Take a moment to look at your hands. Do you see the intricate pattern of swirls on your fingertips? That is your very own unique fingerprint. Now, you might be thinking “So what? Everyone has a fingerprint.”, and you would be correct. Everyone has one, but no two people share the same design of swirls and lines that make up these unique patterns on our skin. The ADHD/ADD fingerprint works the same way. While a lot of people may have ADHD/ADD, it is unique to each person. It manifests itself in different ways for everyone based on a multitude of factors including physical conditions, diet, social/cultural environment and other physiological conditions.
If everyone experiences ADHD/ADD differently than why is the treatment the same? Great question! The truth is… IT’S NOT! Don’t listen to the self-proclaimed ADHD/ADD Gurus, claiming to have the ultimate cure for ADHD/ADD. While the idea that you can find all the answers in one place is alluring, it can lead to further frustration if this “ultimate cure” doesn’t work for you or your child. This can be a huge setback, as those with ADHD/ADD tend to blame themselves for any failure. That is why understanding the “fingerprint” is so important.
Here is how you or your child can discover their ADHD/ADD fingerprint. While there is no simple solution to attention disorders, there is a simple answer to finding what works for you. You need to try everything and see what skills and tools work for you or your child. When it comes to building your own unique toolbox, trial and error can be the best way forward. Try different styles of journals or planners. Keep track of what you like or dislike about them. Be open to trying new things. You may find that some things only work for a short while, and that is okay. Make a note of why that particular method stopped working for you, and be ready to move on to something else. When a method or tool doesn’t work for you, know the method or tool is failing you, and not the other way around.
The most important thing you can do to support a loved one as they build their toolbox, is to listen and show support. Do not criticize them when they try something that ends up not working. Instead remind them of how proud you are that they tried something new. Listen to them when they tell you they are frustrated. Try to remember that you both have different fingerprints, and a tool that works great for you might not work as well for your loved one. When you listen to them and cheer them on, you become a vital part of their toolbox. Together you can not only discover their ADHD/ADD fingerprint, but build a toolbox that sets them up for success.
Did you know that kids diagnosed with ADHD are twice as likely to experience headaches or migraines than kids without ADHD. This risk for headaches and migraines only rises with age. Although you won’t find headaches or migraines listed under the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, the unmistakable connection has caught the eye of many researchers, and rightfully so. While the research into this connection is still new, there are a few leading theories.
One theory suggests a biological component involving pathways of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in that brain that acts as a reward system. It reinforces actions that lead to pleasure. Researchers know that both ADHD and migraines are triggered by a dysfunction of the dopamine pathways in the brain. Until we know how and why this dysfunction occurs, the biological connection between the two remains a theory.
The other main theory focuses more on the effects of ADHD and less on the cause of it. In short, ADHD is a processing disorder that largely affects executive functioning skills. The brain is capable of receiving and understanding information, but is lost when it comes to organizing it. The ADHD brain doesn’t know what information is important and what can be ignored. Instead of filtering the data, leaving only the key details to be processed, it takes in everything, all the time, all at once. On top of that, since it also struggles to regulate emotions, the brain feels that intensity all day, everyday. So, it may not surprise you to hear the second main theory is based on the concept of executive function overwhelm.
Everything from picking out an outfit, to prioritizing a to-do list, and even making plans to hang out with friends, required executive functioning skills. Let’s picture it this way. Imagine the brains energy as coins. Everyone can only spend ten coins a day. Everytime you make a decision, plan ahead, or organize information you have to spend one of your coins. However if you have ADHD the same tasks cost you two coins. In this scenario a person without ADHD can complete up to ten executive functioning tasks before running out of coins. While the person with ADHD can only complete five of these tasks before they too run out of coins. It is not that the person with ADHD is lazy or doesn’t want to complete more tasks, but they literally can’t afford to. Since we know it takes more energy for an ADHD brain to make decisions; and we know the ADHD brain takes in more information that needs to be processed, it’s easy to see how the brain can get exhausted so quickly.
The exhaustion from all of the unfiltered data entering the brain, floods the system, causing headaches and migraines. If everything we do involves some level of executive functioning, how can you reduce the risk of headaches? You can reduce the risk by giving your brain a chance to rest. That means, take a break. Step away from anything that over-stimulates the brain. Instead find an activity that helps slow down the brain. Exercise, meditation and short naps are three of the most effective ways to rest and recharge the brain. Taking time to rest, not only reduces the risks of headaches and migraines, it also improves focus. It is an essential part of turning ADHD from a hindrance, to a benefit.
Those of us who have been diagnosed with a learning disability (LD), often worry what that means about us and our futures. We often compare ourselves to those without learning disabilities and are disappointed whenever we can’t keep up with them. But having LDs doesn’t mean you can’t be successful. In fact, a lot of successful people and celebrities have some type of learning disability. It may sound shocking, but LDs are not really disabilities at all. A better term would be “differently abled”.
