wikiHow to Cope With ADHD

Nine Methods:Getting Diagnosed with ADHDBuilding Emotional Coping StrategiesGetting OrganizedFinding SupportTrying MedicationControlling ADHD with Your DietManaging Environmental FactorsChoosing a Career PathLearning About ADHD

Persons with ADHD struggle to focus on a single thing at a time. The plethora of stimuli cause a high degree of distractibility[1] as well as decreased impulse control.[2]Perhaps you have just learned that the struggles you’ve had your entire life relate to your recent diagnosis of ADHD. Getting diagnosed with the disorder is your first step. Then, develop strategies to help yourself handle the challenges that you may experience. Take heart and embrace the possibility of a successful future if you have been diagnosed with this often frustrating disability.

Method 1
Getting Diagnosed with ADHD

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    Determine if you have inattentive symptoms of ADHD. In order to qualify for a diagnosis, you must exhibit at least five symptoms (for an adult) or six symptoms (for a child 16 and under) in more than one setting, for at least six months. Symptoms must be inappropriate for the person’s developmental level and be seen as interrupting normal functioning on the job or in social or school settings. Symptoms for ADHD (inattentive) include: [3]
    • Makes careless mistakes, is inattentive to detail
    • Has trouble paying attention (tasks, playing)
    • Doesn’t seem to be paying attention when someone is talking to him
    • Doesn’t follow through (homework, chores, jobs); easily sidetracked
    • Is organizationally challenged
    • Avoids tasks requiring sustained focus (like schoolwork)
    • Can’t keep track of or often loses keys, glasses, papers, tools, etc.
    • Is easily distracted
    • Is forgetful
    • Has a difficult time finding their personality, or what they like best
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    Determine if you have hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms of ADHD. Some symptoms must be at the level of “disruptive” for them to count in a diagnosis. Track if you have at least five symptoms (for an adult) or six symptoms (for a child 16 and under) in more than one setting, for at least six months: [4]
    • Fidgety, squirmy; taps hands or feet
    • Feels restless
    • Struggles to play quietly/do quiet activities
    • “On the go” as if “driven by a motor”
    • Excessive talking
    • Blurts out even before questions are asked
    • Struggles to wait for his turn
    • Interrupts others, inserts self into others’ discussions/games
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    Assess if you have Combined ADHD. Some people with ADHD present symptoms from both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive criteria. If you have five symptoms (for adults) or six symptoms (for children 16 and under) from either category, you may have Combined presentation of ADHD. [5]
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    Get diagnosed by a mental health professional. As you determine your level of ADHD, seek the guidance of a mental health professional to make an official diagnosis.
    • This person will also be able to determine whether your symptoms can be better explained by or attributable to another psychiatric disorder.
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    Ask your mental health professional about other disorders. As if having an ADHD diagnosis isn’t challenging enough, one out of every five with ADHD is diagnosed with another serious disorder (depression and bipolar disorder are common partners). One-third of children with ADHD also have a behavioral disorder (conduct disorder, oppositional defiance disorder). [6] ADHD tends to pair up with learning disabilities and anxiety, too.[7]

Method 2
Building Emotional Coping Strategies

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    Take timeouts. Recognize when you are feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated. Remove yourself from situations when you need a break. Find a place that will give you some time to decompress.[8]
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    Prepare for mood changes. You’re likely to have rapid mood changes when you have ADHD. Knowing what to do and how to respond to these mood changes will help you weather them better. Find an activity that shifts your focus away from your bad mood, such as reading a book or talking with a friend.[9]
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    Don’t overcommit yourself. People with ADHD have a tendency to overcommit themselves. Then, the commitments become overwhelming. Learn to say no. For example, if you are asked to volunteer at your child’s field day, decline altogether, or suggest that you can be there for one hour instead of three.[10]
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    Try role playing to prepare for unfamiliar situations. Individuals with ADHD often experience anxiety over unfamiliar situations. To decrease anxiety and provide familiarity for an upcoming event, role playing can guide you in appropriate responses.[11]
    • This strategy is especially helpful in prepping to meet new people, work out conflicts with friends, or interview for a job.
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    Know the time of day when you perform your best. You may be able to handle situations better depending on the time of day. For example, some people with ADHD might do better in the afternoon, while others may be better able to handle stressful situations first thing in the morning.[12]
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    Assemble a support network. Persons with ADHD need to understand how to recognize and reduce stress and frustration before they get out of control and lead to anxiety, depression, or even substance abuse. Have a list of people who you can call to help you through difficult situations.

