A Pushy Kid

LS in Arizona says:

When my 8-year-old ADHD son gets angry with classmates in an unstructured environment (playground), he will immediately push someone. What steps can I suggest as an alternative? (I have offered just walking away or putting his hands in his pockets and taking a deep breath.)

Michele Novotni answers:

Unstructured situations can be a challenge for many with AD/HD. Your suggestions for alternative behaviors sound great. In addition you may want to help him learn to internalize better control and be better able to go on “automatic pilot” when a difficult situation pops up in such an unstructured setting.

It may be helpful to write down what it is that he gets angry about each time on a chart to see if you can restructure or resolve any of the issues.

You may also want to practice in advance through role-play or visualization so that appropriate responses can become more automatic. When you do something repeatedly in practice it is more likely to occur when the situation pops up. Perhaps you could also use cue cards with him before playing to serve as a prompt to help him remember to control his anger.

He may also find an appropriate anger venting strategy helpful when he comes home such as punching a punching bag or pillow or hitting tennis balls.

Another strategy would be to help structure those unstructured situations as much as possible or at least minimize the amount of time he spends in those situations for now.

This article comes from ADDitude magazine.

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Playmates and Friends

DA in Alabama says:

I have a son with ADHD who is 9 years old. He prefers to play with girls instead of boys. He seems to fight with boys and act as a caretaker for girls. Is this another symptom of his condition?

Michele Novotni answers:

AD/HD does not in itself cause children to be drawn to interact with the opposite sex. However, it could be that your son has found more acceptance and nurturing with girls than he finds with boys. There are often gender differences in the way children react to differences with boys often turning to aggression and girls more often being more nurturing. This is not true in all cases. Perhaps he has just found people he likes who like him AND they happen to be girls. For many with AD/HD finding anyone who likes them is a wonderful gift!

This article is published by permission from ADDitude Magazine ©2004. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Subscribe to ADDitude online or via toll-free phone 888-762-8475.

Conversational Skills in Children

A parent asks:

Is it normal for children with ADD to prefer a small group of friends because it is too difficult to interact in a large group because of the chaos and quick pace of activity?

Michele Novotni answers:

At times it can be very overwhelming for both children and adults with ADD to participate in a group situation. The number of distractions increases as the number of people increase. Many people with ADD have difficulty filtering out distractions even in a one-to-one setting. Also, transitions in conversation can move at a fast pace in group settings and many with ADD have difficulty keeping track of conversations. Another difficulty can be the need to wait longer for a turn to speak. Some suggestions for group situations:

  • Work on moving the conversation along by asking questions related to what someone was saying.
  • Rather than thinking about what you want to say in a large group, learn to just listen, relax and enjoy all the energy and chaos of a group.
  • Practice conversation skills in a very small group first (2-3 people) and gradually expand the size of the group.
  • If you do like to talk in a large group setting, be careful not to dominate the conversation.
This article is published by permission from ADDitude Magazine ©2004. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Subscribe to ADDitude online or via toll-free phone 888-762-8475.

My Son Thinks He’s Gay

A mother asks:

My 16-year-old son is severely lacking social skills. He has no friends, makes inappropriate, embarrassing comments and has no athletic interests. He has been chatting online to a teenager in the UK. (I hope he’s a teenager, that is.) The problem is that now my son thinks that he is gay like the UK teen. Should I let him continue this interchange or cut it off?

Michele Novotni answers:

Rather than emphasizing whether or not to try to cut off his interchange, an important, longer term question would be, “How can I help him improve his social skills.” Social competence is one of the primary determinants of adult success.

Social competence is one of the primary determinants of adult success.

Many people with poor social skills find the Internet a great source of social interaction because it provides access to a wide range of people and you have the ability to take your time to formulate responses. Some people also find comfort in the acceptance they find on the net.

I recommend that you try to identify the social skills that he is lacking and work with him on gaining the needed skills or obtain the help of a psychologist or coach to help him improve his social skills. He may also benefit from the help of a psychologist in sorting out his social difficulties and his questions regarding his sexual orientation.

By improving his social skills, he would be able to open a wider range of options for friends and he may not see homosexuality as his only form of social connection. This strategy would hopefully provide a long-term solution to the problem.

