Let’s Talk…. Predominantly Inattentive

In my last blog post I mentioned that one of the subtypes of ADHD is Predominantly Inattentive, which is regarded as one of the major components of the disorder. Inattention in ADHD needs to be distinguished between, ‘just not paying attention because you might be bored’ compared to ‘not being able to pay attention no matter how hard you try and have it impact your life in negative ways’. People with the Inattentive type get negative feedback all the time. It is not uncommon, for these people to be called ‘lazy’, ‘useless’ or ‘stupid’ which often leads a person to become depressed and have anxiety in later life.

Here are 4 examples (of many) of inattention in ADHD and some tips on how to manage them (some I use myself to support my son and others I have researched)

Easily Distracted

Here is an example of what ‘easily distracted‘ looks like in ADHD (at our house):

It’s a school morning and we are all rushing around getting ready. My husband is asking our son what he would like for breakfast and begins to list the items we have on hand. Our son looks at him and nods and says ‘yes’ and ‘okay’ but I can see that he is smiling to himself as he enjoys a personal joke in his head. I stop my husband mid-sentence and ask our son if he has heard a word his dad has said and also what’s so funny? He looks at me and says ‘I saw this video on You Tube, where someone was feeding a Puffer fish a carrot!’ Breakfast, now needs a new plan.

This can be very frustrating for all of us, as we are trying to get the morning routine going and our son is frustrated as he gets so easily distracted (something that is not his fault). So much is going on around him and inside his own head that he often struggles to keep abreast of what the current conversation is about. If the conversation is not of any interest to him, and there are other distractions, paying attention is even harder. 

TIP: Make your instructions short and concise. Long lectures (especially those ones about life and life choices) are painful for the best of us, but for people with ADHD it can be torture. When setting tasks, break things down into manageable steps (1, 2 & 3) and only move on when a set of steps are completed. As the carer always use positive re-enforcement and praise when the steps are completed. Praise yourself (for adolescents and adults) and give yourself a reward if you have completed your goals. Carers, don’t forget to praise yourself too, for your positive support

Forgetting Things:

Distractions play a big part in why things get forgotten in ADHD. The person may have the best of intentions, such as paying bills, returning phone calls, or meeting up with friends on time, but they get distracted by the many other things in their lives that take away their attention. The lack of remembering in a person with ADHD is not done on purpose and does not mean that they are lazy. People with ADHD have a lot of information spinning around in their head. Juggling several items at one time is not uncommon and therefore deadlines are often missed, a person may be appear disorganised and time management is poor.

Tip: Use a timer. If you know you have important deadlines, like studying for an exam, utilise your electronic device’s calendar and alarm clock. If you prefer a more in your face visual aid, then use a whiteboard to make notes of things you need to do. Most importantly, break your goals down into smaller, bite size, achievable goals. In staying with the exam example: Write down your intention/goal: ‘I intend to (it is my intention) to study for one hour today’ or ‘ I will study for one hour today between 1pm-2pm and then will go out to meet with my friends, or jump on my game’ Only when you complete this goal, give yourself a reward.

Short Attention Span:

Having a short attention span, is another common inattentive symptom. People with ADHD cannot sustain their attention on tasks that are too lengthy, like homework, long lectures or those long drawn out meetings at work.  They find them boring and it takes away time from the things that they enjoy. For example, my son thinks I am a walking encyclopaedia. An accolade my ego would happily welcome, if it were not for the fact that looking up Wiki/ Google is a huge chore for my son. It is always easier to ask someone else. So sometimes the conversation goes like this:

Son: ‘Mum, why are black cats considered bad luck?

Me: (major history nerd) ‘Well, in all honesty, black cats really have had a bad run. Oddly the ancient Egyptians revered black cats as they thought they were descendants of the gods. It’s only in the west during the dark ages and the Christian inquisition, that black cats were associated with witches……………

Son: Turns on the TV and starts watching.

Me: (Annoyed) ‘Umm are we still talking about the black cats?

Son: ‘Huh, what? Sorry. Oh yeah.’

My lecture was just too long. I was excited to impart my knowledge, but in reality all I needed was to keep it short: Black cats were associated with witchcraft, giving them a bad reputation. Simple!

TIP: As I have said before, keep things simple. When completing homework tasks, break it down into smaller sections. Take a break after each section is completed. Stretch legs or walk about and give yourself (or child if you are a carer) incentives (extra game time, extra TV time, a chocolate milkshake). In schools, offer the child numerous breaks, during lengthy exercises. Again, have the child/adolescent leave the classroom to stretch their legs, get some air. For adults, take breaks during lengthy meetings. If your employer is aware of your ADHD, they should be accommodating. If not, remind yourself to take a mental break during the meeting, by shifting (standing) or taking deep breaths (breathe in (1..2..3..4..), hold (1..2..3..4..) breathe out (1..2..3..4..), hold (1..2..3..4..).

Making Mistakes:

Making careless mistakes are also a big part of inattention. Again these come from distractions and from a short attention span. In school aged children, these mistakes are often seen during tests and exams. When questions have a huge cognitive load, people with ADHD often choose what I call ‘best guess’.  For example, if the question looks something like this:

Billy had 15 goats and he decided, to give 5 to bob, sent 3 to the butchers, gave 3 to his neighbour and sold 2 at the market. How many goats does Billy still have?

Okay, this is a simple equation, simple for all of us to complete (including people with ADHD), but it is a bit wordy and has a few characters to keep in mind.  Now, imagine an exam setting where there are time constraints to complete the task (multiple choice), my son will choose ‘best guess‘. A teaching assistant once told me, that he sat beside my son during an exam and he watched as my son chose ‘best guess’ even though my son knew all the correct answers. He cringed each time my son chose the wrong answer. The exam was too long and too wordy and so my son just wanted it to be over. 

Wanting it to be over, often results in careless mistakes. Many times, questions are just whizzed through, which result in the wrong answers or no answers at all. Poor exam results then play a part in the negative feedback loop (not good enough, not smart enough, and worthless) which strengthens the negative fixed mind-set.

Tip: For school aged children, ask your school to provide extra time for exams. Have the teaching assistant encourage your child to reading and re-read a question to avoid ‘Best Guess’ (this is not giving the answer away, but helping the person think things through). Also have a piece of paper next to you to work out the equation visually. Revisions for exams are never a friend to most of us and for people with ADHD, it is hell. So again, break it down to practice one or two questions a day. Reward your child on putting in the effort to revise. For adults, re-read those emails and presentations, or have a partner/friend look it over before handing it in, to avoid embarrassing situations.

Cognitive overload on an ADHD brain can cause distractions, lessen attention, cause forgetfulness and create careless mistakes. The brain is always looking to jump onto the next exciting thing/event and rushing through lengthy tasks is very common. These symptoms are hardwired in the brain of an ADHD person, even though they evolve. Creating physical behavioural changes with positive results can assist a person with ADHD get through their daily lives. The symptoms can be managed with amazing results. When they are managed and positive results are seen, a person with ADHD can become more confident, which can reduce those negative feelings of ‘being useless‘ or ‘being stupid’. In many cases having an ever changing and evolving mind can be very beneficial and creative. Look at these symptoms as your super powers and when given the right conditions, they can help you flourish.

Photo source: http://www.unsplash.com by Todd Trapani

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