An Alternative to New Year's Resolutions!

By Linda Swanson
Soon we’ll be ringing in 2016 – a Leap Year! What will those 366 days hold for you? How do you want to use them? Can you connect with the person you will be a year from now?

A new year marks a new beginning, a fresh start, a chance to pause and consider big things, such as where you would like to be in your life this time next year. You might even resolve to change certain behaviors or achieve long dreamed-of goals.

But how do New Year’s resolutions usually work for you? If they work well, congratulations! For many people, they don’t work well.

When that happens, it’s discouraging to realize that you went to the effort of pausing, looking back, looking ahead, setting goals, sincerely committing to a new action only to discover some time in February (or even mid-January!) that you’re so far off track that you’ve given up on achieving what you resolved so genuinely to do. I know. I’ve been there. I don’t do the New Year’s Resolution thing any more.

To make things worse, folks with ADHD have a bigger challenge in this regard than most people. We folks with ADHD can have quite a hard time connecting with our futures. We tend to live almost completely in the present moment. Making plans for tomorrow or next week can be a big challenge. Next year at this time just doesn’t compute! 

This can be a real problem, because life without some degree of planning or some idea of where you’d like to end up can feel as if something is seriously missing. You don’t know where you’ve been or where you’re going.

There is a way to approach getting to where you want to be at the end of next year without using New Year’s resolutions. Read on if you’re interested in a tool that might help.

The first step is to identify an area of your life in which you’d like to make some changes. Decide how much change in that area is realistic to accomplish in the next year, and imagine how your life will be if you succeed.

Now ask yourself this question: How will I feel, look, act, and behave by December 2016 when I have reached that level of accomplishment?” Don’t speed through answering this! Get all the details down; even consider drawing a picture or in some other way making a graphic image of yourself after you “arrive.” This will help connect you with what you want in your life and draw you forward over the next twelve months. You might even include a description of the celebration you’ll have when you complete your plan.

Once you know what you’d like to accomplish next year, instead of planning ahead, as we are often advised to do, try planning backwards. Let’s use an imaginary, but plausible, example to explore how to do this.

Suppose by the end of 2016 I want to have completed a book about our family history to give to my grandchildren. After I have a clear vision of how I will feel and act when the book is finished (and imagined the party I’m going to throw!), I need to ask myself this question: Before a copy of my book can reach each of my grandchildren by December 31, 2016, what will be the last thing I will need to do? Answer: I will need to put a finished copy addressed to each of them into the mail by December 26. 

Then, continuing planning backwards, I ask myself ‘What is the last thing I will need to do before mailing the books?” Answer: I will need to have printed and bound at least four copies of the book.

And what will be the last step before that? I will need to have proofed the final version to be sure it is ready for printing.

And before that? I will need to get the book back from an editor (perhaps another family member who served as another set of eyes to call my attention to anything at all that didn’t seem correct) and make any needed corrections.

And before that, I will need to send a nearly final draft to that family member who volunteered to serve as an editor.

You get the point! You plan backwards until you get to the point where there is no answer to the question, “And before that?” You will have identified your first step.

Write all the steps down, perhaps on Post-it notes, being sure to add to your description the amount of time each step will take. Then get out a large 2016 calendar and lay your steps out across the year, taking into account how long each step will take, from initial concept and research to final printing. Post this calendar where you can see it, and add those steps and descriptions to any other calendars you use.

When you approach a goal in this way, you make it concrete and actionable. You usually don’t miss any significant steps, though if you do you can adjust your schedule. The main thing is that you have taken a big dream and turned it into a working reality. The steps are now small enough to be manageable. You can visualize how to accomplish the project in small bites instead of one big one.

So, what would you like to have achieved by the end of 2016 that you can plan backwards? Engaging in the process of thinking backwards through the steps you’ll need to take is a very different process from making a vague and possibly unrealistic resolution without clear action steps.

Try it for 2016! You might like it.

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The Best Present is the Present for Loved Ones with ADHD

By Peggy Maslanka

I often hear ADHD referred to as “a disease of motivation,” but my ADHD clients belie this description. They are highly motivated to achieve their dreams; in fact, they are so wedded to this future version of themselves, the present feels entrapping. The steps along the way to becoming their future selves trip them up, because they require engaging fully in this entrapping, uncomfortable present.

