7 Simple Tips For Learning With ADHD Or ADD, According To A Neuroscientist Psychiatrist
Do you wait until the last minute before starting a big project then have to scramble to get it done? Do you struggle to stay focused on Zoom meetings or in class? Is your desk such a mess you have a hard time finding what you need? Do you ever get the feeling other people think you're just being lazy even though you're trying really hard? These are all signs of attention deficit disorder (ADD), more commonly called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
I have treated thousands of adults and children with ADHD, and they often feel like failures even though they are highly intelligent and creative.
Extreme procrastination, failure to meet deadlines, and impulsive behavior are common symptoms that can hold you back. In addition, when friends, family, coworkers, or classmates aren't aware of the challenges you're facing, it can make it harder on you.
Fortunately, there are creative ways to cope with ADHD symptoms that can help you go from feeling like an underachiever to reaching superstar status. You can learn to build on your strengths, work more efficiently, be more productive, stay organized, and interact better with others. Change, of course, doesn't happen overnight. These ADHD self-help tactics take practice.
Here are seven science-backed strategies and tips I give to my patients for learning with ADHD that can help make your professional and personal life more pleasant and efficient:
Break down big tasks into smaller parts.
For people with ADHD, integrating a new project software program at work or writing a college term paper may appear so daunting they don't know where to begin.
To make the learning process easier, break it down into smaller parts and prepare a strategy with actions you can realistically complete. For example, begin with your study and then create an outline with small tasks. When you've completed one of those tasks, check it off. You'll feel good about yourself for accomplishing something, and you'll be more driven to go on to the next step.
To improve blood flow, take regular breaks to do some physical exercise.
Our brain-imaging work, which comprises over 200,000 brain SPECT scans, shows that ADHD is associated with decreased blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (PFC), an area that is involved with impulse control, judgment, focus, and more. Increasing blood flow to your PFC aids in concentration and other functions. According to an article published in Current Psychiatry Reports, intense aerobic exercise improves brain structure1 and function, which can lead to enhanced cognitive performance.
While working or studying, take short breaks and get your blood pumping with physical activity. Even a short, brisk walk may help increase blood flow and make you ready to dive into the next lesson. However, be sure to avoid activities like football, hockey, or rugby that might lead to head injuries that damage the PFC.
Mix, match, and switch up your learning techniques.
There are many methods to learn, and what works best for you depends on trial and error. According to research2, people may benefit from certain techniques for learning with ADHD, such as distributed practice, in which learning is divided into smaller chunks over a longer period of time.
Do you have trouble following instructions when your supervisor or teacher gives them to you verbally? Do you retain information better when you read it or when you watch a video? According to a 2018 research study published in Ear and Hearing, people with ADHD are more likely to have auditory processing disorders, which should be considered while developing your best learning methods. Find out what methods work best for you, and share that info with supervisors, colleagues, or teachers.
Consider scheduling more difficult activities early in the day.
Children and teens with ADHD tend to be more easily fatigued than others. Furthermore, if they are taking stimulant medication, the effects often fade in the late morning. Keep this in mind when organizing the day, so you can employ your intellect at its peak functioning level.
While this varies from person to person, research published in Sleep Medicine Reviews indicates that children and adults with ADHD have sleep problems such as daytime drowsiness. Making sure you get your slumber is critical for optimal brain functioning, therefore make certain you're resting well!
Find ways to get organized.
Researchers revealed in the journal Education that organizational skills benefit kids with ADHD in school. Day planners, computer organizing applications, time management tools, calendar alerts, and phone notifications can help you stay on track with your studies or work projects.
Also, since people with ADHD can be easily distracted, avoid overloading your walls or desk with exciting imagery. To help you get organized and keep clutter to a minimum, ask a friend or hire a specialist to help you learn organizational systems.
If necessary, request accommodations.
As I tell my ADHD patients, advocating for yourself or a loved one can be important for the learning process. It's critical to have an accurate diagnosis (more on this later), but after that is done, requesting accommodations may provide an enhanced educational or work experience.
Whether you're in school or in the workplace, there are several types of assistance available, including having more time for examinations, a distraction-free workstation, and reduced course loads.
Know your ADHD type and your brain type.
Our brain-imaging work has shown that ADHD is not a single or simple disorder. In fact, we have identified seven types of the condition, and each type requires its own treatment plan. Knowing your type is critical to getting the most effective treatment. Take our free ADD Type Test—it only takes about four minutes (and is confidential) to see which type sounds like you. This test will help you decipher your symptoms and develop a plan to naturally manage your ADHD.
In addition, our brain-imaging work has helped us identify brain patterns associated with personality traits. We have identified 16 brain types, including one called Spontaneous, which is commonly seen in people with ADHD. To discover your brain type, as well as proven strategies to optimize your brain, take our free Brain Health Assessment.
It takes about six minutes to complete, and in addition to revealing your brain type, it provides a Brain Health Score and a personalized report with brain type optimization suggestions for diet, supplements, lifestyle, and more.
Whether you're looking for coping methods for yourself, your child, or a loved one, it's important to remember that everyone with ADHD has different life experiences, lifestyles, and personalities.
Not every strategy listed will work for everyone with ADHD. Choose the coping strategies that resonate with you, and try implementing one small change at a time. For example, you may choose a time management tool or start taking short walks during breaks and commit to experimenting with it for one to two weeks before adding another approach.
Consider speaking with a close friend or family member to discuss coping methods and requesting aid when you think you need it. Remember that change does not occur overnight and that it may take time to discover the techniques that work best for you.
Daniel Amen, MD, is a clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist, physician, professor and 10-time New York Times bestselling author. He is a double board-certified child and adult psychiatrist and founder of Amen Clinics, Inc., which has eight clinics across the country with one of the highest published success rates for treating complex psychiatric issues with the world’s largest database of functional brain scans relating to behavior, with more than 160,000 scans on patients from 121 countries. Amen is the lead researcher for the largest brain imaging and rehabilitation study for professional football players that demonstrates high levels of brain damage in players with solutions for significant recovery as a result of his extensive work. His research on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury was recognized by Discover magazine’s Year in Science issue as one of the “100 Top Stories of 2015.” Amen has authored and co-authored more than 70 professional articles, seven scientific book chapters and 40-plus books, including the No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, “The Daniel Plan” and “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.” His most recent book, “Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades,” includes editorial contributions from his teenage daughter, Chloe Amen, and niece, Alizé Castellanos.