These resources are some of my favorites for changing the brain and behavior (if you want the change).
This blog for lawyers has quite a bit for those with ADHD, including articles on procrastination.
I start with “ugh!” because I paid for the Special Edition of TIME today on THE SCIENCE OF LEARNING and opened it up by chance to an article with a picture of a child holding a fidget spinner with the caption, “Fidget spinners can help children with ADHD focus.” WT*? I thought. Is the rest of the magazine going to present false claims? I scoured through the one-page article looking for a research citation, wondering whether the latest research shows something different than earlier studies (Fidgeting: Spin vs. Science).
Well, the article had no research cited. So I pulled up pubmed.gov to check on the latest. I found a 2020 study. As prior research, it shows that fidget spinners DECREASE kids’ ability to focus (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29676193/).
The FIU researchers found, “Children’s use of fidget spinners was associated with poorer attention across both phases of treatment.” They concluded, “Fidget spinners negatively influence young children with ADHD’s attentional functioning, even in the context of an evidence-based classroom intervention.”
A glance at other recent research revealed that there are now battery-powered fidget spinners that some kids are swallowing.
So I ended up learning something at least.
While thinking about the ways we’ve responded to our pandemic (mask vs. no mask, cooperate vs. resist), I ran across a Twitter post on shruggers vs. stockpilers and then watched the first part of the latest Trolls movie, where trolls split up by music genre. After, I saw an article declaring we’ll soon have two “classes” of individuals: the protected and the vulnerable. Ack! So much division! It inspired me to come back to my blog to share some tips for responding to uncertainty. They are from D. Mosquera and K. Steele out of the Institute for the Study of Trauma and Personality Disorders (sigh…more categories…so many categories).
Tip 1: Avoid listening to/reading news constantly and especially before bed.
Instead schedule a time to update, once or twice a day (max), and stick to facts vs. sensationalism.
Tip 2: Set up a daily routine
Sleep, Hygiene (you’ll likely feel better), Healthy Eating, Exercise, Outside Time, Connection (but maybe avoiding the Neil Diamond kind), Mindfulness, Hobbies
Tip 3: Focus on tasks that depend on you and consider that staying home may be heroic (I’d add without judging others who do otherwise as bad)
Tip 4: Stay present-oriented
One day at a time, One week at a time. Find humor, playfulness, interest, and meaning where you can.
I hope these tips help. Here’s something to remember that also may, especially when our minds want an “us vs. them” of one sort or another…that I got from Tara Brach:
The Buddha said, “Our fear is great but greater yet is the truth of our connectedness.”
As prior research out of MIT (Go, Go, Go and Slow, Slow, Slow?), research out of Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) recently examined the coordination between two brain networks: the task positive network(s) and the default mode network. These networks have largely opposite functions. In the first–task positive network(s)–there’s increased activity when we have a particular task that demands focus, letting us start and sustain attention on the task. In the second–the default mode network–there’s increased activity when we have no particular task to do. In adults without ADHD, per the MIT research, these two networks cooperate: When it’s time for one to get on stage, the other fades into the background. In adults with ADHD, these networks are uncooperative and can compete for attention at the same time.
In kids with ADHD, according to the results of the OHSU study (here), we see the same lack of coordination/cooperation between the networks as compared to children without ADHD, with this lack of coordination between networks increasing with age.
The result? Mixed signals. Attentional interference. Or, as the researchers put it, decreased attentional control. A reminder that behavior reflects brain activity, coordinated or otherwise.
Of interest, the OHSU researchers found that the brains of female children overall, with or without ADHD, showed more coordination between the opposing networks than the brains of male children.
Some people with ADHD have a Ptchd1 gene mutation (more often these are males). MIT and NYU scholars studied the Ptchd1 gene using mice and discovered that its loss may be the basis for symptoms of ADHD (as well as autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia).
Because its loss most significantly affects the part of the brain responsible for keeping out sensory input that’s irrelevant. This part of the brain is the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN).
According to one of the senior authors of the study, the TRN determines what input reaches the cortex, where thinking and planning occurs. “We receive all kinds of information from different sensory regions, and it all goes into the thalamus,” Feng says. “All this information has to be filtered. Not everything we sense goes through.”
Except when Ptchd1 mutations lead to TRN defects. Then, more of everything can go through, leading to, you guessed it, being distracted and overwhelmed.
Can you imagine no filter or one that loosely functions? For some, there’s no need to.
Last year, the prestigious science journal Nature published the study.