Method 3
Getting Organized

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    Use a daily planner. Organization and consistent routines will help you stay on top of your daily activities and projects. Buy a planner that has plenty of space to write daily notes.[13]
    • Before you go to bed, look at your calendar for the next day. Then you will know what to anticipate and what you need to get done.
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    Break up large projects into smaller ones. Thinking about the overall picture can be overwhelming. Break down a large project into small manageable pieces that can be accomplished readily.[14]
    • Make a to-do list for each project. Then write down the steps that will accomplish the full project. Cross them off as you finish each one.
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    Get rid of clutter. Clutter can contribute to feeling overwhelmed and distracted. Reduce the amount of material sitting around on counters and shelves. [15]
    • Throw out junk mail right away, and get yourself removed from mailing lists for catalogs and credit card offers.[16]
    • Get online bank statements instead of paper copies.
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    Have designated places for important items. You may find yourself getting overwhelmed if you constantly have to look for your keys and wallet. Choose a spot where you will always put your keys, such as on a key hook by the door.

Method 4
Finding Support

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    See a mental health therapist. Adults with ADHD generally benefit from psychotherapy.[17] This treatment helps individuals accept who they are, while at the same time helps them seek improvements to their situation.
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy directly geared toward treating ADHD has been useful for many patients. This type of therapy addresses some of the core problems caused by ADHD, such as time management and organizational issues.[18]
    • You may also suggest to family members to visit a therapist. Therapy can also provide a safe place for family members to vent their frustrations in a healthy way and work out issues with professional guidance.
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    Join a support group. Numerous organizations provide individual support as well as networking amongst members who can get together online or in person to share problems and solutions. Search online for a support group in your area.
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    Find online resources. There are numerous online resources that provide information, advocacy and support for individuals with ADHD and their families. Some resources include:
    • [ Attention Deficit Disorder Association] (ADDA) distributes information via its website, through webinars, and via newsletters. It also provides electronic support, one-on-one live support, and conferences for adults with ADHD.
    • Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) was founded in 1987 and now has over 12,000 members. It provides information, training, and advocacy for persons with ADHD and those who care about them.
    • ADDitude Magazine is a free online resource that provides information, strategies, and support for adults with ADHD, children with ADHD, and parents of persons with ADHD.
    • ADHD & You provides resources for adults with ADHD, parents of children with ADHD, teachers and healthcare providers who serve persons with ADHD. It includes a section of online videos for teachers and guidelines for school staff to work more successfully with students who have ADHD.
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    Talk with your family and friends. You may find it useful to talk about your ADHD with your family and trusted friends. These are people who you can call when you find yourself depressed, anxious or otherwise affected negatively.

Method 5
Trying Medication

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    Ask your mental health professional about medication. There are two basic categories of ADHD medication: stimulants (such as methylphenidate and amphetamine) and non-stimulants (such as guanfacine and atomoxetine). [19] Hyperactivity is treated successfully with stimulant medication because the brain circuitry being stimulated is responsible for controlling impulsivity and improving focus.[20] Stimulants (Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall) help regulate neurotransmitters (norepinephrine and dopamine). [21]
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    Monitor side effects from stimulants. Stimulants have fairly common side effects of decreased appetites and trouble sleeping. Sleep issues often can be resolved by lowering the dosage.
    • Your doctor may also add a prescription to improve sleeping such as clonidine[22] or melatonin.
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    Ask about non-stimulant medication. Non-stimulant medications may work better for some persons with ADHD. Non-stimulant anti-depression medications are often used to treat ADHD. These help regulate neurotransmitters (norepinephrine and dopamine).
    • Some of the side effects may be more worrisome. For instance, youth taking atomoxetine must be monitored closely for potential increased suicidal ideation. [23]
    • Side effects from guanfacine may include drowsiness, headache and fatigue.[24]
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    Work with your doctor to find the right form and dosage. Deciding on the right form and specific prescription of medication is tricky because different people respond differently to different medications. Work with your doctor to find the right form and dosage for you.
    • For example, many medications can be taken in an extended-release format, which erases the need to deal with dosing at school or work. [25] Some individuals decline regular usage of medication and take it only on a situational basis. In these cases, individuals want a fast-acting version. In older children and adults who learn to compensate for their ADHD challenges, medication may become unnecessary or be reserved for special occasion usage, such as when taking college entrance exams or finals.
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    Use a pill container. Some people with ADHD may have trouble remembering to take their medication, or they may take two pills in one day. By using a weekly pill container, you can be sure to take your medication once per day.[26]
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    Check in with your doctor periodically to assess your prescription. Your medication’s effectiveness may change depending on certain factors. The effectiveness may change depending on growth spurts, hormonal fluctuations, diet and weight changes, and as resistance builds up. [27]

