Saturday, September 7, 2013

What did you do on summer vacation? ADHD - By Cheryl Klein, M. Div., Flying Solo Counseling

It’s that time of the year when most of us are getting back into school or work routines, and checking in with one another about summer experiences. To be sure, my summer included all the usual superb Lake region experiences at the water, time with friends, great Maine flavors.

However, what stands out most for me for the summer of 2013 was my week at the Cape Cod Institute. As a counselor in private practice, I seek out continuing education experiences that give me more tools for work with the children, teens and adults who call for help. My choice for this year’s program, presented by Dr. Ned Hallowell was “ Unwrapping the Gifts:  A Strengths-Based Approach to ADHD Across the Lifespan.”

ADHD as a gift? Really?

Until the first day of this training, I’d assumed a pretty vanilla-flavored approach to the issue of attention deficit disorder, with or without hyperactivity. As a play therapist with several hundred miniatures on the shelves in office, allowing little (and big) people to express their fears, feelings and more, I generally believed anyone who could sit with me in a standard session and not feel compelled to jump up and play with all the toys probably did not have a strong case for ADHD.

By the end of the first day, I’d begun to realize I was wrong.

Hallowell defines ADHD as a “minor brain dysfunction” and explains it as more than a by-product of fast-paced modern lives, but rather an inability to plan, organize and follow-through. Folks with ADHD have no problem focusing on what interests them, but have a history of distractibility, impulsivity, and restlessness. Most of us have had everyday experiences where our attention was distracted, where we found ourselves to be impulsive and felt the need to get up, go out, do something, but these traits have not posed ongoing challenges throughout our lives. The fourth component in an accurate ADHD diagnosis is an extreme of anger or rage for males, and daydreaming in females.

Surprise number 2 for me was Hallowell’s explanation that medication is often not necessary, and in his research, may be ineffective in as many as 80 percent of those affected. Huh.

So, if ADHD is a credible disorder and medication isn’t the solution, what is? Hallowell was very clear that anyone can lead a productive and happy life, even with ADHD, if sufficient attention is given to nutrition, sleep and the support of family and friends. Structure and limit-setting are both essential, too.

I’d suspected that I, myself, might have ADHD for a number of years. In my work, I can shift easily from kids to adults to couples to families and back, can work long hours even as I age; loving one’s work is cited by Hallowell as one of the remedies. The positive sides of ADHD are creativity, high energy and curiosity. At home, I tend to complete chores by doing a little bit of each of, say, four chores at a time in a cycle, rather than doing one at a time from beginning to end. It all gets done; I just do it “my way.”

To say the least, the week was a revelation to me. I came away not only with new strategies for helping others lead with their positive side, not so very different from dealing with anxiety, depression, etc., but also understanding what a gift ADHD has been for me in my own life. It might have been my best summer vacation, ever.

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