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Ways for people with ADHD to support themselves

Of course people who have been diagnosed with ADHD have been informed of the possibility of taking medication to help them focus. But there are other ways to manage ADHD that also contribute to smoother days, with or without meds.

CONTROL YOUR ENVIRONMENT: ADHD people are not known for their organization and yet when they need to focus, they do best in a clean, spare environment with few visual or auditory distractions. Set up a space like this for yourself: a basement room, or even a closet, that can be dedicated as your workspace is ideal. This space should have a desk and chair, good lighting, office supplies, a clock, a timer, a calendar and your backpack and nothing else. If you need a computer to do your work, you MUST turn off indicators that tell you that you are receiving emails.

This space should NOT include a cellphone (turn these in to a basket in the kitchen, available for you to check at pre-designated breaks). Set the timer when you take a break (breaks should be no more frequent than every 30 minutes and should last no longer than 10 minutes. Eat, drink, and move during your breaks.

GET REGULAR EXERCISE: Regular aerobic exercise increases your metabolism and, correspondingly, releases brain chemicals that help you focus and even out your mood. You should consider getting a minimum of 30 minutes of regular aerobic exercise daily. Even better, though, would be to get 10 minutes of good aerobic exercise and then do something that takes both mental and physical stimulation, such as an obstacle course, rock climbing at the gym, or Tai Chi or any other sort of movement activity where you must think and coordinate your movements at the same time.

One of the stumbling blocks to this is that ADHD people get bored easily, so they don’t like to do the same exercise every day. There are ways to handle this:

Walk or bike to school or work. That way, your exercise comes while you are trying to get somewhere. This makes your exercise doubly purposeful and usually short-circuits the boredom issue.

Come up with a repertoire of 5 or 6 aerobic activities, locations, and routes that allow you a choice: biking, walking, stair master or treadmill with a movie OR a book, rollerblading, cross-country skiing, jumping on a trampoline, or any of the other activities listed above… You can also line up an activity buddy, if that is a way to provide interest. That way, you can choose an activity from your list each day, asking yourself, “What would I most like to do today?” or “What can I most tolerate today?” depending on your mood.

Try completing your exercise when you get home from school (or on your way home) and see how well you can focus on your homework, even after a big day at school!

AT THE END OF THE DAY TAKE A HOT BATH, SHOWER, OR JACCUZZI: When you are at your wits end and can’t stand the world, get in warm water. Again, this raises the body temperature and releases the calming, mood-evening brain chemicals. Even people who are on meds for ADHD benefit from this; after a full day of focusing with all their minds, they are exhausted.

EAT WELL AND SLEEP ENOUGH: Brains are supported by healthy food, water, and good sleep (a minimum of 8 hrs for teens).

ORGANIZE ROOMS: For an ADHD person, out-of-sight is out-of-mind. They do better when the organizing systems are in full view. Consider organizing closets with open shelving and the easiest possible way to hang clothes. Consider using stacking shelves and/or clear drawers to store desk items, so that you can see what’s in there.

DEVELOP ROUTINES FOR BORING MUST-DOS: For chores that you MUST do, figure out the bare minimum you can tolerate and make it as routine as possible.

Can’t stand to brush your teeth and don’t do it long enough? Get an electric toothbrush with a timer that tells you when to move to a new quarter section of your teeth.

Always losing your keys? Figure out ONE spot where you are ALWAYS willing to put them. A hook right by the door where you enter your room/house? A certain pocket in your purse or backpack?

Do your homework but forget to take it to school? Get a RED plastic envelope/folder and make it a routine to place ALL finished homework in the folder and then the folder in your backpack as soon as all your homework is finished.

Can’t remember to check to see which textbooks to bring home? Consider buying (or borrowing from school) a second set of all your textbooks. If the books are not new, you can often buy them for low prices on the Internet. (Check out CheapTextbooks.com.)

It’s best to develop these habits in high school, before you head off to college and while you have support at home. But, when you leave for college, recognize that your environment will change, so you may need to develop new routines and find new locations to accomplish the above.

Pam Allen
Pam is retired, but out of deep respect for her contributions to the founding of this group, we keep her profile posted here!
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