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  • Aviva Nirenberg

ADHD and Stuck with Transitions? There’s a way out!




The Challenge:


Whether it’s the daily challenges of shifting from :

· Waking up to the morning routine

· A grueling day of work or school to home

· Play and fun to dinner or bedtime

· an engrossing book or video game to virtually anything else

or the seasonal or life transitions we experience:

· Summer vacation to back to school or work

· Holidays

· Going away to school

· A move around the block or across the country


Small, medium, or large – any transition for the ADHD brain can create upheaval, frustration, fatigue, and big emotions. It’s important as adults with ADHD or parents of ADHD kids to understand what’s going on inside the ADHD brain that fuels the challenge of transitions. Only when we understand, why can we replace blame and shame with compassion and understanding – for ourselves and/or our children.

We know that ADHD primarily impacts the area of our brain, the pre-frontal cortex or PFC, responsible for executive function skills, the set of skills that allow us to be productive and get stuff done. Smooth transitions rely on several key executive function skills. However, the individual with ADHD gets stuck with transitions because of the difficulty of self-regulating and disengaging from one task, activating or getting started on the new task, managing the emotions that may get in the way of shifting. Emotional roadblocks could be irritability, frustration, annoyance, anger, fatigue or boredom, to name a few. Then challenge of transition is compounded further when the initial task is very engaging, and the new task holds less appeal.



So, what’s an ADHD brain to do?


Tips for smoother transitions:


Daily transitions:


1. Clearly defined structure and routines pave the way for smoother transitions. Knowing when to wind down and what to expect removes the element of surprise and lessens the emotional response to change.

2. Preview and think about your schedule ahead of time or discuss it with your child. Even better, have the daily schedule or routine posted. For young children, picture schedules can work wonders and foster independence.

3. Set a countdown for 15 before the designated end of your activity and repeating at 5 minute intervals to gradually remind you that it’s time to wind down. Experiment with timing of the alarms to see what works best for you. Warning: you may have to use the loudest alarm possible or put the alarm on the other side of the room to break hyperfocus. Parents can also be great “reminder alarms” for their kids. For example, “David, dinner will be served in 15 minutes.”

4. Allow a transition cushion time between activities. A sudden shift can be jarring but a built-in buffer time for you or your child can make a tremendous difference.

5. Create a transition “ritual” that’s enjoyable to physically and emotionally ease the shift. Get up stretch, walk, or have a drink or healthy snack.


Bigger transitions:


1. Talk about the change and what you or your child could expect as much as possible beforehand. Play out either in your imagination or through role playing what the new situation will be like. We know from research that creative visualization is remarkably effective technique that gives allow us to confront a change with calm and confidence.

2. Plan and prepare checklists of everything that needs to happen before and after the transition. If you are leaving work for a holiday weekend, create a reminder list of what tasks you need to complete before your break as well the projects you need to still complete or initiate upon you return.

3. Allow yourself a transition day or days to prepare. If you return from vacation, allow a day for unpacking, laundry and food shopping. For kids returning to school, make an effort to approximate the school schedule and routine several days before the first day of school


Learning strategies for easier ADHD friendly transitions will save time, physical and emotional energy, decrease stress and at the same time improve our productivity and self-confidence.

Sometimes though, even with the best of intentions life can throw us an unexpected curveball and our plans are upended. In that case, speak kindly to yourself, acknowledge the difficulty, and assure yourself you’re doing the best you can under the circumstances.




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