Method 6
Controlling ADHD with Your Diet

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    Eat complex carbohydrates to boost serotonin levels. Persons with ADHD tend to have lower serotonin and dopamine levels. Many people experiment with changes in their diet in order to counter-effect these deficiencies to some extent. Experts recommend a complex-carb diet to boost serotonin for improved mood, sleep, and appetite. [28]
    • Skip simple carbs (sugars, honey, jelly, candy, soda, etc.) [29]) that cause a temporary serotonin spike. [30] Instead, choose complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, green vegetables, starchy vegetables, and beans. [31] These all act as an energy “time-release.” [32]
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    Improve your focus by eating more protein. Eat a protein-rich diet that includes several proteins over the course of the day to keep dopamine levels high. [33] This will help you improve your focus.
    • Proteins include meat, fish, and nuts, as well as several foods that double as complex carbs: legumes and beans. [34]
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    Choose omega-3 fats. ADHD experts recommend improving the brain by avoiding “bad fats” such as those found in trans-fats and fried foods, burgers and pizzas. Instead, choose omega-3 fats from salmon, walnuts, avocados and more. [35] These foods may help lower hyperactivity while improving organizational skills.
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    Increase your intake of zinc. Seafoods, poultry, fortified cereals and other foods with a high zinc content or taking zinc supplements are linked to lower levels of hyperactivity and impulsivity in some studies.[36]
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    Add spices to your food. Don’t forget that some spices do more than add flavor. For example, saffron counters depression, while cinnamon helps with attention. [37]
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    Experiment with eliminating certain foods. Some studies show that eliminating wheat and dairy, as well as processed foods, sugars, additives and dyes (especially red food coloring), can have a positive impact on behavior in children with ADHD. [38] While not everyone will be willing or able to go to that length, some experimentation may produce improvements that make a difference. [39]
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    Talk to your doctor about dietary changes. Be certain to run any major changes in diet by your doctor. This includes changes related to vitamins and supplements. Ask your doctor about any conflicts that could negatively impact your ADHD medication.[40]
    • Your doctor can also suggest recommended dosages of various supplements and warn of possible side effects.[41] For instance, melatonin may improve sleep in persons with ADHD, but it might also induce vivid dreaming which may be unpleasant.

Method 7
Managing Environmental Factors

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    Recognize how you respond to your environment. A crowded venue with music and many conversations happening simultaneously, a potpourri of aromas ranging from air fresheners, flowers, and food to perfumes and colognes, and perhaps a variety of lighting effects such as television screens or computer displays may overwhelm an individual with ADHD. [42] This can make the individual virtually unable to participate in a simple conversation, let alone excel at exercising business acumen or social graces. When a similar invitation presents itself later, he or she may choose to decline, perhaps resulting in a lost financial opportunity or isolation. [43] Social isolation can easily work its way into depression.
    • You may choose to confide in a trusted friend who can act as an anchor during this type of event. This friend can be a focal point for you. He or she might also recommend that you step outside for a moment of relative quiet and regrounding when the situation hits a certain level.
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    Find ways to redirect fidgeting. It can be difficult to sit still or to stop fidgeting if you have ADHD. Redirect these tendencies by squeezing a stress ball, for example. [44]
    • If you find that you fidget at your desk, it might help to sit on a large exercise ball.
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    Be careful around alcohol and drugs. Individuals with ADHD have a greater propensity for falling into substance abuse, and it’s harder to break away from that addiction. [45] It is estimated that “half of those suffering ADHD self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.” [46]
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    Get more physical exercise. Exercise works wonders on the brain function of an ADHD sufferer, as it takes your mind off of anything you may be thinking about, and it also helps you get out some of the pent up energy you may have. Try high-energy activities like swimming or biking. [Image:Deal With ADHD Step 7.jpg|center]]

