It’s More Complicated Than Just Lack of Attention!

As you already know, every person with ADHD struggles to maintain attention. However, did you know that mental hyperactivity is linked with an inability to stay focused.


To say that someone with ADHD cannot pay attention doesn’t tell the whole story. The reality is that we cannot focus attention on one task. Parents often say, “but my kid can concentrate on video games for hours. Why can’t she do school work?”


For starters, when we are interested in something, we can spend hours on end on it. And I know what you’re thinking… duh we can, we are interested in it. But the thing is, we want to know everything there is to know about that thing. In addition to that, our time blindness shows up in these circumstances because we lose track of how much time has passed. Before we know it, we’ve spent all day on this one task.


So, why can’t we transfer this level of hyper-focus to school? School was set up for the neurotypical learner. There are so many moving parts that we must master for us to be successful in school that we get easily overwhelmed. Before we know it, we are buried with work and unsure how to manage it.
This happens because we lack the skills needed to manage time, organize, breakdown assignments, get started & self-advocate.


I can imagine one of your biggest frustrations is your child’s time blindness. When it comes to school, procrastination is the name of the game because they “have plenty of time.” They constantly ask for just 5 more minutes, but that quickly turns into much longer than 5 minutes.


ADHDers are in a constant state of overestimating or underestimating the amount of time it takes to complete a task. Part of this has to do with a lack of awareness of how long 10 minutes actually is. Sometimes, our time struggles stem from not knowing every step that needs to be taken to complete a task, so they cannot accurately predict the amount of time it will take.


So what do we do to help improve time blindness?


Start by having your child put together a short playlist, maybe 3-4 of their favorite songs. When they have a task to complete, use the playlist – be sure to play the songs in the same order every time.


Let’s use the example of cleaning the room. If your child knows she only needs to clean until the playlist is over, she will better estimate how long she has to clean. She can then apply this to other tasks that need to be completed.
Now that we have a plan to know the amount of time we need to spend on a task, we need to see each step to complete the task. Having a 10-15 minute playlist to clean your room is great. But, it is useless if we do not know the steps to take.


Start by getting out a pen and paper. Together, write down each step to take to have a clean room in 10-15 minutes. Be sure to write it down because we are masters at forgetting!


When it’s time to clean the room, start that playlist and begin working through the cleaning checklist. As your child works through this a few times, they will start to correlate where they are in the playlist with which step they should be on. The combination of having a sort of timer and a checklist will help your child better grasp how long it will take to clean their room.


Stuff everywhere… All. The. Time.


We are tornadoes that destroy everything in sight, leaving others to pick up the mess. Whether it be a messy backpack or leaving shoes everywhere, it seems messes just follow us everywhere we go.
Why? Why can we not take 5 seconds to put our shoes where they belong? Why can we not put our papers in the proper spot in our folders? Why can we not get everything we need for soccer practice from our house to practice?
It is so frustrating when you have to remind someone a million times to do something, and it still doesn’t get done.
Let me tell you why. Remember how I mentioned earlier we are time blind? Well, that is one reason. We shove the papers in our backpack instead of putting them in our folder because we think it will take too long. I hear from so many clients that they don’t have enough time to put everything away after class, so they shove it in their backpack to do it later. But, when later comes, we forget.


Rushed is a word I often hear. That feeling of being rushed comes from us not having a good sense of how long it takes to put the paper in the folder. When the clock shows there are only 2 minutes left in class, we instantly feel a sense of urgency to throw everything in a pile to move onto the next class instead of putting everything where it belongs.


Another reason we are category 5 tornadoes is that we lack routine. Let’s go back to that example I gave in the last post about managing time. Remember how I mentioned that your child needs a checklist to go along with their clean room playlist? That checklist will quickly become a routine they work through when cleaning their room. We need that same routine for other areas of our life. That will help us stay organized and move past the false belief that it will take too long.


This makes sense, but what do we do about it?


Start by picking one small area to create a routine. Maybe you have the whole family work through the same routine when they get home. You ask them to put the shoes by the door, backpacks on the hook, and sit down for a snack.
I have one client who was sick of repeating herself. So, she wrote these three steps down and posted them in her mudroom. When her kids got home, she would simply say, “did you complete everything on the checklist?” Once they did, they could move on with their afternoon.


After doing this for a few weeks, it will become a habit, and you can move onto creating another routine. The trick is to master one at a time before moving to the next. Otherwise, you will bite off more than you can chew, and the chaos will continue.


So, we are really good at procrastination. Like, really good!


Later on in life, once we have learned to harness that procrastination skill and use it properly, it will serve a purpose. But, I can imagine right now, it is just causing lots of added stress and low grades.


Why do we procrastinate? Why can’t we just get it done promptly?


There are many answers to that question, but I want to specifically talk about our struggle to break a task down into doable chunks.You know that science project your child had weeks to complete? Then, the night before, they tell you they have to grow a plant and record the different stages as it grows. AND that it is due tomorrow. Lol. I remember doing this in middle school, and my parents were SO mad!


The thing is, that project had a lot of steps to get us from start to finish, and we didn’t know what all those steps were. Additionally, we probably avoided even looking at what the assignment was because it was overwhelming to us.


It was overwhelming to us because we didn’t know what to do with all of that information. After all, when you get a project like that, you probably also got a piece of paper with a lot of words on it.


