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Six Challenges in ADHD and Tips to Manage Them

By Professor Tony Attwood and Dr. Michelle Garnett

ADHD is associated with qualities and challenges. The qualities can include enthusiasm, energy, creativity, fun to be with, and capacity for intense concentration on something of interest. However, the person can struggle with waiting, a tendency to lose things, being distracted, and starting and completing activities. This blog will explore some of the difficulties and describe what can help.

  1. Waiting for something to happen.

    An ADHD child or adult may be concerned about how long they are expected to wait, what they can do while waiting, and potentially forgetting what they want to say or do. Waiting can also mean feeling bored, which can be difficult for someone with ADHD.
    Other people can be helpful by offering encouragement or distraction while waiting, and it is advantageous to write down what could be said or done so that it is not forgotten.

  2. Losing things

    A busy mind can sometimes make it difficult to remember where to put something or where you have left it.
    A strategy for losing things is to take a mental photograph of where it is and say to oneself, ‘… is on/in the …’ This will provide an image and words to help remember where it is. It is also important to be calm when searching for something, as this will improve the brain’s memory and problem-solving system.

  3. Easily distracted

    An ADHD mind seeks and enjoys novelty, so attention can be distracted by interesting aspects of the environment that may not be relevant to the task at hand. There can also be distraction by having a very active imagination, especially when an activity is boring.
    A way to maintain attention is to do or have something that keeps one focused. This can include drawing while listening to a teacher or playing with a fidget toy. Movement may also help concentration.
    Adults may improve attention with background music and short bursts of attention followed by breaks for physical activity, such as getting a glass of water or doing a yoga pose.

  4. Starting a project

    The ADHD mind can be full of ideas and opportunities that can be overwhelming, making it difficult to decide and prioritise what needs to be done first and the sequence of steps. This can lead to being ‘frozen’ in uncertainty.
    Sometimes, it can be helpful just to start the project, even in the middle. Then the sequence of steps may become clearer. Sometimes talking to someone about the activity can help clarify where to start. It can be helpful to remember, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing badly”.

  5. Switching tasks before finishing

    The start of a new activity can be exciting and energising. Unfortunately, there is the possibility of a gradual decline in enthusiasm, distraction by other more appealing activities, and soon-to-be-bored abandonment of the activity.
    It is important that an ADHD child or adult recognise that completing a prolonged activity can be difficult. “Chunking” the task into short manageable steps, the length of each step approximately matched to the person’s attention span, can be useful. Asking for help in the later stages of the activity may help. Concentration and motivation may be improved by creating a personal reward to be achieved upon completion.

  6. Time perception

    We know that when enjoying an activity, we perceive time as passing quickly and slowly when bored. ADHD is associated with differences in the brain’s ‘inner clock’ which results in difficulty tracking time and giving a mental signal about how much time has passed or is remaining for this activity.
    Smartphones with their time reminder apps and alarms can be useful. A time plan for the activity in stages can be created, and the expected duration of each stage can be coordinated with a watch or a free TimeTimer App© for visual time management. This can be particularly useful during exams. A child could ask an adult to remind them how much time remains.

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