Relationship tips for teens

JL in California asks:

How do I teach my 16-year-old son the right way to approach a girl he likes and is interested in? He overwhelms them by the amount of attention he gives them (constant phone calling) etc. Plus, he will tell within days how much he likes her. It does not take long before the girl gives him the cold shoulder. He is tall, handsome and a charmer. He says he understands what I am telling about giving the girl some space and time to get to know him. But it all goes out the window when he starts pursuing someone.

Michele Novotni answers:

Fortunately, your son has many strong features. It sounds like the areas of patience and restraint can use some help. Many people with AD/HD have similar social difficulties due to impulsivity. It seems that he might not fully understand the smothering impact of his behavior.

… he might not fully understand the smothering impact of his behavior.

An important question to ask him would be, “Is what you are doing working?” If he feels that his active/very active pursuit is effective, your role would be in helping him to understand that he is not as successful as he sees himself.

Keeping records may help him understand the need to find another approach Suggest he keep track of the number and the times of his phone calls and her responses. When he tells a girl he likes her, how can he see that she is beginning to give him the cold shoulder.

It may also be possible that data will show that he is more successful than you thought and no intervention is needed.

If he feels like he is not currently successful, engage his cooperation in working on curbing his impulsive behavior. Perhaps work with him to make up three rules for him to follow for social relationships. Such as, You may only call one time per day; you may only call three times without a return call. (Be careful that he sees these rules as his and for his benefit and not for you!)

Develop wording to use in the different stages in a relationship to show that he cares. The key is to work with your son to develop more effective strategies that he will feel comfortable implementing.

The first rule for those who want to help is to make sure that your help is wanted. Next, make sure that what you are doing is perceived as helpful. I encourage you to ask your son how your can best help support him in this process. I wish you well.

Have fun in bed

Focus on Love: Reduce Distractions In Your ADHD Marriage

Improve your ADHD marriage by reducing distractions and reigning in the impulses of adult ADD.

Open, honest communication is essential for both emotional and physical intimacy.
Spontaneity, outside-the-box creativity, and heightened energy can add pizzazz to romantic interludes. But these familiar attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) traits, if not properly managed, will sorely test even the strongest relationship. Here’s a helpful quiz and relationship advice to strengthen your marriage:

  1. Do your thoughts wander during intimate moments?
  2. Are you so exhausted by the demands of coping with ADHD that you have little time for your partner?
  3. Do you rush through intimate moments?
  4. Have you ever told your partner, “I’ll be right back,” only to get sidetracked by a video game or some other distraction and forget to return to the bedroom?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, here are the basics to fine-tune your romantic life:

Quiet, please.

Background noises that other people easily tune out can be enormously distracting to adults with ADHD – sometimes to the point that they are unable to stay focused on their partner. Note the kinds of sounds that interfere with your concentration, and do your best to eliminate them before things heat up in the bedroom. For some, even soft music proves to be more of a distraction than a mood-setter.

Beware medication lapses.

Your romantic encounters most likely take place late in the evening – when the effect of your ADD medication is waning. That can open the door to unfiltered words and impulsive actions. Make sure your partner knows this – and ask for his patience. You may want to ask your doctor about adjusting your medication schedule. And remember that regular exercise, meditation, and other alternative ADHD treatments help curb ADD symptoms.

Watch your words.

Open, honest communication is essential for both emotional and physical intimacy. The more willing you and your partner are to identify your likes, dislikes, and fantasies, the more likely it is that your needs, and those of your partner, will be met.

On the other hand, too much talk in the bedroom will drive a wedge between you and your partner. If you’re a big talker, use some sort of visual cue to remind yourself to watch your words. For example, you might hang a photograph of a kissing couple (you can’t kiss and talk at the same time).

The last thing you want to do is let an impulsive comment make your partner think you don’t love him. “Looks like you put on a few pounds” probably isn’t a good way to launch a romantic evening.

Harness your creativity.

Folks with ADD are easily bored, and that’s an issue in the bedroom as it is everywhere else. To keep things interesting, consider experimenting with new positions, locations, outfits, and toys.

Never underestimate the importance of cuddling.