Take Michael Phelps as an example. Phelps, the most decorated olympian in history, has said his ADHD is what helped him the most. When he was a student he struggled to sit still for more than a few minutes, but was somehow able to swim for three straight hours after school. P
helps recalled “I could go fast in the pool, it turned out, in part because being in the pool slowed down my mind. In the water, I felt, for the first time, in control.” Swimming involves being aware of multiple things at once, something ADHD brains love. Which is exactly why Phelps was able to turn his hyperactivity into hyperfocus. The same can be said for comedian and actor Jim Carrey. Carrey, who also has ADHD, is best known for his high energy performances and physicality. The very energy that made him famous was also what got him in trouble as a child. Like Phelps, Carrey was often reprimanded for not being able to sit still in class. In the end, the people who scolded him for his hyperactivity would later be buying tickets to see his movies.
Michael Phelps and Jim Carrey aren't the only ones who turned their learning disability into their superpower. A lot of very successful people have benefited from the very thing that got them in trouble at school. For director Stephen Spielberg, it was his dyslexia that helped him find his passion for film. He found that his dyslexia actually allowed him to express himself and communicate in ways others couldn’t. His brain struggles with reading, because it looks at the world as a series of connections and patterns. Dsylexic brains pull words from all over the page together, because it is always looking for connecting themes and ideas. That ability to see things differently has helped people like Tom Holland, Cher, Anderson Cooper, Whoopie Goldberg, Tommy Hilfiger and others achieve success as well. Among them is entrepreneur turned billionaire, Richard Branson, who once said, “It is time we lost the stigma around dyslexia. It is not a disadvantage, it is merely a different way of thinking. Out in the real world, my dyslexia became my massive advantage: it helped me to think creatively and laterally, and see solutions where others saw problems.”
Good question! Parents call Austin Learning Solutions wondering why their child dislikes reading so much. We often hear: “He loved reading when he was in first and second grade!”, “I don’t know what happened, one day she stopped reading.”, and “My child used to pick up books and read all the time, but now he avoids it at all costs.” Usually we hear these concerns from parents when their child is in or near third grade. Prior to third grade, many students are taught to read whole words, not the individual sounds that make up a word. Students that got away with memorizing whole words suddenly find themselves struggling to read words found in upper elementary text.
There are many reasons why children seem to “hate” reading. While some students learn to read with ease, others experience major difficulties. Struggling readers might have problems with phonemic awareness, phonics, comprehension, or processing verbal information. A child could have a hearing impairment or maybe hears just fine, but lacks auditory processing skills. A child might have a visual impairment, or maybe has perfect eyesight, but lacks the visual processing skills needed for reading. Memory and the ability to concentrate can also be stumbling blocks. There are many causes for reading difficulties, and with persistent difficulties comes failure. These children begin to view themselves as incapable of learning to read or "dumb"! They may develop a “learned helplessness” which causes them to give up and resist trying to improve. However, at Austin Learning Solutions one of the best parts of teaching our students to read is building their confidence by showing them, convincing them that they are capable of reading, despite their past experiences.
So how do we help struggling readers at Austin Learning Solutions? First, it is important to assess each student to find and address individual strengths and weaknesses. We assess a variety of skills including: memory, auditory processing, visual processing, processing speed, logic and reasoning, word attack, and selective attention. Measuring these skills along with spelling, reading and comprehension levels, help us to develop an individualized plan based on each child’s specific needs.
Generally, struggling readers have low motivation, little practice time, and low expectations. We set the bar high for our students and focus on their areas of weakness, instead of avoiding or working around them. We have seen that the most effective approach to helping students in learning to read is a systematic and direct phonics approach and applying those tools while reading and writing. Our phonics method is much more direct (and simple) than most schools teach. We are able to improve word attack skills by two grade levels in about twelve sessions.
“One of the greatest gifts adults can give – to their offspring and to their society – is to read to children." - Carl Sagan
Don’t underestimate the power of reading aloud to your child! When families take the time to read aloud to their children they are building vocabulary, developing connections between written and spoken word, increasing attention span, modeling fluent reading, and strengthening cognition. Most importantly, it builds a strong bond between parent and child. In addition, reading aloud to your child provides enjoyment and entertainment that is more cognitively stimulating than watching television.
The National Institute for Literacy has compiled science-based suggestions which include:
1) Start from birth by talking to your child and responding to their attempts to "baby talk"
2) Have your child use their imagination and make up stories -- and ask lots of questions about those invented tales
3) Pick books with interesting characters -- and don't be afraid to role play with different accents and voices for the characters
4) Have your child point to pictures and describe them. Encourage complete sentences.
5) Help your child sound out words, then say the word they heard.
6) Finally, enjoy yourself!
If you are looking for more tips and advice check out Sarah Mackenzie’s podcast called “Read Aloud Revival”. She is an experienced homeschool teacher and mother for her six children. Sarah releases a new educational podcast every couple weeks that is packed full of practical strategies that you can try at home!