I’m a planner by nature – actually I used to do it for a living – so it’s difficult for me to imagine not having structure and scheduling as part of almost everything I do. In fact, at times I’ve been accused of not being spontaneous. (My friends are laughing right now.) At the same time, I live and work with ADDers who find planning not just a chore, but in some cases, a painful exercise.
Here is what I know to be true – structure is hugely important to supporting the ADHD brain. It may take some gentle shifting, at first, but teaching ADDers to embrace structure and planning can take them far in managing areas of their lives where they find it difficult to cope.
So, when we revised our house rules this month, one rule I made sure we added was: “everyone needs a plan.”
The concept here is not to turn everyone into little robots, but to introduce the concepts of organization and structure into the family in a way that is digestible and not overwhelming for the ADD/ADHD brain.
If we help our kids, even at young ages, begin to use these tools, it will make it easier for them when they really need them. (eg. in middle school when they are required to keep track of their own assignments.)
If you don’t do this naturally yourself, teaching your family might be something you have resisted taking on. So here are 3 steps to take if you want to try this at your house (NOTE: I’m hopeful that my ADD friends are still reading at this point – maybe I should say something engaging like – it can even help your sex life! – in order to keep you involved. Keep reading!)
- Understand the role that structure plays in supporting the ADHD brain. ADD/ADHD is often characterized as a “disorder of Executive Functioning.” Two areas of life that Executive Function manages are 1) Activation – knowing what to do and doing it, and 2) Working Memory – carrying multiple items around in your head in order to recall them.
Planning and organizing — creating structure – is a simple and direct way to support weaknesses in these areas of Executive Functioning. Creating a simple list, so that you can remember the multiple items that you want to do is an easy way to support yourself and your ADD. Keeping a calendar of important dates and events (like your anniversary – hint, hint) can save your sanity and possibly your marriage.
- Choose one area of your life (or your child’s life) where you are struggling with something that you believe can be supported by structure. “Just one?!” I hear you cry. I know it can be hard to choose, but if you try everything at once then you are likely to give up quickly. It is more helpful, particularly if you are an ADDer, to focus on one thing at a time, and choose an area where there is a high level of motivation. Perhaps the Most Important Part: reward and motivate using the system. (At our house, if the planner is used 3 out of 5 days for two weeks, we go out to dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant.) Here are some examples:
- For younger kids: Work together to make a check-list of all the things that need to be done in the morning between the alarm and the bus-stop. Laminate and post the list in a place where they see every day. Buy some fun colored stickers or markers to keep track of what’s been done on the list.
- For older kids: Map out a plan for how they will make sure that homework is done and turned in. Help them identify the steps involved, and what is needed to make each step happen. Talk about what they can do themselves, and what outside support or help will make it flow more smoothly. It seems simple, but breaking things down into the smallest steps can help a lot. In this example, turning in homework requires:
- Knowing when work is being assigned.
- Recording an understanding of the assignment.
- Bringing home the right materials to get it done.
- Completing the assignment.
- Getting the assignment back to school.
- Turning it in to the right teacher.
- Rinse and repeat: The first thing you try might not work. If it doesn’t, and you’re like the rest of us, you are likely to want to give up. That’s why it’s important to choose an area where you can clearly see the benefits and are motivated to make it work. At our house, getting the kids to remember their homework is a huge area of stress, and a big motivator.
For you: Download a cool application on your computer or iPhone to keep track of your important engagements, or your grocery list, or your standing date night with your spouse on Saturday night (see how I keep coming back to that!). Take advantage of alarm systems that beep (or vibrate) to remind you of what’s coming up.
One more thing that applies to all of this: if you can find a way to do so, make it fun. Take advantage of those wonderfully creative ADD brains in your house to come up with a new and wacky way to make it work.
And, finally, a bonus tip for the planners out there like me: be willing to let it go sometimes. Spontaneity and a lack of structure might seem like chaos to you, but it can actually be healthy and helpful, and just what the ADDer in your life needs to feel calm. Hmmm… spontaneity in controlled situations? Perhaps that should be my next blog…
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Article originally appeared on ImpactADHD.com and is reproduced with permission of ImpactADHD™.