Author Archive

Blogging Against Ableism: Dispelling ADHD Misconceptions   1 comment

This post is part of the Blogging Against Disablism initiative for 2017. Ableism is the North American term, and so that is what I use. Ableism/Disablism is discrimination and prejudice against people who have disabilities.

I spend a lot of time spreading accurate information about ADHD to people who have it or who think they might have it. Unfortunately, many times they come to me with comments their parents, teachers, and even doctors have made about ADHD. Comments that are not only inaccurate but ableist at their very heart. This post is going to list some of the most common misconceptions ADHDers deal with on a regular basis, and I am going to try and explain why they are incorrect and how they are ableist assumptions. I asked the question in a couple of places, and these are the things people named as the things that bother them the most. Thanks to everyone who answered my question. You can see all the responses in the notes on this post on Tumblr. (I’ve combined and adjusted and reworded.)


Misconception: ADHDers just need to try harder; it’s all about will power; you’re just lazy!

Reality: Based on my own experience and the messages I get from teens and young adults (and even some people my own age), we ADHDers are always trying harder than anyone else to do what we need to do. If being able to do things the way we want to do was just about will power, we would be able to change the world! …Instead, we have brilliant ideas and lack the ability to plan or enact a plan to make those ideas happen. Lazy isn’t a word I’d ever use to describe anyone with a disability, either. There’s a reason why one of the seminal books about adult ADHD is called You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!?

Why this attitude is damaging: Continually being told that you aren’t meeting your potential and being blamed for your failings as if you are morally corrupt or something takes a huge toll on your self-esteem. It’s not a coincidence that most ADHDers also suffer from something called rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD), which is basically intense fear of criticism that results in a lot of self-flagellation and negative self-talk.


Misconception: ADHD is all about not being able to pay attention to anything; if you can pay attention to one thing for any length of time, you don’t have ADHD!

Reality: The term “attention deficit” is actually a misnomer; I prefer “Variable Attention Span” when talking about this aspect of ADHD. In essence, we can hyperfocus (focus for a really long time) on things, but we don’t always have a lot of control over what we’re focusing on. Hyperfocus usually latches onto something we find really interesting or rewarding, so either a special interest or something like a video game. I used to hyperfocus on reading (still do, if I give myself half a chance; words are fascinating).

Why this attitude is damaging: While distraction is part and parcel of having ADHD, it’s really important to recognize that we don’t have a lot of control over most of the things that characterize it. On top of this, assuming that ADHD means a complete inability to focus on anything results in people not being diagnosed when they are younger, hence missing out on a lot of years of treatment that could have been really beneficial to them.


Misconception: ADHDers are all extroverted class clowns; ADHD always means hyperactivity!

Reality: There are three types of ADHD, and only two of them include hyperactive and impulsive symptoms. Just as many ADHDers are introverts as non-ADHDers, too. On top of that, a lot of us have anxiety disorders that make us clam up in social situations.

Why this attitude is damaging: Assuming that only people who are always up and down and chatting with people around them can have ADHD means that people who have Inattentive ADHD go undetected and untreated.


Misconception: ADHD is something only little white boys are diagnosed with!

Reality: ADHD rates in adulthood are the same between genders. Symptoms are also shown at the same rate in people of colour as in white people. What this means is that women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder (etc.) than ADHD (these are also all common comorbid disorders), and it means that people who are not white often end up getting labelled as “bad kids”—and since people tend to live up to (or down to) your expectations, they end up in jail.

Why this attitude is damaging: Well, I kind of explained this above. It all leads to misdiagnosis, underdiagnosis, mistreatment, etc.


Misconception: ADHD is only a thing for children; if you’re an adult you can’t have it; if you aren’t caught in childhood there’s no way you can have it as an adult!

Reality: ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. This means that it begins in childhood (likely from birth) and is caused by the way the brain develops. The ADHD brain tends to lag behind by about three years. You see where I’m going with this, right? If it’s about brain development, how on earth could it possibly just magically disappear when we reach adulthood?!?

Why this attitude is damaging: Given everything above about the stereotypes regarding what ADHD is, there are lots of people who don’t get diagnosed in childhood. Refusing to assess adults because of this kind of prejudice just means more struggling and more depression… and more suicide.