Method 8
Choosing a Career Path

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    Think about finding a suitable college for yourself. A college education is not for everyone, and some students with ADHD will be happier avoiding it and seeking a trade school or other career path. But having ADHD does not mean college is out of the question. Depending on the severity of your ADHD and your coping skills, you could excel in a regular collegiate program as well. There are also many specialized programs that support students with various needs. Several highly respected institutions have deliberately developed strong structures to guide students with ADHD and learning disabilities not only in achieving academic success but in learning more about themselves and how to excel in their chosen career fields after college. [47]
    • Consider submitting an essay with your application that describes what you’ve accomplished in light of your disability.[48]
    • Locate your college’s student support services. It’s up to you to initiate contact with this office. This can be helpful in getting accommodations or other supports.[49]
    • Think about attending a college close to home. Most students with ADHD may find attending college less stressful and more successful if they do not have to move too far from home.[50] These students also benefit from a strong, supportive structure at their college that helps them compensate for their disorder.
    • A smaller college may help you feel less overwhelmed.
    • Take a look at College Academic Support’s website for a list of 40 colleges and universities that provide specialized programs for students with ADHD.
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    Take inventory of your career interests. Trying to discover one’s life avocation is daunting enough without piling the challenges of ADHD. Interest inventories attempt to gather information about your likes and dislikes as well as aptitudes and characteristics that determine your suitability for a particular career.[51]
    • Even students who have a strong sense of where they want to end up should take a career interest inventory. This may point them in a more focused direction or open their eyes to previously unconsidered careers that may better meet their needs. For example, one young man who felt destined to become an architect said he’d always been drawn to horticulture as well and felt it would be a lifelong hobby. After taking a career inventory, he learned that he could combine these two paths in a career in landscape architecture.
    • Talk with a guidance counselor or college career center to obtain a career inventory questionnaire. You may also find them in libraries, bookstores, or online. Some require assistance in decoding while others are self-guided.
    • This inventory will help you find a career that takes advantage of your unique qualities. You may be exposed to careers that require creativity, thinking outside the box, hyperfocus, and high energy in an intense, constantly changing work environment. [52] Despite common misperceptions, adults with ADHD can be successful professional leaders in industry, politics, and science as well as music, art, and entertainment as well as everywhere in between. [53]
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    Look into vocational training. Vocational schools (also known as trade schools or career colleges) provide hands-on, technical training and certification in a variety of fields. These options may give students the qualifications they need to work as electricians, plumbers, mechanics, veterinary technicians, graphic designers, secretaries, X-ray technicians, certified nursing assistants, travel agents, or dental assistants as well as in fields as diverse as viniculture, childcare, cosmetology, culinary arts, data-entry, aircraft maintenance, and more.
    • Vocational training may be the answer for some individuals with ADHD who do better at learning hands-on than from traditional academic teaching.
    • Many community colleges offer the same vocational training in short certification or longer two-year associate-degree programs. This option can also work for individuals who feel they can complete a two-year program but doubt they could pursue a four-year university degree.
    • Some of these programs, once completed, may be credited by some universities toward a four-year degree. Work with a guidance counselor when choosing vocational programs.
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    Consider joining the military. Entering the military may be a viable option for some adults with ADHD who thrive under tight structure and who would benefit from the vocational training and college opportunities made available by their service.
    • In the past, ADHD was an automatic disqualifier for U.S. military service. But new guidelines allow adults with ADHD who have not taken meds in a year or more and who do not “demonstrate significant impulsivity or inattention” to enlist in the U.S. military.[54]
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    See if you’re eligible for vocational rehabilitation services. Every U.S. state offers vocational rehabilitation (VR) services for persons with disabilities who need assistance in getting or maintaining employment.[55]
    • Sometimes VR helps with financial assistance to a college or vocational training school,[56] such as sponsoring clients in attending truck-driving school to obtain a CDL license. In other instances, VR will cover the expense of a job coaching service.
    • Check with your state government to find your local VR office.
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    Visit a career or employment center. If you’re looking for a job (or you want to get a new job), get help with the application process from a career center or your local employment office. There is a lot to job hunting, from finding appropriate positions to the ins and outs of completing forms, including the right attachments to your application, writing your resume, practicing for interviews, and dressing for success.
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    Work with a job coach. Job coaching is a service frequently underwritten by vocational rehabilitation services. It can also be hired independently, often through a non-profit community agency. [57] A job coach will walk with an employee through his workday, noting potential problems and designing solutions. The coach may also provide training to strengthen the employee’s potential to retain that position. Some issues may be relatively simple fixes that an employer will arrange, while others may require extensive training for the employee.
    • For instance, a supervisor who wants to meet with a particular staff member once a week may be used to asking, “Hey, is this a convenient time? Let’s meet in five…” which can be nerve-wracking if the staffer has ADHD and struggles with irregular schedules and routines. A job coach might request that the supervisor establish a regular day and time for that meeting.[58]
    • An employee with ADHD may find himself overwhelmed by the myriad small details of his position. Time management is a common issue for people with ADHD, so a job coach can help the employee devise a weekly schedule that breaks down his tasks into blocks of allotted time. The coach can also teach the employee how to break large projects into a series of smaller steps. [59]
    • The job coach may be hired for a matter of a few days or weeks, depending on the situation, then withdraw for consultation as needed. Employers can be quite receptive to having job coaches on board. This individual can help the employer avoid turnover and run a more organized workplace.
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    Think about whether you should ask for accommodations. Some people with ADHD might benefit from having certain accommodations on the job. Employers are prohibited from asking employees or requiring applicants to disclose if they have disabilities. But if you have significant ADHD impairment, you may choose to be candid with your employer about your ADHD. The decision rests entirely on you as to if and when you might notify your employer. [60]
    • Applicants might be afraid to share such personal information, but there may come a time that the truth needs to come out. [61] For example, if you struggle with time management, you may be chronically late to work or miss meetings. In this case, you may choose to explain in order to obtain grace or assistance.[62]
    • If your employer notes that you’ve been falling behind or making too many mistakes, he might have more compassion if he is aware of your disability. Your employer may shift your tasks to ones that suit your skillset.[63]
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    Identify small changes you can make. People with ADHD should seek ways to make small changes that will resolve certain problems. One man explained that, at staff meetings, he used to make his supervisor angry because he would hyperfocus. It appeared to the employer that he was not paying attention or that he was staring at people. This individual resolved that he’d take notes at the meeting. That way, he could “multitask and still hyperfocus, but in ways that don’t bother anyone.” [64]