I want to start with us not knowing what to do with all the information handed to us when given a big assignment. We need to create a big assignment planner. Any assignment not due within 2 days of being assigned, we need to make a plan.

What is the assignment?

When is it due?

What materials do you need to complete it?

What are the steps you need to take to complete it?

When will you complete each of these steps?

Who will help you if you get stuck?

What part of the directions confuses you?


Actually, getting started is a struggle for us. Most of the time, our inability to get started stems from us not knowing how to get started, what to get started on and how long it will take.


First, we need to know how to get started. I like to have a routine to work through every time a task needs to be done. For example, if we have homework to complete, then every single time we get started on our homework, we should work through the same process. This is a process your child should create, but I am going to give you an example.

  1. Get to your homework spot. Maybe this is a kitchen table or desk in a room.
  2. Get out your work.
  3. Look over what needs to be done.
  4. Pick a place and start.

Now that we know how to get started, we need to know what to get started on. I am going to continue working off the homework example. Some of my clients like to have an order they always do their homework such as Math, Science, English, Social Studies, etc… If they don’t have homework in a subject, they just skip it and move onto the next one.


We now know what to get started on, so it’s time to apply those time management skills we learned more about earlier in the week. We need to gain awareness of how long a task will take us to complete. In my time management post, I mentioned using a playlist. For some, that will work with homework. For others, it will not. Many of my clients have liked to use a timer to help gain awareness around how long homework takes. One of my favorite timers to use is the TimeTimer – you can get it off Amazon.


I want to challenge you to work with your child to set up a homework routine. Share in the comments what they came up with!


This week, I have shared with you how our struggle with attention is not just as simple as learning to pay attention. There are many different things at play, but the main points we touched on this week were time management, organization, getting started, and breaking assignments down.


Now that we have gained this awareness around our struggles, it’s time to dive into why self-advocating can be difficult for our kids with ADHD. There are three main points I would like to make; We don’t know what help we are asking for, we don’t see other kids asking for help, and we want to be able to do it on our own.


I remember being in third grade and learning our multiplication tables. Every week, we had a test over that week’s set of numbers. Each week, the students who got an A on the quiz would get ice cream. The only time I ever got ice cream was when we had a quiz over 1’s. Duh, anything times 1 is that number.


Every Friday, I watched as my classmates ate their ice cream. I sat there so embarrassed because it was obvious that I didn’t do well since I never had ice cream. The problem wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, but I didn’t know how to memorize the multiplication table. If I’m honest, I didn’t even try because just looking at it was overwhelming.


So, why didn’t I ever ask for help? The answer is simple. I did not know what I needed help with. Did I need help understanding what we were learning? Was it that I needed help to develop the skill to memorize the multiplication tables? I didn’t know. So instead, I let each week pass by. To this day, I do not know my multiplication tables. I still count the multiple of 5 on my hands and sometimes have to actually add the two numbers together if it’s the multiple of 2.


As I got older, I continued just to ignore the problem instead of asking for help. This caused me to have poor grades constantly and, in several cases, almost not make it to the next grade level.


You and I both know that students are always getting help from the teacher. Back then, I didn’t know that. I didn’t see the other kids staying after school or emailing the teacher to get clarification. On the off chance I knew what I needed help with, I never asked for help because I was embarrassed. I saw all these other students eating their ice cream and figured they were just a lot smarter than me.


I didn’t know that they may have been getting extra help from teachers. I wasn’t aware that they were asking their parents for help. My parents always offered to help, but as many of you know, that can quickly turn into WWIII. It often did in my house, but that is another story for another day.


Not seeing other students getting help made me not want to get help. I didn’t want to look stupid by asking. So instead, I didn’t. Because of that, I often failed and sat quietly watching others eat their ice cream.


Everyone wants to be independent—especially those of us who struggle. We don’t want to look different, and we don’t want to be different. We want to be like everyone else. So, we fake it and act like we can do it.


We pick fights with parents and avoid teachers or anyone else who offers to help us. We do this because, in our minds, other students can do it on their own, so we should be able to as well. For some ADHD students, this looks like them spending ten times longer than expected to complete their work. For others, this looks like a list of missing assignments.


So, how can we help our students self-advocate?


For starters, we need to help them grow their self-awareness and understanding of what type of help they need. When I am in a consultation with a client, I typically ask if the student struggles to understand the content or struggle to just get their work done. The answer to that tells me if they need a tutor to reteach the content to them or need a coach to help them figure out how to get caught up and build the skills.


I hear students tell me all the time that ‘no one asks for help.’ That is a false belief and we both know that. We know that because we have experience seeing others ask for help. We know that not a single successful person gets to where they are without support. Your child does not have enough experience to know that. So we need to show them that others are asking for help and teach them how to do it.


Our desire to be independent comes from our thought that everyone does everything on their own. Helping your child see that adults and kids alike ask for help will also lead them to know that you must have help to be independent. To grow, you must have help.


One of my favorite ways to build this awareness to be successfully independent is in groups. I have several students who come to my offices on Sundays just to get work done. Some sit quietly and work, while others are more chatty. Regardless, they are all observing other kids their age getting help and getting work done. This shows them that they are not alone.


I challenge you to find a way to help your kiddo see that they are not alone. And for all you frustrated parents with difficult kids. Know that you are not alone either!


{{Be sure to join Focus Forward Parents Of ADHD Kiddos to read more on this topic and join an amazing community of support!}}

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