Recommendations for Adapting to Attention and Concentration Problems

What follows are a list of tips and methods for improving success for adolescents and adults who struggle with attention deficit disorders. Not all suggestions will work for every person. It is important to experiment with each for a reasonable amount of time and see if it makes a difference. Remember that with practice these skills become more familiar and comfortable. Over time most people begin to use these skills without having to actively work at it and begin to demonstrate improvements in sustained attention, impulse control, and organization. Be patient and diligent and you should see improved results in time. Be sure to modify each one to be age-appropriate.

  1. Mountains into Mole Hills: One trick that can be helpful is to break tasks into smaller individual steps. Rather than telling yourself to clean your room, you might consider breaking it into small tasks like picking the clothes first, putting away the personal items, making the bed, and then vacuuming the floor. It might be important to allow for short breaks between tasks.
  2. Explicit Directions: Make sure you seek out directives that are as clear as possible and give plenty of detail. For example, if someone asks you to get that project done, that will likely be too vague. Instead, you might need to ask them what specifically they want to be done on the project, in what order, and when it is due.
  3. Visual Cues: The most common type of visual cue is the Post. It can be helpful for people with attention difficulties to have a prompt to remind them of things that need to get done. For example, you might have a Post-it, or list in the bathroom that details things that should be done such as: brushing your teeth, combing your hair, flushing the toilet, hang up your towel. These sorts of prompts can be placed around the home to assist in reminding yourself to get things done.
  4. Verbal Prompts and Reminders: If people are willing to assist you, you can ask for prompting and reminding from people in your life. Although we do not want to put all the responsibility on others, if they are willing to help out occasionally and we are willing to be grateful (rather than annoyed), this can help us accomplish tasks.
  5. Day Planners and PDAs: Learning to rely on a day planner or PDA can work great for people with attention deficits. Because they are prone to forgetting things and appointments by memory alone, the day planner eliminates this problem. An adolescent or adult can easily learn to jot down important tasks and appointments that need to be done. The day planner allows them to reference their entire day and check it throughout the day to make sure everything gets handled.
  6. Timed Work: Sometimes having a defined start and stop time can help people focus and endure tasks. Using the clock or a timer can help people work better knowing they will have a break coming up soon. Endurance and stamina can also be built by slowly elongating the work time over days and weeks. It is also useful to have the person self-evaluate how long they can work before they need a break and use that as a starting point.
  7. Supervision and Feedback: For adolescents and adults, it may be useful to seek out occasional supervision and feedback on tasks. Although you may feel you are doing an adequate job, it may be that someone else can provide useful guidance on ways to be more efficient and accurate.
  8. External Reinforcement: Everyone responds favorably to rewards and other types of positive reinforcement when we complete a task. You should reflect on what types of rewards or reinforcement motivate you to complete tasks. Common examples include spending time with friends, playing video games, watching TV, sweets, going to the movies, etc.
  9. Creating Games: In some instances, it is possible to turn chores or other tasks into games, contests, or challenges. For example, maybe you time yourself and try to break records, or if you accomplish a certain amount then you get yourself some type of prize or reward.
  10. Organizational Aids: Often people have difficulty strategizing methods for the organization. Helping create a system they can follow, can help facilitate ongoing organization skills. An example might include getting different colored storage bins and assigning them for certain objects such as all books go in the green bin. Another example might be getting colored folders for certain subjects in school or for utility bills or buying a label maker to assist with designating locations for certain things.
  11. Self-Evaluation and Self-Reinforcement: It is very reinforcing for people to reflect on their successes and to also have them evaluate how they accomplished the success. Taking the time to understand how they achieved the task, can serve as a tool when similar projects are in front of them. Having taken the time to reinforce the steps will make them more accessible later. Teaching yourself some reflective questions can assist this process. Some questions might include: “How did I do it?” “What is my plan for solving this problem?” “Am I following my plan?”
  12. Individual Counseling: Often people with attention deficits end up struggling with other issues secondary to ADD/ADHD. Common issues include anger problems, self-alienation, low self-esteem, being self-critical, poor communication, poor time management, self-acceptance, depression, being socially rejected by peers, anxiety, substance abuse, and various other problems. Working with a professional can help reduce or eliminate these problems.
  13. Limiting Choices: Providing yourself with choices makes things fun and interesting, but having too many choices can be troublesome and a setup for failure. Often people with attention deficit issues get overwhelmed by too many choices and struggle to make any decisions at all. Try to limit choices wherever possible to no more than two or three.
  14. Environmental Continuity: It is ideal if you hear the same messages and have the same expectations everywhere you go. When possible, provide their teachers, sporting coaches, friends, significant others, and supervisors with a summary or list of self-created rules and expectations. Ask them to help keep you on task and focused by prompting you as needed.
  15. Creating Success: Create circumstances or activities that you know you can succeed at. Success breeds confidence. When anyone is faced with expectations that they cannot attain they experience failure and a sense of hopelessness that can lead to giving up. Helping yourself succeed will help you keep committed to working on changing behaviors.
  16. Sleep & Exercise: Recent research shows that getting 8 hours of sleep nightly and getting 30 minutes of exercise daily can have a profound effect on reducing the symptoms of ADHD. Although it is not a cure, it does lend itself to helping with attention and concentration.

If you are looking for coaching on how to better to cope with ADHD and its symptoms, call us now at: 763-416-4167 to schedule an appointment with a specialist.

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