Method 9
Learning About ADHD

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    Learn about the brain structures of individuals with ADHD. Scientific analyses show the brains of persons with ADHD are slightly different in that two structures tend to be smaller.[65]
    • The first, the basal ganglia, regulates the movement of muscles and signals which should be working and which should be at rest during given activities.[66] If a child is sitting at his desk in the classroom, for example, the basal ganglia should send a message telling the feet to rest. But the feet don’t get the message, thus remaining in motion when the child is seated.[67]
    • The second brain structure that is smaller than normal in a person with ADHD is the prefrontal cortex, [68] which is the brain’s hub for conducting higher-order executive tasks[69]. This is where memory and learning[70] and attention regulation [71] come together to help us function intellectually.
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    Learn how dopamine and serotonin affect individuals with ADHD. A smaller-than-normal prefrontal cortex with lower-than-optimal dopamine and serotonin means greater struggles to focus and effectively tune out all the extraneous stimuli flooding the brain all at once. [72]
    • The prefrontal cortex influences the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine.[73] Dopamine is tied directly to the ability to focus[74] and tends to be at lower levels in persons with ADHD.[75]
    • Serotonin, another neurotransmitter found in the prefrontal cortex, [76] impacts mood, sleep, and appetite.[77] Eating chocolate, for instance, spikes serotonin causing a temporary feeling of well-being; when serotonin drops low, however, depression and anxiety result. [78]
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    Learn about possible causes of ADHD. The jury’s still out on the causes of ADHD but it’s well accepted that genetics play a large role, with certain DNA anomalies occurring more often in people with ADHD. In addition, studies show correlations between children with ADHD to prenatal alcohol and smoking as well as to early childhood exposure to lead. [79]


  • Embrace being “differently-abled.” Some dislike the term disabled and don’t see themselves as deficient at all. Instead, they see that they have unique skills or perspectives which make them differently-abled. [80] While that term hasn’t replaced the commonly used disabled, individuals who embrace being differently-abled tend to have a positive self-image and greater self-confidence.

Sources and Citations

  1. The ADHD Update: Understanding Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder by Alvin and Virginia Silverstein and Laura Silverstein Nunn (2008).
  2. Why Is My Child’s ADHD Not Better Yet? Recognizing The Undiagnosed Secondary Conditions That May Be Affecting Your Child’s Treatment by David Gottlieb, Thomas Shoaf, and Risa Graff (2006).
  3. Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Symptoms and Diagnosis found at

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Categories: Attention and Developmental Disorders