The minds of many people with ADHD are usually in the future, where they are restlessly waiting for the next thing, daydreaming, or worrying. When not in the future, they visit the past to relive guilt, shame or hurt, or they enter a zone of hyper-focus so acute that the present is absent of all markers, such as a sense of time passing and an awareness of sensory or emotional events happening around or within them. How can one possibly attend to the demands of a present, such as organization, focus, remembering, and self-control while being mentally absent when that present is occurring?

So for me, ADHD is a problem of presence rather than a disease of motivation.

Why is the present so uncomfortable for people with ADHD? It could just be a trick of the brain, inherent in that type of brain. I notice though, that while ADHD is an aggravating problem for parents in the elementary school years, often an ADHD crisis hits around eighth grade, sometime a little earlier, sometimes a little later. One theory about why ADHD symptoms worsen around this time is that smart kids with ADHD can manage the relatively easy early school years without great executive functioning, but not the middle and high school years. Certainly this is a factor. But I think that the heightened emotional states that are par for this phase of adolescence are even greater for those with ADHD, and thus, so is their vulnerability, to failure, to teasing, to bullying, to pressure, and to the hugely important but highly tenuous social relationships as they are conducted in this phase of life.

People with ADHD tend to be extremely sensitive. And because of their disorganization, their forgetfulness, their seeming carelessness, their impulsiveness, the feedback they get from parents, teachers, and even peers is mostly negative, and therefore, mostly hurtful, horribly hurtful. So, an already existing tendency to escape the present becomes a necessity for emotional survival in those overly poignant early teen years, when acute anxiety and depression become specters in the already unpleasant house of the present.

The more people with ADHD continue their flight from the present, the more they are victims not only of their ADHD symptoms, but of its evil companions, anxiety and depression. That’s why I believe the best way to treat clients with ADHD is to help them gradually move into the house of the present, to help them realize that they own this house and possess the power to transform it into a place they can safely and effectively inhabit.

Because this living in the present is such a simple thing, something that people without ADHD do automatically, I use simple methods for helping my clients arrive there anew: breathing exercises, mindfulness meditations, body awareness exercises, emotional awareness techniques, outside exercise in all weathers, discussion of in-the-moment thoughts and feelings, automatic negative thought questioning, impulsiveness curbing techniques, and so on. But it is not an easy process for clients who have always found safety by escaping the very place where these treatments will deliver them.

The best present you can give a loved one with ADHD in the upcoming holidays is help engaging in the present moment. Because those with ADHD can be very difficult, it is tempting to let them escape into their rooms, their video games, their phones, so you can have a little peace, or focus, for a change, on other family members. This is understandable, but as your gift to your loved one with ADHD, resist this temptation. Instead, insist on conversing with them during meals – no screens, no reading material. Make eye contact. Encourage them to savor each bite of food. Do the dishes together, getting them to sing some holiday songs, and just be silly together.

Include your loved one on shopping trips to buy gifts for friends and family, eliciting his or her ideas. Even if your efforts are unappreciated or result in arguments, try to cede your righteous position as a secret holiday present, and hug your unreasonable, but struggling loved one. Physical contact is very present-oriented.

Involve your loved one in the decorating and baking procedures, even if they make a mess. Continually point out sensory details, and how lovely they are: frost on the trees, cold cheeks, lights, the smell of cookies baking, the beauty of choirs or carolers singing, the wonderful taste of a candy cane. These things are testament to the pleasures of the present, and invite your loved one to engage within it.

When your loved ones with ADHD behave badly, instead of getting angry and punishing them, ask what they are feeling. Help them identify their emotion. “You seem angry. Do you feel angry? Why do you think my asking you to clear the table made you angry?” Listen carefully and non-judgmentally to the answers to each question. This not only defuses an unpleasant scene, but fosters emotional awareness, a huge entryway into the present for those with ADHD.

