Understanding the Mental Skills Affected by ADD and ADHD (Part 2)
This is Part Two of a two-part article. Part One can be found in the Jan/Feb article Understanding the Mental Skills Affected by ADD and ADHD (Part 1).
These two articles discuss the types of mental abilities affected by ADHD, give examples of academic tasks that use these mental abilities, and provide examples of strategies to improve each of the skills. Part One discusses six important mental abilities and Part Two talks about seven additional mental abilities.
It’s important to understand how your child’s mental skills are affected by ADHD so that the proper support can be provided. Students with ADHD often have a difficult time in school and greatly benefit from a structured program of support to improve the mental abilities affected by ADHD. People with ADHD have mild to severe problems in the areas of managing their attention, memory, thinking, motivation and emotions.
This is the power to resist the urge to say or to do something, for example, the ability to stop oneself from interrupting or criticizing. It also involves the ability to think before acting. Students use response inhibition every time they decide to study for a test instead of taking the night off to watch TV. When kids become skillful in using response inhibition, they are able to carefully select a strategy to improve the situation.
Improving response inhibition in the area of test anxiety:
Kids find it much easier to stop themselves from doing something if they have a clear alternative behavior to use instead. First, help your child find some techniques that remind him to relax, such as wearing a special wrist band, or using a special pencil. This is the trigger that will alert your child to using the negative-thought-stopping techniques you teach him. One of my favorite negative-thought-stopping techniques is repeating the sentence, “I knew this when I studied, so I know it now.” This helps kids reconnect with self-confidence and calms the negative, anxious messages in their heads.
Self-regulation of Affect
This is the ability to deal with emotions so that they don’t get in the way of completing tasks or achieving goals. One example is keeping test anxiety under control. Another example of controlling emotions is overcoming boredom or irritation to keep working on an important task.
Regulating affect to conquer boredom:
Kids need to remind themselves of the “bigger picture” which is that being good in school gives their life meaning and purpose and leads to accomplishing their future goals. Talk about the future with your child! Help him/her make plans, dream big and connect school with this amazing future! If the amazing future is clear and vibrant in his/her mind, it’s much easier for him/her to find value in academic tasks.
Also, help your child find true excitement and value in school subjects. Have exciting talks about the material, go to museums, read assignments together and help your child see the relevance of what he/she is studying.
The ability to start a task at the appropriate time without delaying or procrastinating. Students with ADHD often have difficulty getting started on homework tasks even though they desire good grades because they have trouble making themselves begin a task. This may be related to the next executive skill, disengaging attention.
Increasing task initiation:
Tasks are easier to start when there are clear directions and your child is feeling confident that he/she knows how to proceed. It is also important for the tasks to be relevant, so helping your child find value and future potential in school tasks makes it easier to get going, and to keep going.
For complicated tasks, help your child make a list of all the steps needed. Have him/her check off each step as it’s completed. Check in frequently to offer support, answer questions, and praise his willingness to stick with it.
The ability to stop directing attention towards one thing and begin directing it towards something else. For example, many people with ADHD have trouble managing their bedtimes; they sometimes have trouble stopping a fun activity in order to go to bed.
To encourage the ability to disengage attention:
Kids who understand the “big picture” of why activities are important and clearly see the advantages and disadvantages of a situation have greater success in shifting from one activity to another. Also, some kids who are anxious find it hard to shift gears because of feelings of worry or anxiety.
If your child has trouble stopping activities before bedtime, and you suspect he/she may feel anxious about going to bed, build relaxation activities into the nightly routine. Be sure to include some quiet activity for 30 minutes before bed, such as listening to relaxing music, reading, or being read to. I would suggest that older kids be required to shut off cell phones, IPods, and other electronics (except quiet music) and give themselves a chance to “wind down” before the lights go out.
The ability to follow through for as long as it takes in order to complete tasks and achieve goals. A student using goal-directed persistence keeps studying until he believes he knows the material. Goal-directed persistence is evident when a student keeps working on long term projects such as term papers or stays focused on practicing and building the skills necessary to be good at sports, school subjects, or artistic activities.
Improving goal-directed persistence:
During homework sessions, set a timer for a reasonable amount of time, such as 10-30 minutes depending on your child’s age. Let your child take a 2-3 minute break when the timer rings, then re-set the timer as many times as necessary until all the homework is done. Each week, increase the length of time by one or 2 minutes, slowly building your child’s ability to focus.
Encourage your child to set a personal goal to beat his/her longest time. Help your child verbalize the goal “today I will…”
Help your child set goals, have clear preferences and options and have strong passion about the future and it will be easier for him/her to stick with long-term or “boring” activities.
Read More: Persistence & Goal Setting in Children
The capacity to pay attention to a task for an extended time, particularly if the task is not interesting. Studying for a reasonable period of time before taking a break is a good example of sustained attention. Listening to a teacher’s lecture from start to finish is another example.
Strategies for developing sustained attention:
- Teach your child to use good listening statements to stay on track:
- “I concentrate when people talk and keep my mind from thinking about other things.”
- “I listen for main ideas.”
- “I listen for ideas that are new to me.”
- “I remember what I heard.”
Regulation of Processing Speed
The ability to make a conscious decision about how slowly or quickly to perform a task based upon its importance to you. This is the ability to make yourself go slowly and carefully when you want to do exceptional work, and to go more quickly on tasks that aren’t so important.
To encourage your child to take charge of his/her processing speed:
I use the “Best Job / Good Job / Just Good Enough Job” strategy. I teach kids to decide whether a task deserves their best, most careful effort, just a good, strong effort, or merely a quick, satisfactory effort. I teach them to determine this based upon how important the task is to them (bringing in prioritization skills). The Best Job tasks should take the longest to complete.
It’s easy to see from this discussion of executive skills why ADHD affects multiple areas of a person’s life. People dealing with ADHD can find it hard to stay on track to meet their goals. When they see themselves falling short of the ideal performance they desire, they can become depressed and find it hard to stay positive. But there are many effective strategies for improving the executive skills affected by ADHD.
Dr. Kari Miller is a board certified educational therapist and director of Miller Educational Excellence, a Los Angeles based educational therapy facility whose mission is to bring about unlimited possibilities for students with complicated learning needs by guiding them to discover their true brilliance and use it to change their lives.
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- Managing Time for Adults with ADHD
- Embracing Your Child’s Best Ways of Learning 12 Different Ways to Learn
- Using Yoga to Benefit Individuals with ADHD
- What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why Is It so Important?
- Anxiety in Children and Adolescents
- Omega Fatty Acids’ Super Healthy Super Powers to Aid A Child
- My New Motherhood
This post originally appeared on our March/April 2011 Magazine