When treatment tools fail us

ADHD is a condition of extremes. We are on or off. Succeeding or failing. Ecstatic or despondent. Most of us see the world in terms of these black and white opposites. 

Ignoring the shades of grey in between, however, can wreak havoc on our stability. At work, we are never satisfied when tiny mistakes are present. We either miss the deadline because we are hyperfocused on perfecting everything, or we throw our hands up in frustration, believing that our work will never be enough.

We also tend to apply this logic to the tools and skills that are meant to help us treat the symptoms of ADHD. For example, if we miss an event because the calendar or alarm clock wasn’t utilized properly, we can quickly convince ourselves that these tools don’t fit our natural system and abandon the tools. After all, failing to use the calendar only adds to the pain of missing the event. The calendar becomes an enemy. 

A client recently experienced this when studying for a test. A friend recommended flashcards, which he attempted to use but had a bad experience. He shelved the idea, thinking that this method was simply unsuitable for his learning style. I asked this client about the process of using the flashcards to determine if there might be a legitimate reason for his difficulty. 

Investigate the pain points of your important treatment tools. Each of them needs to be modified and optimized based on your needs. Throwing tools away forever is counter-productive. The truth is, we can return to them at any time. The benefit will still be there. Our tools don’t fail us and we don’t fail either. We just need to experiment to find the best way to make them work for our style.

As I questioned my client about studying, he mentioned that flashcards had been helpful when he was younger and maybe that was because the cards had been prepared for him. 

It turns out that he was attempting to make flashcards for the entire glossary of the textbook, rather than focusing on the most important information. That approach meant that creating the cards became a sprawling arts and crafts project that felt like it could never be finished, let alone comprehended. All or nothing, right?

Together, we came up with a system to shrink the workload by first narrowing the material. He printed the most important chapters, then quickly scanned and highlighted information that would likely be on the test. That preparation made it easier to digest the information and create study tools more quickly. We also decided that he’d make a music playlist for his study time, working through one page per song to maintain a sense of urgency.

Did it work? I haven haven’t heard back yet, but I can can say that returning to an old tool and thinking creatively about new ways to use it gave him the confidence and hope he needed to try again. And that ain’t bad.