My mother would often say, "You would lose your head if it wasn't attached." My friends would say, "I just told you. Did you already forget?" My husband often says, "Where are the keys? Why don't you put in the same place so you can find them?" Over the years, my bosses have told me that I am an excellent counselor, however, I need to work on being on time. My husband and friends tell me that I will be late for my own funeral! I often find myself trying to do a million things before leaving the house, or I get so engrossed in an activity, that I lose track of time! Apparently, working memory and time management are not my strengths.
As a mother, I would spend hours trying to help my oldest son stay focused on his homework. It would take hours to do what the teacher said would take 20 minutes to do. His room, book bag and desk at school were a disaster! Papers would be wadded up, and stuffed into small openings. I would find small, spitball looking, pieces of paper and rubber from chewed up pencil erasers all over the place. In addition, it would take him time to process a response when asked a question. I would say, "Did you hear me?" and he would get agitated and say, "yes, I'm thinking." His teachers would comment, "Well behaved and quiet, but difficulty paying attention." In addition, to this day, he procrastinates on everything! He will wait until the last possible moment to pay a bill or take care of a deadline. He struggles with task initiation, sustained attention, goal-directed persistence, organization, working memory, and time management. While I had inclinations that he had problems with with attention, it was not until he was 16 years old that we pursued a medical diagnosis. He met criteria for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Inattention Type. Regardless of these struggles, he graduated from high school and became certified in Welding. He now works for the Steelworkers Union and, at the age of 21, is a Foreman for a small welding company. He has his own apartment, his own vehicle and is saving money to buy a house. He also mentors his youngest brother, who also struggles with executive functioning skills. I am so proud of him!
My youngest son had (has) a hard time managing his emotions and keeping friends. When frustrated or excited, he would act impulsively and do things that were not appropriate. We often replied, "What were you thinking?" It was not until later that we realized he was not thinking, that was the problem! He acted as though he was driven by a motor, moving quickly without considering the consequences. Everything was fast and hard with him, which it still is (a bit scary now that he drives). He has a difficult time sitting still, and he is often wiggling, pacing or shaking his leg. I would often have to talk to him about perspective-taking, standing back and looking at a situation from another person's point of view. This son has a difficult time with metacognition, response inhibition, emotional control, flexibility, and goal-directed persistence. In addition, he was the child that struggled with sensory overload. He would not wear jeans for the longest time because he did not like the way they felt. The same occurred with various socks, shoes and shirts. When he was younger, in 2nd grade, he became so overwhelmed by "we don't even know what" that he shut down and became mute on two separate occasions. He literally sat like a rock, without blinking or responding, for a whole hour. I was so afraid for him and didn't know how to intervene. We took him to a Neuropsychologist and they diagnosed him with ADHD, Borderline Aspergers, Mood Disorder, and Auditory Processing Disorder. They recommended medication and psychotherapy, which I did not do. Rather, I used various parenting techniques to address. When he turned 13, after many emotional struggles, we tried three different medications, and none of them worked. Finally, after being suspended week after week for not doing his work and not obeying school rules, we decided to remove him from the public school setting (which is when most of his behaviors were exacerbated). We are now home schooling him by prepping him for the GED. He is smart kid who has a career goal of becoming a welder and fabricator. He is extremely mechanical and hands on, and is infatuated with cars. We are all hopeful that he will pass his GED and enter technical school. When he is engaged in activities that he likes and feels successful in, he thrives.
Because of my own personal difficulties with poor executive functioning skills, and because I have over twenty years of experience working with children who also struggle in these areas, I decided that I wanted to learn as much about ADHD that I possibly could. In my experience, ADHD is given a bad rep! If a child is impulsive and struggles with emotional outbursts, many people assume it is because they lack good parenting, or because they ate too much sugar. I remember feeling like a bad parent, and still do sometimes, because my child did not fit the acceptable mold. Teachers would refer to my children as lazy and unmotivated, yet I knew that when they were doing something they were interested in, like working on cars or building something, they were 110% engaged in the activity. I see this in my students at school too. Many children I work with, who do not do well in academics, feel like failures. They walk around with their heads down and often feel like giving up. I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with students about this issue. I focus on their strengths and encourage them to keep moving forward, one step at a time.
In 2013, I became a Certified Life Coach and I focused on working with people who had poor executive skills, and/or ADHD diagnoses. While this is no longer my primary focus in counseling/coaching, it is one of the areas I focus on. My goal is to help people identify their strengths and their weaknesses, and learn to use their strengths to manage their weaknesses. We are all different. Rather than focusing on ADHD as a disability, I show people how great ADHD can be. People with ADHD are often out of the box thinkers, and excellent problem-solvers. They can be super engaged in an activity and are sponges when it comes to learning things they are interested in. People with ADHD often have average to above average intelligence and are super creative. They can often manage a variety of tasks at the same time, and become excellent entrepreneurs. It is our job as parents, educators and counselors to help individuals work through poor executive functioning by teaching them how to manage these desperately needed skills.
I am currently reading a book by Richard Guare, PhD, Peg Dawson, EdD, and Colin Guare called, "Smart but Scattered Teens." I will be blogging information and thoughts as I read through. I hope the information is helpful to those who read this blog, and I encourage you to provide feedback.