ADDers tend not to be fond of foreplay – and no wonder. They’re eager to get going and don’t want to waste time on the preliminaries. And after the big event? For someone with the hyperactive form of ADD, lying in bed holding someone for a few minutes can be torture. For an inattentive ADDer, the mind may wander during cuddling time. Your partner might be whispering something wonderful to you while your thoughts are miles away. Talk about these issues with your partner. Negotiate an amount of cuddling that works for both of you.

Many ADDers are hypersensitive to touch. If you are, let your partner know. Tell him what type of touch you find pleasing or – better yet – take your partner’s hand to demonstrate.

This article comes from the June/July 2006 issue of ADDitude.

To read this issue of ADDitude in full, purchase the back issue and SUBSCRIBE NOW to ensure you don’t miss a single issue.

Stop Procrastinating! ADHD Time Management Strategies

Simple ADHD time management tips and strategies to procrastinate less at home and on the job.

Many people with ADHD find it helpful to do something they love first, rather than as a reward, to “light up” the brain.

We all procrastinate. Unfortunately, folks with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) procrastinate more than others. Although it seems harmless, procrastination causes conflict in personal and professional relationships. When we fail to complete tasks on time, others see this as a sign of disrespect, incompetence, or laziness. To change this habit, realize that procrastination is a purposeful behavior. It lets us avoid doing something we would rather not do. And it works — for a while.

Because procrastination is essentially a mind-set, cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques can help even chronic procrastinators break the habit. If you’ve been putting something off for days (or months), focus and try the following ADHD time management tips:

1. Do something pleasant first

Once your interest is piqued, it’s easy to apply that positive involvement to the task at hand. Rather than follow traditional behavior-management cues and reward successful behavior after the fact, many people with ADHD find it helpful to do something they love first, to “light up” the brain. After that, it’s easier to move on to less enjoyable tasks.

For my clients, these pleasant activities have included basketball, computer games, dancing – even taking a bubble bath. (Set a timer for 20 minutes to make sure you don’t get so absorbed in the pleasant task that you forget to do the necessary one.) Any stimulating activity you love will work.

2. Create the right work environment

People who have ADHD often function best amid unconventional surroundings. Experiment to find your best working environment. Instead of wearing earplugs to ensure silence, for example, you may find that you’re more productive when listening to loud music. If you use ADHD medication, it’s generally best to schedule difficult tasks for times when your symptoms are fully covered.

One of my clients knew that she worked best under pressure. Unfortunately, this meant she’d begin to work on projects only the day before they were due, no matter how involved the task. She’d either turn her work in late or exhaust herself by pulling all-nighters. We solved this problem by having her set her own deadlines for completing portions of the project. This way, she could still work under pressure to finish each portion “on time” – and would have the entire project completed by the actual deadline.

3. Eliminate negative self-talk

What we silently say to ourselves about doing the task at hand has a strong impact on how (or whether) we do it. People with AD/HD tend to beat themselves up by playing and replaying negative messages in their minds.

Instead, try telling yourself positive, but realistic, messages – and see what happens. Once you replace “This will take forever, and it’s so late already… ” with “I might not be able to finish this today, but I can do the first two steps within the next 30 minutes,” you’ll see that it is easier to begin.

The messages you send yourself when you complete something on time can also be powerful deterrents to future procrastination. Procrastinators are used to feeling guilty about missing appointments and deadlines and turning in work that doesn’t measure up to their ability – and they don’t enjoy that feeling. Once you begin experiencing the relief you feel after finishing something well, it will be hard to go back to the guilt.

4. Just get started

Merely to start a task – even if it’s started poorly – makes it easier to follow through. Next time you find yourself avoiding something, take a “first sloppy step.” If you need to write something, for example, start by typing random letters on the page. It is gibberish, but at least you will no longer be looking at a blank page.

5. Take one step at a time

Break large tasks into pieces. One of my clients came to me several months after her wedding, worried because she still hadn’t sent out thank-you cards for her gifts. She felt guiltier about it by the day, and she was approaching the problem by thinking she had to find a block of time when she could sit down and write 150 cards. I gave her “permission” to write and mail only five cards a day until she was finished. This helped her begin – and, eventually, finish – the task.

