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Staying Focused When You Have ADHD

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An article in HealthLine states people with ADHD are predominantly inattentive, meaning, they have difficulty focusing, finishing tasks, and following instructions. They are prone to distractions by anything that catches their attention.

Inattentive ADHD often manifests as forgetfulness, apathy, or distractibility, and can be mistaken for anxiety or a mood disorder in adults. In children, it may resemble a learning disorder. People with inattentive ADHD make careless mistakes because they have difficulty sustaining attention, following detailed instructions, and organizing tasks and activities. They are forgetful, easily distracted by external stimuli, and often lose things. They may leave projects unfinished and appear not to listen when you speak. These are all symptoms of Inattentive – Type ADHD; not personal defects. –ADDitudemag.com

It Is Not Their Fault

I have worked with or come in contact with several people who have the disorder. So far, my evaluation holds true for all.

When my husband, my editor, read this post he said, “It sounds like I just haven’t grown up like I’m still a 10-year-old.”

When we first met I felt very much the same until I began studying ADHD, and other disorders. Upon evaluating my husband’s behavior of not being focused, not finishing tasks, being easily distracted, I discovered that his brain actually worked that way. He would be totally surprised when I drew his attention to the lack of follow-through.

I’ve come to the conclusion that his brain works so fast that he doesn’t have the time to finish a task without consciously slowing his brain down.

Later in this paper and in other posts I’ve written, you see where I describe “WorkArounds.” You will also see similar methods in FastBraiin.com, where you can train the brain to slow down and consciously think about the next step.

Currently, kids with ADHD are being trained at an early age to think and react differently. People, like my husband, did not have the opportunity as a child to develop these skills. Adults who have never been treated with medication or behavior modification can still learn new habits. The behavior modification actually creates new dendrites, the branching process of a neuron that conducts impulses toward the cell, in the brain.

We work together on the behaviors mentioned later in this post. As a result, his follow-through behavior is greatly improved.

Focus and Concentration

There are two sides to the Inattentive: Lack of Focus and Hyper-Focus. People with ADHD have an extraordinary ability to hyper-focus on certain subjects or projects. I, for one, wish I had half of Larry’s ability to focus.

Hyper-Focus Example

Larry is a singer/songwriter and a very good songwriter, I might add. He has a home studio where he records and masters his songs. It is not unusual for him to go into his studio, with his full attention on his music, not seeing anything else. He can go for hours without sleep, food or anything.

When he is totally focused, at times, I can walk up behind him, tap him on the shoulder and get absolutely no response.

If I’m behind him and I raise my voice, his emotions can explode and go from 0 to 100 in seconds. He reacts in a “fight or flight” mode, totally surprised, not knowing that I was in the room, and feeling unjustly “yelled at.”

Yet, the flipside is also true. If he doesn’t like the task he’s doing, everything is a distraction, a “shiny thing” as we like to call it. All it takes is one “shiny thing” and he’s off on a new adventure with the old task left “as is”.

Distraction Example “A Shiny Thing”

One night while eating dinner, Larry accidentally spilled his drink. He jumped up to get a towel. We usually do not have the TV on while eating, but that night we did. He stopped half-way into the kitchen when something on the TV caught his attention.

At that moment, the Kool-Aid running across the table top toward the edge where it would soon begin dripping on the floor did not exist. His attention his focus suddenly shifted and he stopped dead in his tracks watching TV.

I watched the Kool-Aid. I watched him standing mesmerized by the new “shiny thing”, wondering if I should say something; get the towel myself or what. He often gets irritated if I go around him do the task, so I sat.

As the Kool-Aid approached the edge of the table, I called his name. I received a “What” with a slightly irritated tone. I said, “Towel?” He slowly turned to look at me completely dumbfounded by my interruption and by the word “Towel.”

He looked at the table, sort-of shook his head, “Oh, yeah,” and grabbed the towel.

On his way back to the table he said, “I got it.” I smiled.

He doesn’t realize how long those moments of inattentiveness or distraction last. I have seen similar circumstances where he’ll wander into the living room, sit down on the sofa, and watch until a commercial comes on, totally unaware that his attention had shifted from the original focus.

When we first got together, his distractions irritated me. Now, most of the time, I find the distractions and his response to them interesting and a little amusing.

Shiny Things – One of Our Active Projects

Distractions, “Shiny Things”, are one of the most interesting and exasperating aspects of ADHD. Larry and I work on this continually. If I’m gone for any length of time, I walk back into the house to every drawer and cabinet door in the kitchen standing open. Every used dish left right where he finished with it.

Larry says that when he finishes with one task, like eating, he never even thinks about the dish, totally out of mind. He’s on to the next thing. I can go into his studio and find dishes, silverware, cups whatever right where he left them, who knows how many days ago.

When he’s getting his lunch ready for work, he’ll open a cabinet door then walk away. The next thing you know there are three cabinet doors open, two or three draws open, knives, dishes, apple cores, you name it are left on the counter as he walks out the door.

If I comment or draw his attention to the doors or dishes or mess in the kitchen, he’ll clean it up. But, it’s interesting that he doesn’t see it.

Losing Things

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual for ADHD, the DSM-V, people with Inattentive ADHD often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, wallet, mobile phone).

Larry’s forever losing his wallet, phone, keys, and glasses. Just the other day he couldn’t find his phone. I waited a few minutes to see if he could find it. He’d been in every room in the house looking, but no luck.

I walked over to his computer, in the main room of the house. His phone lay face down, on the table, by the side of the computer. Usually, I pick it up and hand it to him. This time, I called him over and showed him the phone and asked, “Why can’t you see it?”

He said he was looking for the front screen, which is a picture of him and his guitar, but the phone was face down. Because it was face down, it did not register as being his phone. He becomes very frustrated, especially, when I walk straight to it.

WorkAround

For years I picked up after him. I finally decided that wasn’t helping him or me. So we developed a “workaround.” He’ll hear me say, “door” or “bathroom counter” or “kitchen.”  That gets his attention and he’ll shut the doors or pick up after himself. He doesn’t mind doing it, he just doesn’t think about it.

I often notice that his mind is racing a hundred miles per hour. The website FastBraiin talks about how to set up protocols and teach kids how to slow their minds down and create what I call “WorkArounds.”

We’re working on putting dishes in the sink and wiping off the counter after he makes his lunch. It sounds weird, but if he receives a grade he does a much better job of cleaning up. Perhaps, it catches his attention more than the job at hand. If a grade isn’t given, the task is forgotten.

Now, he gets a lot of “A”s and “A+s” for his cleanup. It actually works.

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