Misconception: ADHD isn’t real and if you just do [X faddy thing] you’ll be fine!

Reality: Plenty of studies have shown that the ADHD brain is physically different from the non-ADHD brain. A healthy diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and low stress levels all have a positive effect on the brain, regardless of whether or not you have ADHD; however, an ADHD brain will never function the way a non-ADHD brain does, no matter the diet, the exercise, the sleep, etc. Because it’s a physical difference.

Why this attitude is damaging: Thinking that ADHD isn’t real means that people don’t get assessed. Pushing unnecessary lifestyle changes as a “fix” can hurt people’s health and just adds to the implication that we are morally deficient.


Misconception: Taking medication for ADHD is a cop-out!

Reality: Medication is a tool that can be incredibly useful for managing the symptoms of ADHD. There is absolutely no shame in making use of all of the tools available to us in order to have a good quality of life.

Why this attitude is damaging: This attitude makes people refuse to use important tools that can be helpful in their lives. It causes parents to refuse to do everything that they can to help their children succeed in life. It causes people who do rely on medication to feel like they are failing. How is this beneficial?


Misconception: ADHDers shouldn’t have caffeine/sugar, it will just make things worse!

Reality: Caffeine affects some ADHDers by making them more hyper or waking us up, but others have no effects from it and the rest of us find that it helps with our symptoms and/or puts us to sleep! As for sugar, the brain runs on sugar. This means that sugar can help wake it up. Refined sugar is accessed much more quickly and burns out really fast as well, which is why some people seem to become hyperactive after having it: the sugar wakes up the brain and gets it running pretty quickly. The unfortunate part is that there’s often a big crash after it burns out.

Why this attitude is damaging: For people who cannot access medication but find benefit from caffeine, being told to avoid it can be really unhelpful. In addition, because the brain does run on sugar, it’s important to make sure your diet includes some sugars—just not necessarily too much refined sugar.


Misconception: ADHD meds will fix everything so that ADHDers don’t have any problems anymore!

Reality: Medication helps with symptoms, it’s true; however, it’s difficult to find the right medication and the right dose. It’s also quite common to find medication that helps with some symptoms but not all of them. I have found that my executive dysfunction in particular is not affected by medication (I keep holding out hope), meaning that while medication helps me curb my fidgeting and my impulsive behaviour, and even my inattention, it has yet to help me with initiation and inertia. On top of that, it’s important to remember that someone who has ADHD may well not have the skills we need for particular things in life, and medication doesn’t magically impart that knowledge.

Why this attitude is damaging: This attitude means that ADHDers may give up on medication altogether even if it helps in some very big ways. It also means even more shaming and moral judgments on us when we don’t know how to do something that “everyone” knows.


Misconception: ADHDers always do poorly in school and aren’t very smart!

Reality: IQ distribution in ADHD is the same as in the general population. When ADHDers do poorly in school, it is typically because of executive dysfunction—leaving assignments until the last minute, losing papers, forgetting things—or poor working memory—leading to low grades on quizzes and exams—rather than a lack of smarts. It’s quite common for ADHDers to be told that they aren’t working up to their potential.

Why this attitude is damaging: When you’re repeatedly told that you could do better if you tried harder, and you are already trying your hardest and still failing, you start to feel like a complete failure. There is obviously something wrong with you, if you can’t grasp something that is so easy for other people, or if you aren’t achieving what you’re capable of. Usually that something is a lack of work ethic or laziness, something morally wrong. See the first misconception for information on that.


I really wish people would spend a little time learning about ADHD and what it really is, instead of spouting these ridiculous, damaging things. There are so many ways in which ADHDers can be amazing additions to your life. Please do your part to help us do that. We are people, and we deserve respect. Yes, even when we aren’t meeting whatever standards you’ve set for us.

Society needs an attitude adjustment.

 

Advertisements

Useful Things I Learned from Being an ABA Therapist   Leave a comment

Before I start, I want to be absolutely clear that this post is not meant to condone ABA as an autism treatment. It is merely an attempt to find a tiny bit of good in my past career. (The biggest good was getting to know the children I worked with, and many of the families were delightful people doing what the “experts” had told them to do.)