The present is a wonderful present that you can give your ADHD loved ones this year. The gift of the present will enable your loved ones to glide, rather than trip up the staircase to their future best selves.
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Rudolph's Snow Day Tips for Parents of Children with Disabilities

By Mackenzie Johnson

The leaves have changed color, and the trees are beginning to look bare. The temperature is dropping and the frost is more prevalent in the morning. This can only mean one thing; we are in route to welcome another winter season.

We all know the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer; a reindeer that started off ashamed of his individual gift was turned into a legend when he started to embrace his different abilities. In many ways there are little heroes who are differently enabled hiding from their peers because of the gifts they were born with.

Children with intellectual and physical disabilities are about to embark on another winter season filled with strange family members and prolonged indoor activities. This article is meant to embrace children with intellectual and physical disabilities, and offer some prospective on the additional stress that these individuals and families endure during the winter months.

Being “different” as a child is never easy, but often schools provide a social circle for every type of child. Social interaction is difficult in general, but children with intellectual and physical disabilities are able to create networks at school, creating a welcoming atmosphere with predictable school days throughout the week. Everyone they interact with creates a social routine, from teachers to classroom peers.

When the winter months bring snowstorms, children with physical disabilities are sometimes forced to stay indoors for prolonged periods of time due to mechanical malfunctions with wheelchairs, or an inability to be safely transported to and from school. Additionally, children with intellectual disabilities are deprived from routine when school is cancelled due to snow. Breaking routine is hard enough on children without disabilities, and if the inability to go outside and play is factored in, snow days can be a stressful time for parents. As cabin fever sets in, these children need to be socially and educationally stimulated, which can be a challenge.

This winter, factor in the challenges that others are facing with the winter months. Be prepared by planning ahead, and talk to your child about the possibility of snow days before their normal routine is canceled. It’s also beneficial to create your own routine so that your child will have a set plan of activities, leaving less room for concern. Another tip is to start a traditional activity with your child on snow days, this way snow days start becoming something exciting instead of something scary.

If you have a child with an intellectual or physical disability, start your preparation now! Down time is not ideal for any child, so be sure to have activities planned to keep your child busy.

Overall, enjoy this winter season with your child, despite any different abilities. Keep your child busy, begin snow day traditions, and stick to a snow day routine! Remember that not even Rudolph had a distinct talent until Santa needed a differently enabled reindeer to lead his sleigh on that foggy Christmas night!
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Overcoming the Holiday Blues

By Astrid Richardson

Although the winter/holiday season is often associated with excitement and joy, it can also be a very emotionally stressful time of year. The season of giving and holiday cheer can be anything but joyful when the memories of loss or loneliness overshadow these sentiments. The end of the year can also cause some to evaluate their accomplishments or, lack thereof, leading to feelings of disappointment and sometimes, hopelessness. Whether the issue is the loss of a loved one or something else is bringing you down this season, you’re not alone. Many people experience the holiday blues and there are ways to overcome them so you can enjoy the season.

First and foremost, it’s important to avoid isolation. When we spend too much time alone, it can skew our perception of reality making things seem much worse than they may be in actuality. Human beings are social creatures and it helps to be connected to others. Therefore, support systems are critical to combat isolation and loneliness. A supportive network of caring people can provide the perspective needed to keep you grounded in reality and aware of how important you are to others. Reach out and spend time with friends and loved ones. Don’t be afraid to share that you’re feeling down and could use some support.

It can also be helpful to do something for others, like volunteering for a local charity or cause. Devoting yourself to helping others is a great way to take your mind off of your current troubles, connect you to others, and provide a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. It may also give you a different perspective on your life. Lastly, take the time to reflect on the good things in your life. A gratitude journal is an excellent way to record these thoughts and reflect on them during hard times. It could be as simple as waking up to sunshine or the soothing sound of rain, there is always something for which to be grateful. If not gratitude, you can journal about whatever you’re feeling, as it helps to get the feelings out of your head and on paper. The process can assist in letting go of thoughts and feelings that no longer serve you.

Remember that the holiday blues are common and they can be conquered. It may be difficult initially but, with the proper support, the season can provide opportunities to heal and emerge stronger for the coming year.

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