If a project can’t be completed piecemeal over several days, keep up your momentum by focusing only on the next doable step. Write this step on a sticky note and post it within your line of sight. Put on your blinders, and focus on this rather than on the task as a whole. When that’s done, move on to the next step in the same manner. Before you know it, you’ll be done.

This article comes from the February/March 2006 issue of ADDitude.

To read this issue of ADDitude in full, purchase the back issue and SUBSCRIBE NOW to ensure you don’t miss a single issue.

The Buddy System

Easy ways to stay connected with the important people in your life.

Those of us with AD/HD have the best of intentions to keep up with old friends or to make room for new ones. But managing the stress in our lives—helping a child study for a test, organizing a week’s worth of meals, making sure medication has been taken—can easily derail those worthy goals.

When we get busy, we often put our friends and relatives on the back burner, figuring we’ll see them next week or next month. Six months go by, and we still haven’t had that cup of coffee or gone to that movie together.

Well, you’re missing out on more than you think. Studies show that talking or spending time with friends reduces stress and keeps you healthy by lowering blood pressure and stimulating the immune system. Friendships may actually add years to your life.

I had a friend, Judy, who learned about the importance of friendship while battling cancer. During her struggle, we got together each week. She wanted me to help her write her eulogy and to deliver it at her funeral. The lesson Judy wanted to convey was that when all the busyness of our daily lives stops, we have control over what is really important: faith, family, and, yes, friends.


If you don’t have many friends, make a commitment to find one in the next three months.

Start with your place of work or other areas where you spend time and run into the same people.

A gym or the library offers good opportunities.

And remember: Plan it into your day.

Maintaining friendships can present a challenge to AD/HD adults, many of whom have a difficult time with routine. A plan will help. I realize, of course, that I’m probably preaching to the choir. I’d bet that no one reading this article has jumped into action without first developing a plan. Right? Remember that, in friendships, as well as in business, front-end planning produces back-end results.

Here are some of the best tips I’ve come across to help you build, or rebuild, relationships AD/HD style:

Grab 10

Set aside 10 minutes a day to connect with friends and relatives. When I coach people, we use “chunking,” or breaking larger tasks into smaller, more manageable ones, to help them organize their lives. Well, why not use chunking to stay in touch with your friends each week? Don’t feel guilty about all the calls you haven’t made, just make one to a friend. Try to call three a week.

Double Dipping

Doing two things at once is an AD/HD strength. If you’re short on time, consider double dipping—calling a friend while attending to something else on your to-do list. Talk to a friend on a speakerphone or a headset while doing the dishes, walking to an errand, or even commuting on a bus or train to work. Plan a breakfast or lunch with friends. You need to eat anyway, so why not invite an old friend along to the restaurant.

Scheduled maintenance

Just as we need reminders to take our car in for service, a reminder system to keep us in touch with our friends is invaluable. Some of my clients are structured, and they have a “tickler” system in their computer to alert them to contact people at set intervals.

In coaching we refer to this as creating a link or hook. In real life, we refer to it as maintaining a friendship.

This article is published by permission from ADDitude Magazine ©2005. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Subscribe to ADDitude online or via toll-free phone 888-762-8475.

The “Peanut Butter” Fix for Thoughtless Relatives

With a little preparation —
and your favorite non sequitur —
once-dreaded family gatherings
can be lots of fun.

Samantha adores her family. But for years the prospect of family get-togethers filled her with dread. The intricate planning needed to pull off such gatherings made her anxious. She worried that her AD/HD would make it hard to hold her own in conversations with far-flung family members, many of whom she didn’t know well. Inevitably, one of her relatives would make an insensitive or cutting remark, to which she didn’t know how to respond. She wound up deflated, resentful, angry.

No longer. Now, if a relative uncorks a zinger, Samantha smiles and says, “Peanut butter.” It stops people every time. What can one say to a non sequitur like that?

If a relative uncorks a zinger, Samantha smiles and says, “Peanut butter.” It stops people every time. What can one say to a non sequitur like that?