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is still a hot-button issue in many parts of the autism community. I used to do ABA, primarily Lovaas-style. The type of ABA I did is heavy on table time and progresses through a specific set of programs designed to teach everything from speech to academic skills to self-help skills. It was touted as being scientifically validated and able to “recover” autistic children, or at least make them indistinguishable from their peers.

There are all kinds of problems with that, and with the ABA industry as a whole, but other people have written about that far more eloquently than I ever could. So today I want to talk about the useful things I took away from my time as an ABA therapist. Because there are some helpful techniques and attitudes I learned.

If the student isn’t learning, it isn’t their fault. My first ABA consultant taught us that if the child wasn’t learning what we were trying to teach, there was something wrong with our approach. Maybe we weren’t consistent enough from one therapist to another. Maybe we needed to present the material differently or change the way we requested the behaviour. Whatever it was, we were the ones who needed to adjust.

Breaking tasks down into steps and chaining behaviours. As someone who has ADHD and the accompanying executive dysfunction, it can be helpful to break down a large task into smaller steps. That way I can focus on one small piece at a time instead of getting overwhelmed trying to figure out where to start. Chaining tasks is also a really helpful concept that has helped me change my routines (and develop them in the first place).

I know my A-B-C’s. Not my alphabet (though I do know that as well), but a way of figuring out how to help my two-year-old, non-autistic child behave appropriately. When he does something I would rather he not do, I look at the antecedent, or what happened before he did the thing, I look at his specific behaviour, and I look at the consequence, or what happened afterward (i.e., what he got out of it). This is most beneficial when I remember my developmental psychology, since that tells me that a toddler doesn’t yet have the executive functioning to control his impulses (and as an ADHDer with impulse control problems, I understand this intimately). Understanding the reasons why he does something helps me find other ways for him to get whatever it is he needs, in a more acceptable fashion. It also usually comes back on me: a lot of his behaviour happens because I didn’t put something out of his reach, or I wasn’t supervising closely enough, or I was ignoring his attempts to get my attention.

I don’t over-react to things. One of the things I learned as an ABA therapist was to keep my cool at all times and to be neutral when correcting responses. This translates to my kid having a mom who responds to things like refusing to come for a diaper change by asking if he can come on his own or if he needs help. This gives him power in the situation that is appropriate for his developmental level but still gets the job done.

Some of the teaching methods can also be useful, but it depends a lot on the person and the thing you are trying to teach.

But there you are, a list of the positive practical applications of ABA techniques. Note that understanding child development is important (it wasn’t needed when I was working), as well as respect for the individual’s particular needs and desires (again, not necessary in my work). As with so many things, intent and attitude matter.

How to talk to (or about) people   Leave a comment

I’m reading a very goo book right now about respectful parenting.

However.

There’s always a “however,” isn’t there?

Even people who are wonderfully respectful of children make mistakes. I haven’t talked to the book’s author about the problem and I’m not telling you who it is because I don’t want people piling on this author.

The problem is in a passage about how we should speak normally to children. The author is making a great point — that we don’t need to oversimplify and should presume competence when we’re talking to children — but then hurts the overall point by saying that we should not talk down to toddlers as if they are “mentally deficient.”

Here’s why that’s a problem.

We say we shouldn’t talk to children like they’re intellectually disabled (ID). People with ID say that we shouldn’t talk to them like they’re children. (Actually, being talked down to is a problem for most disabilities, but the passage I’m talking about specifies ID with the phrase “mentally deficient” so that’s what I’m going to speak to here.)

Presuming competence is important no matter the person. Someone who has an ID should be spoken to with respect for who they are as a person, what they know (and what they might know), keeping in mind their actual age. Don’t talk to an adult as though they are a child; even if you end up having to simplify your language a little bit, you shouldn’t do that thing people do when they talk to small children or to adults with ID, where the voice gets higher and the words get shorter and the conversation gets stilted.

