by Janelle Coggan

July 2022

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ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder

We often hear in the media, school ground, office etc. of people being diagnosed with ADHD but what actually is it and how does it affect people? 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neuro-developmental, genetic condition, which affects the brain by preventing chemicals from being carried around properly and is characterized by excessive amounts of inattention, carelessness, risk-taking behaviours, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that can be pervasive, impairing, and otherwise age-inappropriate. 

ADHD symptoms arise from executive dysfunction which is a group of cognitive processes that regulate, control, and manage other cognitive processes. Emotional dysregulation is considered a core symptom in children. Problems paying attention may result in challenging behaviors and difficulty achieving academic success in school.

Image by Lavi Perchik

Although people with ADHD struggle to focus on tasks they are not particularly interested in completing, they are often able to maintain an unusually prolonged and intense level of attention for tasks they do find interesting or rewarding; this is known as hyperfocus. 

In adults, hyperactivity can become replaced by internal struggles to which they have often developed constructive OR all too often destructive coping strategies to compensate or attempt to soothe the internal restlessness and keep it contained. The condition can be difficult to tell apart from other conditions. 

ADHD management recommendations vary and usually involve some combination of medications, counselling such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and lifestyle changes. I’m a huge advocate for calming herbs and sleep tonics along with essential oils that can be diffused, worn topically or ingested through foods and smoothies.

Image by Ramesh Iyer

ADHD Overwhelm and Meltdown

Children diagnosed with ADHD are likely to experience feelings of overwhelm at a higher rate than other children, therefore they are prone to meltdowns and emotional outbursts. This is because children with ADHD have difficulty regulating and understanding their emotions due to their neurological differences.

Children with ADHD can have difficulty:

  • Identifying their emotions 

  • Expressing emotions in appropriate ways at appropriate times

  • Completing a task that they find boring or tedious 

  • Finishing a task that they are focused on

  • Adapting to a change in routine

  • Coping when an expected event does not happenFocusing and maintaining concentration

  • May have difficulty paying attention to their surroundings, controlling their impulses, or managing their energy levels.

A meltdown or an outburst resulting from emotions that have built up so extremely that someone acts out; crying, laughing, yelling, and/or showing anger. This may resemble a child's tantrum and can look like misbehaviour. But this is not misbehaviour; this is a child with ADHD asking for help: help to manage their feelings, to make sense of a situation or to deal with their feelings of overwhelm. 

If you are working with a person who experiences these meltdowns, a good rule of thumb is – ‘don’t try to reason with them in this state.’ They are too upset and overwhelmed to comprehend what you are saying. 

Instead of reading this behaviour as misbehaviour, read it as communication.  Keep the person safe until they calm down - by which time they will likely be exhausted. Attempt to talk to them when they are in a better frame of mind e.g., when they are well fed, well rested and in a safe environment.” (1.) 

Tips to manage ADHD meltdowns 

  • Calming herbs, sleep tonics, focus & concentration herbs,

  • Diffusing or wearing essential oils such as Copaiba, Vetiver, Lavender, Cedarwood, Sacred Frankincense and any calming oils.
    I make small 5ml roll-a-ball roll-ons for clients to rub on their wrists, temples, forehead, bottoms of their feet where possible. Some choose to wear a mask and so roll along the bottom of their mask with an added drop of Eucalyptus Oil to detail with the recycled air through the mask.

  • Model the 5-finger breathing technique – (SEE attached INFOGRAPHIC) 

  • NOTE: A person experiencing or who has experienced significant trauma will benefit from your soothing tone reminding them that they are in touch with their own hands – right here – right now and affirming they are “SAFE” in this 

  • very present moment as you encourage them to breathe with you. Have them FEEL their FEET ON THE FLOOR really helps to ground them in the here and now. 

  • Make like a tree and plant your roots firmly and then allow space for your branches and mother earth to support some of the load when ready. Simply noticing any of your own reactivity and placing it on the earth beside you as you focus on your own roots (a calming technique for anyone dealing with an ADHD episode in the moment.)

  • Teach children how to name their emotions (try not to place judgements on emotions e.g. anger is bad, happy is good)

  • Give children opportunities to express their emotions through a creative outlet such as drawing, painting, singing, dancing, kicking a ball, breathing techniques

  • Introduce a visual timetable with specific times allocated for tasks.

  • Explain changes to routine as soon as possible e.g. A change in teacher or route to a destination.

  • Break tasks down into smaller, manageable chunks

  • Give one step at a time or follow a visual time-line of steps /chunks, ticking of as you go.

  • Give children warning that task will be ending soon – egg timers or phone alerts can help with this.

  • Give children opportunities for sensory breaks – e.g. A walk outside, a drink of water, a mindfulness activity. Give them a time frame for this, Eg. 3mins. 

  • Use a system to teach children about emotional regulation

Behaviour may not start to change straight away. It takes time to learn new skills. When we provide opportunities to learn how to name and label emotions, then pair these emotions with practical coping strategies it’s the beginning of a lifetime of learning. We can help people to manage feelings of overwhelm and ultimately decreasing the likelihood of meltdowns. 

Go gently with yourself and always remember that people diagnosed with ADHD patterning mean you no harm but have such compromised systems of trust often in themselves, they can be very challenging, especially if they are in the extreme of the Autism Spectrum. They often have coping mechanisms that are very safe and comfortable for them to help dysregulate and soothe – beginning from where they are at and then guiding, modelling and encouraging them to trial for short periods of time is all nourishing and effective. 

If you or a loved one has ADHD try find or seek out, support groups and work with as many family members as possible. This is helpful, but not always a possible or practical approach. The calmer a parent can remain; remembering that most parents will exhibit ADHD tendencies and characteristics themselves, the more likely you are to witness faster dysregulation times and better emotional intelligence and behaviour over time.

References: 

(1.) https://www.twinkl.com.au/teaching-wiki/adhd-attention-deficit-and-hyperactivity-disorder

Image: https://www.viac.com.au/sites/default/files/VIA_Embrace_Magazine_Edition%207_5-Finger%20Breathing%20Exercise%20Printable.pdf

VIA_Embrace_Magazine_Edition 7_5-Finger Breathing Exercise Printable.jpg
Image by Tina Floersch