Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easing Transitions

Ever noticed that you have difficulty leaving work at work?

Do you struggle to settle into an indoors activity after you've been outdoors?
Is it difficult to switch the TV off and go to bed at night - even if the show you're watching isn't a favourite?
Problems getting your children to settle down and do their homework after playing with friends?

Making a transition from one activity to another is not always easy for the ADHD brain. To understand this better, let's look at one aspect of our brains. The Executive Functions (EF) are the central control processes of the brain. They connect, prioritise and integrate cognitive functions of the brain, rather like the conductor of a symphony orchestra. Individuals develop their executive functioning skills throughout childhood, adolescence, and even into adulthood. There are many EF models proposed by various researchers. According to Professor Thomas Brown they include the ability to:

  • organise, prioritise & activate

  • regulate alertness, effort & processing speed

  • manage frustration, control emotions

  • monitor & self-regulate actions

  • utilise working memory


Dr Russell Barkley describes Executive Functions as self-regulation. They enable us to:

  • visualise your past to yourself (so you can plan the future)

  • talk to yourself in your mind (as opposed to talking out loud to yourself)

  • modify emotional reactions to events

  • restrain yourself (self-discipline)

  • play with information in your mind - manipulate it into new forms (working memory)


Anyone with ADHD will recognise that all of the above functions can be challenging at times. The most relevant EF to the act of making a transition is the ability to focus, shift & sustain attention, or self-direct attention. People who do not have difficulties in this area are able to switch attention between tasks with minimal disruption. For people with ADHD it's infinitely more challenging. At school, teachers complain that students with ADHD take longer to settle after recess, and often wander around the classroom long after their classmates are seated and working. Then they complain that these same students, who took so long to get started, insist on working at the task after the other students have moved onto the next one. In the workplace adults complain that it takes then a while to get started in the mornings, and that the constant distraction of incoming emails makes it hard to complete any tasks. Each time they stop what they're doing to check their email, they are unable to immediately return to the task at hand. This results in unproductive time, which causes them to work overtime unnecessarily and sometime to miss deadlines.

Tips for easing transitions:

Be aware of this difficulty, and build in transition times wherever possible

Create bridges between tasks by setting a warning to sound ten minutes before you are meant to transition.

Rehearse - on your way to work visualise yourself sitting down at your desk and working. Tune your brain into the next task before you begin. Likewise, on your way home, consciously 'close the door' on work thoughts. Then visualise walking into your home and engaging with your family. Explain to your family that you may need some transition time when you get home.

Reward yourself with high-stimulus activities at the end of a difficult task. For example, don't try playing a computer game or checking your facebook page "briefly" before doing something boring (like a tax return). The would be a very difficult transition indeed.

Remember - there is a positive side to this difficulty with transitions - ADHD hyperfocus. The reason transitions are difficult in the first place. Go for the hyperfocus when you're at work and get as much done as possible when you're 'in the zone'!

1 comment:

  1. Sorry - I can't get the bullet points to behave in this blog!!!!!