By the same token, a child should be spoken to with respect for who they are as a person, what they know (and what they might know), keeping in mind their actual age. Don’t talk to a child as though they are an adult; make sure you simplify your language based on their ability to understand you. And don’t talk to children in that high-pitched, unnatural cadence, either. They’re people, and they understand more than you think they do.

My son is 22 months old, and he is gaining language by leaps and bounds right now. It’s astonishing to me, the number of words he has gained expressively over the last few weeks. He mostly communicates one word at a time, but we can still have whole conversations. I just have to pay attention to context and ask questions.

For example, a common exchange after we saw Santa for photos before Christmas:

R: Shashi. (Santa)
Me: Yes, you saw Santa.
R: Up! Up!
Me: He picked you up.
R: Taw.
Me: You were so tall!
R: Bin, bin.
Me: Oh, did he give you jelly beans?
R: Yeah. Mmmm!
Me: They were yummy, huh?
R: Yeah! Tee!
Me: Oh yes, there was a tree there, too.
R: Yeah.

See how expressive he is with just one or two words? Most people who have ID can speak in full sentences (regardless of how they speak, whether with voice or AAC). On top of that, receptive language develops much earlier than expressive language, so the odds are pretty good that someone who doesn’t speak as “well” as you do does actually understand everything you say to or about them. I know my son understands most of what we say to him. (He doesn’t get our jokes yet, but that’s okay. We make a lot of puns.)

The author is making a great point with this passage and made a poor choice of words. I hope that it isn’t indicative of an attitude that people with ID should be talked down to (and I don’t think it is, I think it was just a mistake). Instead of including the bit about being “mentally deficient,” the passage could have simply said not to talk down to children and then explained that receptive language develops earlier than expressive language, which means that children understand way more than they can say. No accidental demeaning of people with ID.

This kind of attitude — these kinds of sayings — are ubiquitous in society. Take a moment when you’re writing or talking. Consider whether there’s a more accurate way to say what you want to say: one that won’t damage a group of people.

Announcement!   Leave a comment

As you probably know by now, I was diagnosed with ADHD in February 2005, at the age of 28. The last nearly 11 years have been spent figuring out how to manage my symptoms, since there are times (like right now) I can’t take medication.

One of my biggest problems has always been time management. How long does the thing really take? When is my appointment? Which days should I do this rather than that?

I’ve read a lot of books (most notably, Julie Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out) and tried implementing their strategies, but nothing really stuck permanently until the following happened:

  • I started using a Moleskine datebook.
    • I wrote everything down in it.
    • I checked it daily.
  • I spent a few months seeing an ADHD coach.
    • Objective accountability has always been good for me.
    • She helped me see that I’m actually good at some things to do with time management and just needed to tweak my approach to capitalize on what I’m good at.
  • I started making a list of everything I needed to do in a day and checking things off.
    • I stopped worrying about how much I did and focused more on what I did.
    • I tweaked things to get them to work for me.
    • I started noting in my datebook what tasks I was doing when, as a measure of my time.

In 2015, I prepared monthly planners for people to download and print for free. These planners incorporated all of the results of my learning and tweaking, as well as a few features other ADHDers requested.

For 2016, I am continuing to provide these free printable planners (in this Google Drive folder), but I am also putting the planner up for sale as a coil-bound book you can purchase at Lulu.com. Each planner will contain three months as well as the special planning pages that make my system work so well.

I have a few other things in the works, like project planning pages and a financial planner/organizer, but this is first and January-March is ready to purchase. I am so proud of myself for making this happen!

Posted February 5, 2016 by karalianne in Admin Post

Tagged with , ,

Self-Care   Leave a comment

Something I’ve noticed a lot of disabled people are actually pretty bad at is self-care. (Yeah, it could just be my circles, but somehow I doubt it.) We push ourselves to do as much as we think we’re “supposed” to do (for me that is apparently like three times more than other people do in a day) and beat ourselves up when we don’t achieve that goal. When we have a bad day (as in, a day when our body or brain just won’t let us do stuff), we beat ourselves up over how useless we are.

Let’s be clear here: self-care isn’t coddling, it’s taking care of yourself and making sure you get what you need in order to be healthy and safe. Sometimes it means forcing yourself to do stuff, sometimes it means just going with the flow.