Find a summary of it here.
In school-age children with ADHD, “visual spatial working memory maintenance” improvement predicts symptom improvement. See the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) study here.
Let’s unpack this.
“Visual spatial working memory maintenance” is about maintaining mental representations of the arrangement of what you’ve just seen as the next sights show up.
It’s what you have to do when you drive. You have to remember the positions of other cars and cyclists as you also attend to traffic lights and road signs. Imagine you come to a light where you want to turn right. To do this without an accident, you need to maintain the representation of the cyclist who was riding on your right side seconds before.
Air traffic controllers and pilots require especially good visual spatial working memory maintenance (for a brief, clear description of visual working memory from the University of Michigan, go here).
Now, hold on to this idea as we look at the OHSU study.
What the OHSU researchers found is that the children of their study who showed some ADHD symptom “recovery” or “remission” were the ones whose visual working memory maintenance improved as they developed.
It raises interesting questions, including whether to focus attention on developing this cognitive ability to reduce ADHD symptoms and whether a third factor contributes to both visual working memory maintenance improvement and ADHD symptom reduction. Of note, the researchers examined how two other cognitive processes changed over time. These processes were response inhibition (self-restraint, essentially) and delayed reward discounting (depreciating the value of a non-immediate reward). Their changes were unrelated to symptom reduction.
When you have ADHD, here’s your recipe for disaster: Mix sleep deprivation with carnival food. Deep fry.
Hold the physical exercise and Omega-3s.
No one says, “I want to be my worse self.” Yet many of us are doing exactly what we need to get us there or keep us there.
When you have ADHD, sleep deprivation makes your symptoms worse, carnival-like food makes your symptoms (particularly forgetfulness) worse and lack of physical exercise and Omega-3s keeps them from getting better.
If you want to give yourself the best chance at optimal brain functioning, here’s the winning combination: sleep enough, eat healthy food (including Omega-3s), and exercise regularly. This is true for all us but is essential when you have ADHD.
Consider that chronic sleep deprivation looks like ADHD. Imagine what happens when you combine them. Check out recent research on ADHD and circadian rhythms here.
Omega-3s matter so much, there’s even an Omega-3 prescription for ADHD called Vayarin. See specifics on the Omega-3 and ADHD connection here: Something Fishy.
For a recent review and meta-analysis on use of Omega-3s for ADHD, go here.
As for exercise, namely cardio exercise, check out this recent review.
Try the winning combination for even just one week and see what you notice. I bet your brain will thank you.
My local Memorial weekend festival had fidget spinners for sale, ranging from $12 to over $20, advertised to help with ADHD, anxiety and more. It left me wondering what we know about their effectiveness. It turns out very little. On my go-to research source, pubmed, I could find no single study on fidget spinners or their kin (cubes, etc.). But NPR published two articles exactly two years apart, one on fidget spinners and one on fidgeting.
On May 14, 2017, NPR published an article on fidget spinners.
Essentially, the article quotes a Duke professor suggesting to stick with what’s known to work.
The professor points out that there’s no evidence that fidget spinners work. Though it’s said, what seems perhaps buried or likely to be easily overlooked is that the reason there’s no evidence is that there’s actually no trustworthy research on them. See here.
Meanwhile, two years earlier, on May 14, 2015, NPR published an article describing a small study that shows that children with ADHD performed better on tasks requiring concentration when they fidgeted. (The children worked while on a swivel chair that they, of course, spun and moved.)
Overall, more movement meant better performance for these kids (kids without ADHD, on the other hand, did worse with movement). The lead author, however, cautioned against both too little and too much movement. See here.
Perhaps fidget spinners would fall into too much movement or the wrong kind (attracting eyes as well as fingers), but it’d be interesting to see some real research on them.
Imagine yourself inside a room full of tunnels.
You can look down any of them. Maybe you like this sense of freedom. Maybe you also find it distracting.
But now you have your ADHD medication.
Walls go up over all the tunnels except the one you’re facing.
When you turn your head, the wall for the last tunnel you faced slides up. The wall for the tunnel you now face slides down.
You can switch which tunnel you look down, but you can see only one tunnel at a time.
You can also see the tunnels with obstacles.
On medication, you find it’s easier to enter these previously-avoided tunnels (maybe because the more appealing tunnels have their walls up, keeping their temptations out of sight).
And once you enter one of these “harder” tunnels, the medication helps you stay there.
This is part of the experience of ADHD medication for many of those with ADHD, on the one that’s working for them.