Thursday, December 19, 2013

ADHD Working Memory

One of the executive functions of our brain is commonly called “working memory”: the ability to hold information in mind for a time while you use it to perform a task.

Think of working memory as having sticky notes stuck to a wall in your brain where you sketch images or jot notes to help keep your mind on topic as you perform and complete a task. Once you are finished the task, you simply peel the note off the wall and toss it away, making room for fresh stickies with information about the next task… or distraction.

As a normal functioning brain matures, it can hold more "sticky notes" to work with at any given time. As a bonus, that sticky stuff on the back of the notes gets upgraded to better quality so the notes can stick in your mind longer when you are fully mature. Not so with ADHD.

If we say that a normal mature brain can hold 5 sticky notes worth of information in working memory, then in comparison ADHD brains would hold only 2 or 3 notes at best. Not only that, the ADHD brain never does receive the upgrade of sticky stuff, so most notes don’t stick around that long in an ADHD brain before falling off the wall. (What’s worse, whatever sticky stuff they put on "boring notes" doesn’t even stick in an ADHD brain, making it virtually impossible to remember boring information long enough to turn it into an action.)

This type of explanation is useful to understand why ADHD individuals find it hard to plan, perform, and complete complicated tasks; ADHD working memory can’t work with as much information at one time as a normal functioning brain, nor can it hold onto that information for as long: less information and shorter duration (especially for uninteresting topic.

Another ADHD phenomenon can also be explained with the sticky note scenario; if the ADHD individual is extremely interested in something, they may fill their entire quota of notes with the information necessary to pay attention to whatever they are currently locked onto (video games, sports on tv, a favourite novel), and their interest may be so intense that the notes seem to be stapled to the wall rather than stickied.

This hyper-focus can be frustrating for others who try to get the ADHD person's attention. Trying to post notes like “take out the garbage”, “cook dinner”, or “change the baby’s diaper” is impossible because the limited number of sticky notes are already filled with captivating information. Removing the stapled notes to make room for your notes takes considerably more time and effort than usual.

Common responses to hyper-focus (raising voices, punishing, consequencing, labelling, or abandoning) are confusing for the person with ADHD who wasn’t purposefully trying to ignore others. Also, those responses do little toward addressing ADHD interest based attention problems; in fact, they worsen it because punishment, labels, and ostracism aren’t that interesting (to anyone).

There are ways to increase the ADHD person’s success in this area, but an understanding of the ADHD working memory is critical in developing personally tailored strategies which improve the person’s ability to successfully navigate the world around them.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What is Depression?

Johnny Has Done This a Hundred Times

“Johnny, I know you can do this properly. I’ve seen you do it a hundred times! Stop being lazy.” (or “stubborn”, or “rebellious”) The teacher is trying to motivate Johnny as best she can, but if Johnny has ADHD, she is missing the point entirely.

The brain wired by ADHD often presents the owner with a uniquely paradoxical ADHD equation: the short version reads “proficiency = failure”. The long version is “proficiency = routine = boredom = mistakes = failure”.

Hyperactive/Impulsive ADH

Hyperactivity and Impulsivity are often the earliest discernible symptoms of ADHD. The little girl who can’t sit still like the other children in her class; squirming, chatting, and constantly adjusting her dress. The boy on the playground who steals toys, budges in line, hits first and ask questions later... “Why are you crying?”

Adult ADHD?
These symptoms, which are often the first to appear, are also the first to taper off as the person reaches adulthood. Of course there are varying degrees of “tapering”, but generally, hyperactivity becomes less discernible as we age. This partly explains why ADHD was considered a childhood disorder until the last couple of decades. Many still consider it so.




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