For example, when I get depressed one thing that often helps is spending time one-on-one with a good friend. I know this helps my mood lift and gives me energy and motivation, but when I’m depressed I often don’t feel like seeing or interacting with anyone at all. I’d rather just hide myself away in my room and stay there until I feel better. The problem is that doing that won’t help me feel better and is actually more likely to make me feel worse.

Meanwhile, sometimes I have what I call “bad brain days”: days when my executive functioning is shot all to heck and I am doing well to remember to eat. When that happens, I have to take it easy on myself. I lessen my expectations, choose just a few things to try and get done, and promise to be nice to myself if I don’t manage it. It’s not like I have any control over whether or not my brain is going to be able to do stuff on a given day; that’s part of having ADHD.

It’s taken me a long time to learn this, and I still have to work hard to make sure I look after myself properly.

Self-care is different for everyone. We all need to learn to do right for ourselves.

The importance of sleep   Leave a comment

Like I wrote last Thursday, I went to see my ADHD doctor to talk about medication.

He listened to me, looked back over his notes from my previous appointments (I’ve been seeing him somewhat regularly since 2010), and asked me how my sleep was.

That’s an important question.

Over at the ADHD blog, people write in asking why their symptoms might be worse, and how to know if they need a higher dose of medication. I always say the same thing:

Check to make sure that these things are in order, because if even one is out of whack you will have problems:

  • Stress – Increased stress makes symptoms worse.
  • Sleep – If you’re not in bed for at least seven hours per night, you are probably short on sleep, and lack of sleep gives non-ADHDers the symptoms of ADHD.
  • Diet  – Diet doesn’t cause ADHD, though some allergies might cause similar symptoms for some people, but eating a healthy diet that’s high in protein is really good for the ADHD brain.
  • Exercise – Regular exercise is also really good for the ADHD brain and makes it easier to focus for a little while.

So these are all about as good as they’ve ever been, except my sleep… well, with a seven-month-old baby, I’m sure you can imagine what that looks like.

I’m now tracking my sleep for the next few weeks, and trying to get more (good luck), and I’ll go back to see him at the end of that time. Maybe I’ll post my results here, too.

Either way, my ADHD is big these days, as are my anxiety and depression (though not as bad as they have been in the past).

What’s big for you today?

Posted October 24, 2015 by karalianne in General Disability Discussion

Tagged with , , ,

ADHD Awareness Month   Leave a comment

If you’re reading this blog, you know I have ADHD. (If you don’t, you need to re-read a bunch of my posts.) This means you’re aware of it. Job done, let’s all go home!

Except no.

Because what we need is awareness of the reality of ADHD. It’s not enough for people to just know that it’s a thing some people are diagnosed with, because there are too many misconceptions floating around and too much stigma surrounding both the diagnosis and the treatment methods.

The reality of ADHD is that I am going to see my ADHD doctor tomorrow morning to talk about getting back on medication. I’m breastfeeding, so stimulants aren’t recommended; I have researched antidepressants that often help with ADHD symptoms as well as anxiety, because anxiety and depression are clawing their way back into my life and I intensely dislike this sensation.

The reality of ADHD is that it’s not the same for everyone; while we often struggle with similar things internally, how that manifests externally is different for everyone, because ADHD is not a monolith and we are all individuals.

The reality of ADHD is that the diagnosis is a relief for many of us because we finally have a name for why we feel so different, an explanation for why things are so hard for us; and it is awful for many others because it is used to belittle them and to refuse them things they need.

The reality of ADHD is that it’s still not viewed by most people as an actual disability, which means that not only is it the punchline for a lot of really unfunny “jokes,” it’s also impossibly difficult to get accommodations for school, especially at post-secondary institutions in Canada that leave the final decision about things like extra time on tests in the hands of the professors. (That is Not Okay, just in case you were wondering.)

The reality of ADHD is different for each person who has it, so go ask the ADHDer in your life how it impacts them. And then really listen to what they say, and ask how you can help them deal.

Because nobody should have to be an island.

Posted October 16, 2015 by karalianne in Awareness Month

Tagged with , ,