? How can folks with ADHD who have thoughts constantly racing through our heads learn to really listen? Why should we learn to listen? What about questions? How can we learn to ask questions that give other people the safety and freedom to respond to us openly and honestly?

This week I have read an inspiring little book entitled Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling by Edgar Schein.  I strongly recommend this book. It contains wisdom that applies in every context in which two or more human beings are interacting. Though the book focuses primarily on relationships within organizations and hierarchies, the concepts are also applicable on a purely interpersonal level.

“Humble Inquiry” is defined by Schein as “the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” Once we ask such a humble question, we need to be able to hear the response.

There are many forces at work in any situation that can make asking a truly humble question and fully hearing the answer challenging, if not impossible. What Schein’s book triggered in me was a process of thinking about how much of the time we are locked into our own minds, whether we’re asking questions or trying to hear the answers. We ask questions that are really statements; we drown out the answers with our own internal voices as we ponder what to say next. How often do we ask humbly curious questions and then truly hear the answers?

For folks with ADHD who at times face challenges in social relationships, learning to ask sincere questions and then to be able to listen to the answers can be a key to strengthening relationships and to more rewarding interactions even with strangers.

I love a story Thom Hartmann shared in his book ADD Success Stories: A Guide to Fulfillment for Families with Attention Deficit Disorder.  A man was invited to his boss’s home for an important dinner party, but just prior to his leaving for the party, the cap fell off of one of the employee’s front teeth. He hurriedly stuck it back on with glue. During the dinner he was quite concerned that it would fall off again, so he ate very carefully and spoke very little. He sat near his boss’s wife and decided to listen to her  stories about subjects that didn’t usually interest him.

The next day his boss called the man into his office to thank him for joining them for dinner. His boss went on to say that his wife couldn’t stop talking about the employee’s being a brilliant conversationalist! The employee was stunned because he had said very few words and they were nearly all questions designed to keep his boss’s wife talking so he wouldn’t have to.

He decided to apply what he had learned about the power of listening to his work in sales, and he discovered that everyone he met truly appreciated being heard. And, he was quite amazed at what he learned from listening to them!

ADHDers are so often busy telling, because so much is passing through their minds. All of that telling can cause ill feeling in social situations, because it gives the impression to others that the ADHDer is not interested in anything but him/herself. Remember the salesman at the dinner party, and become a “great conversationalist” by listening and asking sincere, humble questions. Let me know what happens!

Executive Function

This post may have the feel of a mini research paper. My apologies if that is not appealing!  Understanding the concept of Executive Function (EF) is important for ADHDers and those who care about them. I find myself frequently confused about the subject, and writing this brief post is another attempt to come to a clearer understanding.

So much research is being done about the brain that the general understanding of EF is constantly growing and changing. That makes it difficult to settle on one working definition. It seems to me that the more you look for explanations of EF, the more explanations you are likely to find. In this post you’ll find short descriptions of three ways it has been explained, with links to the sources in case you want to read further.

Dr. Thomas Brown’s Concept of the Conductor:

For some time I’ve been drawn to Dr. Thomas Brown’s simple analogy of EF to an orchestra conductor. Dr. Brown says an orchestra conductor’s job is “to select what piece is to be played, to start [the musicians] playing together, to keep them on time, to modulate the pace and volume of each section, and to introduce or fade out various instruments at appropriate times.” Without a conductor to direct and hold it all together, there could be a cacophony of sound rather than a beautiful symphony. ADHDers have an imperfect and at times a missing conductor (EF) to direct the activities of part of the brain.

Dr. Russell Barkley’s Seven Skills:

In ADDitude magazine, Dr. Russell Barkley describes seven areas of EF that are usually challenging for ADHDers. These are areas in which the “conductor” (EF) is not available or not up to the task. He writes:

“Executive function is judged by the strength of these seven skills:

  1. Self-awareness: Simply put, this is self-directed attention.
  2. Inhibition: Also known as self-restraint.
  3. Non-Verbal Working Memory: The ability to hold things in your mind. Essentially, visual imagery — how well you can picture things mentally.
  4. Verbal Working Memory: Self-speech, or internal speech. Most people think of this as their “inner monologue.”
  5. Emotional Self-Regulation: The ability to take the previous four executive functions and use them to manipulate your own emotional state. This means learning to use words, images, and your own self-awareness to process and alter how we feel about things.
  6. Self-motivation: How well you can motivate yourself to complete a task when there is no immediate external consequence.
  7. Planning and Problem Solving: Experts sometimes like to think of this as “self-play” — how we play with information in our minds to come up with new ways of doing something. By taking things apart and recombining them in different ways, we’re planning solutions to our problems.”

For Dr. Barkley, EF is so central to ADHD that it could more appropriately be called Executive Function Deficit Disorder (EFDD).

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard and the Three Primary Functions:

Other folks including some at Harvard describe EF in terms of three primary functions:

  1. Working memory – the capacity to hold and manipulate information in our heads over short periods of time
  2. Inhibitory control – mastering and filtering our thoughts and impulses to resist temptations and distractions; pausing and thinking before we act
  3. Cognitive or mental flexibility – being able to switch gears and adjust to changed demands or priorities or perspectives.

So, those are three of many ways of looking at EF. I still find the conductor analogy most helpful. The various lists of EF components, whether three or seven or even ten or eleven, are different ways of describing various tasks the conductor needs to direct.

EF is such an important part of self-management that it is even being taught on Sesame Street! This is a very good thing for preschoolers and their parents who can watch for how the executive functions are developing in their children–whether they are developing at what is considered a “normal” age for a neurotypical child. ADHDers’ executive functions develop at a rate that is 30-40 percent behind what is considered age appropriate, so ADHDers often behave as if they were much younger than their peers. Recognizing the delays can help parents and teachers set up accommodations.

