By Tellman Knudson
One of the great myths of working with the ADHD child (and anyone with ADHD symptoms for that matter) today is: “Take away all extra distraction and stimulus so the ADHD child can focus.” This is just not true, and I will show you why.
There was an ADHD child I was working with…his mother worked in a fitness gym, and I had an office there. At my office, I would see this ADHD child to try to help with his ADHD symptoms.
His mother was often really frustrated. Whenever she was trying to close up the fitness center to go home at night, her ADHD child was running all over the place…he wasn’t listening to anything she said…making a mess…taking all the exercise cushions and scattering them…basically tearing the place apart. She was trying to clean up and go home for the night, and she was at her wit’s end.
One night, I was locking up my office for the night and I said to his mother, “Pssst…watch this.” This particular ADHD child was only about six. He had eight different diagnoses of ADD, OCD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder on top of his ADHD symptoms, and everything else. But I said, “Hold on, let me show you something simple.”
Then I said to the ADHD child, “Hey, try this… All those cushions you’re throwing all over the place, I’d like to see if you can do this. I don’t think you can. I don’t think that you’re smart or fast enough to do this, but if you can, prove me wrong.”
I said, “Try to balance them all up on one hand while you’re looking up at the ceiling, while you’re reciting the alphabet backwards.”
The next thing I knew, this ADHD child had all these cushions from the workout machines balanced on one hand…AND he was looking up at the ceiling, and reciting the alphabet backwards.
I said, “Ok, let’s see if you can remember where each one of those cushions go, and if a single one of them is out of place, you have to start over.” The fact is, it didn’t really matter where they went. But this ADHD child, even though he was only six, he remembered precisely where they all came from.
One at a time, he put all these cushions back squarely, exactly where they were supposed to go, and he didn’t argue, because I didn’t give him anything to argue with. I gave him something challenging to do that needed to be done that occupied all his senses at once.
At the same time, we turned the music up in the fitness center while we were at it. We turned it loud to give him more auditory sense, and bam! He had focus instantly. Why does this work? How does this happen?
There are some different theories about how this happens, and I read about one amazing theory in a book called Healing ADD by Daniel Amen. He’s a medical doctor, and he talks about the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the part of your brain that’s actually responsible for doing a few things. One is for balancing your emotions, for maintaining a balanced emotional state, also the ability to actually plan ahead and think in advance. Finally, it allows you to do things in a sequenced, step-by-step structure, to essentially make a list of things to do and do it in steps A through G.
A linear person focuses on one thing. This activates that part of the brain we were talking about earlier, the prefrontal cortex. Their emotions get balanced. They’re able to think ahead, plan ahead and do things in sequence. That’s pretty good for focusing on one task at a time, such as doing the dishes. It’s a monotonous, step-by-step kind of thing.
If a person with ADHD symptoms, or an ADHD child, focuses on one thing, generally what happens is, your brain, the part of your brain that is in control of doing things in sequence, planning ahead and doing things in order, literally shuts down.
The activity in your brain just goes “plop,” and what happens is your brain starts looking for other things to stimulate it so it can stay active, except it’s going on “randomizer,” meaning it will just soak up whatever’s coming into your senses.
The point is, if you feed an ADHD child’s senses with things that are related to what they’re trying to accomplish, they’ll stay focused on accomplishing that thing.
This is the big difference between people with ADHD symptoms and people without ADHD symptoms, that gets really misunderstood.
Someone who sees an ADHD child struggling to stay focused on one thing, usually tries to help by “taking away all the distractions” actually taking away more stimulus from the ADHD child’s environment, and trying to force their brain to focus even more on just that one thing.
Because that is what works for a person without ADHD symptoms, right? However, as I’ve shown, that is the worst thing to do to the ADHD child.
When you give an ADHD child (or adult) enough things to do at once, as well as a stimulating environment, they can do anything at all, they are in their element, and they really shine. If you’d like to learn more surprising secrets about how to help the ADHD child and others with ADHD symptoms focus and thrive, see below.
About the Author: Tellman Knudson can help you learn to focus, beat distraction and accomplish your goals. Go to
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