Here’s how to make the most of your next family outing:

  • Don’t assume you’re the only one in your family who has AD/HD. The disorder has a hereditary basis. If you have it, odds are, one of your relatives does too. If someone behaves inappropriately or says something offensive, consider the possibility that this person may mean no harm. Comments that seem harsh or cruel may simply be unfiltered.
  • Watch for medication lapses. If you or someone else at the gathering takes AD/HD medication, see to it that everybody’s symptoms are covered throughout. Nothing makes for a more “interesting” family get-together than having several folks come off their medication at the same time. If possible, schedule the gathering for a time of day when a lack of coverage is unlikely.
  • Get help with child care. Even in situations where there are plenty of adults around to watch the kids, it’s often a good idea to hire a baby-sitter or two. The extra help will allow you to interact with other adults without any of you having to keep an eye on the kids.
  • Keep background noise to a minimum. People with AD/HD often have trouble communicating in noisy environments. When conversing with others, don’t stand close to a band, loudspeaker, or other source of sound. If you’re particularly sensitive to noise, invest in a noise-canceling headset, such as the ones made by Bose. If anyone gives you a funny look, just tell the truth.
  • Take breaks as needed. Talking and listening take a lot of energy. If you grow tired of talking, take a break and join a game of catch.
    Many people with inattentive AD/HD find high-energy social events too much to handle for very long. If you find yourself overwhelmed, find a quiet place where you can regroup. Take a walk, run an errand, or lie down for a nap.
  • If your AD/HD is the hyperactive type, physical activity will burn off some excess energy. Lend a hand in the kitchen, play with the kids, or serve drinks. David used to feel trapped in the family room as relatives went on and on with their stories. But once he gave himself permission to take short exercise breaks, he found he actually enjoyed his relatives’ tales.

Prepare in advance to handle zingers. Imagine that someone says “You look like you’ve gained weight,” or “You need to do a better job of disciplining your child.” How will you respond? You might simply smile and say “Thanks for caring about me.” If all else fails, you can always utter your own version of “peanut butter.”

This article is published by permission from ADDitude Magazine ©2005. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Subscribe to ADDitude online or via toll-free phone 888-762-8475.

Practicing Tolerance:What Do You Do With a Bruised Apple?

If you or someone you know is looking for the “perfect” friend, or the “perfect” co-worker, the perfect boss, or even the perfect spouse, I can help. Yes. I can help in the search for the one who will always be there, never hurt your feelings, and always do what you want or whatever your view of perfect is.

You can stop looking!

I hate to break this to you, but people are not perfect.

It never ceases to amaze me that folks who tend to be, perhaps, – how shall we say this in a socially appropriate way – “a little rough around the edges” are often among the very first to find fault or reasons to reject others. It might be that they find someone too talkative, too quiet, too fat, too thin, too smart, not too smart, or even have the wrong color skin or accent. And yet, these are often the same, yes the very same folks who are often upset by the rejection or lack of inclusion by others.

This tendency is illustrated by one of my hyperactive clients, who could at times be quite annoying. He was refusing to associate with someone who wanted to be his friend because he thought THEY were annoying. At the same time, he was depressed because of the lack of relationships in his life. He was shutting out people who wanted to be with him while he sought to be included with others who had chosen to exclude him.

It seems that folks often have in their mind the person or group they see themselves as fitting in with. Unfortunately, they may not always fit the ideals of that group. However, there may be another group or person who is seeking to befriend them. Here is where the concepts of inclusion and tolerance come in.

If an apple has a bruise, some may throw the entire apple away. What a waste! Others will cut away the bruise and enjoy the rest of the apple. What if we all adopted a view of others that looked for reasons to include, rather than reasons to exclude?

This attitude begins with your view of self. Perhaps you look in the mirror and only see what you are not. It is likely that you will also look at others and only see what they are not.

Ask yourself different questions. What ARE you? What ARE they? How can they enrich your life?

Tolerance also begins with language. Rather than using evaluative/judgmental words like good/bad, right/wrong learn to use words like different or unique.

Develop your sense of adventure. Without diversity, life would be dull, boring and very predictable. It is exactly the differences that others bring to our life, that enrich us.

Hold on to what is good about you. Hold on to what is good about those you meet. And enjoy the freedom and enjoyment that comes with practicing open mindedness and tolerance each and every day. And hopefully others will meet you with the same open mindedness and tolerance.

This article is published by permission from ADDitude Magazine ©2004. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited.

Subscribe to ADDitude online or via toll-free phone 888-762-8475.

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