Parents and teachers and partners and colleagues can also focus on the strengths of ADHDers and make sure there is a clear awareness of all the things that are being done well. EF delays are not a reflection of overall intelligence. In fact, many ADHDers are exceptionally intelligent and creative. They just don’t always feel that way, since most of the world around them relies on executive functions to keep moving forward and the ADHDers can feel left behind.

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.)

Expectations

Yesterday I was listening to an episode of the public radio program “This American Life.” The episode is called “Batman,” because it is about a man who has been blind since his first year of life who taught himself to use clicking sounds (echolocation) to move around, just like bats. I don’t mean “move around” such as from chair to chair or bed to bathroom. This man rides bikes, hikes on rugged trails that run along ridges and involve narrow foot bridges—all without the guidance of a normally sighted person.

Daniel Kish, AKA Batman, is a remarkable human being, though in his view it’s a bit demeaning to see him that way. He believes that we expect too little of visually impaired people, so in his view he is not exceptional. He demonstrates through his non-profit, World Access for the Blind: Our Vision is Sound, that echolocation can be taught to others, allowing thousands to live lives of freedom to hike, bike, skateboard, and do all sorts of things that might stretch the limits of what we expect of them.

Scientists looking at the brains of people like Daniel can see that the visual cortex (the part of the brain responsible for processing visual information) is the area that is activated by echolocation. As Daniel says, their brains “see” without the help of physical eyes.

The main idea that grabbed me and kept me listening for the full hour had to do with expectations. Does this defy your expectations of what someone without eyes might be able to accomplish? You can watch Daniel giving a talk to the PopTech conference in 2011 to see him for yourself. See what you think. He called his talk “Blind Vision.”

Daniel believes he has accomplished so much because his mother and his teachers allowed him to stretch, explore, even hurt himself as he learned to get around in the world in the way that worked best for him. That doesn’t mean they weren’t afraid for him and didn’t feel anguish when he was injured (as he reportedly was on numerous occasions). They made the decision to allow him to live his life fully as he chose. He never even met another blind person until he was in fifth grade. His was a radically different upbringing from that of a child educated to be blind in the world.

Daniel’s story led me to think about the role of expectations in ADHD. Do we expect enough of ourselves or do we expect too much? If we’ve been challenged and unable to keep up with peers, does it help more to be compassionate towards ourselves because our brains work differently, or is it better to set higher goals and push to do more?

Many people with ADHD have grown up in the knowledge that some things were more difficult for them than for most of their peers. They may have been made to feel less intelligent, even though ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence. But to push these folks to do better with the traditional “you can do it,” or “just try a little harder and you’ll make it,” can result in lower feelings of self worth if the environment doesn’t change, because they don’t flourish in a typical learning or working environment. They need opportunities to function in ways that meet the needs of their particular brain types.

If the world comes to a clearer understanding of neurodiversity and grows to accept that each of us has a unique brain, then each child (or adult) will be nourished in an environment that best stimulates his/her unique brain wiring. If a visual cortex can “see” in the absence of physical eyes, who knows what is possible! Differences should be recognized as just that – differences – rather than deficits. Imagine a world in which each individual is supported throughout life  in ways that encourage him/her to grow to full potential!

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.)

Into the Future

For the past several years, I’ve known that one characteristic of many folks with ADHD is an inability to connect with their future selves. As Dr. Ed Hallowell says, “In the world of ADHD there are really only two times: now and not now.”

This is the time of year when many people are taking actions to improve the lives of their future selves. They sense a new beginning, a fresh start with the beginning of the New Year. They set new goals, make plans, and even make serious resolutions to change themselves in ways that will make their lives better. If you have ADHD, this whole phenomenon may seem a little distant, since it can be hard for you to see past today.

It is only recently that I have become aware of the extent to which that inability to connect with the future has been a part of my life. The use of vision boards or flow charts or any tools for planning ahead has never come easily to me. It is very difficult for me to take actions that will affect my life for years to come because I feel little or no connection to what seems an abstraction—myself in the future.

Occasionally, however, I can work on a very specific project with a distant deadline and pace myself to complete the task on time. Just recently I did that when I made two large, coffee-table-book-sized photo books for our twin adult children’s birthday. There was a specific date when I would need the books – their milestone birthday in December 2014.

I was keenly engaged in this project on many levels, so it drew me into the future. I felt a strong connection with each of my children through their pictures from birth to the present, so there was sufficient interest to keep me involved. There was an element of challenge in that I needed to review tens of thousands of photographs (no exaggeration!) to choose the ones that would appear in the books, and then I had to scan the majority of the chosen images that had been taken before the start of the digital age.

There was a strong element of creativity involved as I placed the more than 750 images of each child into the layouts of the 100 pages in each book. And finally, there was a deadline, my children’s birthday which I had determined would be the time to present the books.

Did you notice the four bold words in the previous paragraphs? If you’re interested, look back at my blog post from October 29, 2014 for some comments on the work of Dr. William Dodson who, as far as I know, came up with the four characteristics that will keep an ADHDer engaged. They are those four bold words – interest, challenge, creativity, and a deadline. My photo book project had all four characteristics, so it’s not surprising that I was successful in presenting two beautiful books to my children when we celebrated their birthday last month.

You don’t need to have all four elements present to engage. If something is of sufficient interest, for example, that in itself may be all you need to plan and execute your project. If you need to engage with something in the future but it seems so far removed that you can’t even get started, see if you can invest the project with interest, challenge, creativity, or a deadline to pull yourself into the future and get the project going.

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.)