Planning and AD/HD

Does your AD/HD child use a planner? Chances are they do; they seem to be standard issue these days in school. The thinking behind this is pretty solid – using a planner to manage your time and activities is a skill that will be useful throughout life. And who could use this skill more than someone with Attention Deficit Disorder? A win-win situation, wouldn’t you say?

Theoretically, yes. In reality, not so much. See, in order for a planner to work, you have to do several things:

  • Write down important information like appointments, due dates, things to do or accomplish.
  • Check the planner often, or at least in a timely fashion.
  • Remember to look ahead for upcoming events.

Sometimes these are skills that do not come naturally to a person with AD/HD. Writing information down, for instance, requires that you have both the planner and something to write with at the appropriate time. It also requires the ability to listen and write at the same time. This may be a challenge for people with AD/HD – first because auditory skills are not their strong suit, and second because the speaker has most likely moved on to the next topic.

And as far as remembering to check the planner on a regular basis – well, I don’t have to tell you it wouldn’t happen much if you weren’t there to remind them, do I?

I’ve been thinking a lot about planners lately, and managing time. Like most people with Attention Deficit Disorder, I think I procrastinate too much and waste a lot of valuable time. Yesterday the entire day seemed to disappear without my knowledge. Before I knew it, it was after 10:00 pm, and I didn’t feel as though I had much to show for the day.

So, I’ve been looking around for a new way to manage my time and be more productive. I have a Palm Pilot, which I still find invaluable for reminding me of appointments (it plays the theme from The Godfather), but it’s somewhat unsatisfactory for planning my day. A paper planning system doesn’t help much, either.

The reasons that I find these systems unsatisfactory are the same reasons that your AD/HD child has trouble using their planner consistently:

  • The entire “planning” process – set some goals, break them down into manageable parts, schedule time for them, and do them – is a linear process or a left brain activity. The left brain is all about logic and order; think math, science, and Dr. Spock.
  • People with AD/HD do not think in linear terms. They see big pictures, find relationships in things that others may not see, and often have several things going at once. Scheduling things into a time slot is against their nature; they want to do things when inspiration hits. They tend to be creative and right brain dominant; think art, music, and Leonardo da Vinci.
  • People with AD/HD have a poor sense of time. They often underestimate how long things will take and over schedule their days. Sometimes time flies by for them (as my day did yesterday) and other times, minutes feel like hours.

At the moment, I’m still looking for that elusive “perfect” solution. In the meantime, since your child is probably required to use a school issue planner anyway, see if some of these ideas will help:

  • Use color as much as you can. Some people color code each subject – blue for math, yellow for science, etc – and carry that throughout. Blue folders, blue notebook, even blue pens to write down math homework. It’s a great idea to be able to look at a planner and see at a glance just by color which subjects have homework – your brain will register that faster than reading each entry – but asking your kid to find not just a pen, but the right color pen is expecting too much. Two or three colors, used in any manner at all is good enough. Color makes the page more inviting to look at and the act of writing more appealing.
  • If the school will let your child use a planner of their choice, try that. Planners come in all kinds of colors and designs; I’ve even seen very creative ones done by scrapbook enthusiasts that were amazing. You can also let your child customize their planner with stickers, photos, etc. What you’re aiming for here is to make using it a creative and pleasurable experience.
  • Add bells and whistles. A special pen, some cool paper clips or post-its, a pocket in the back. Check out your local office supply store; they have some pretty cool things that your child might like. Think of ways you can make this planner more useful for more things. Glue one of those small clasp envelopes in the back to store a dollar or two, or a bus pass or school ID. While you’re at it, see if you can find a way to attach a bookmark that can be used to easily find today’s date. A ribbon, for instance, tied to the spiral binding for a girl; maybe a lanyard or even a shoelace for a boy.
  • Find a place for the planner that encourages it’s use. For instance, store it in the same pocket as pens and pencils, or attach a pencil case to the planner.
  • Explore mind mapping as a means of recording information and planning time. Your child may be familiar with this concept already – it’s taught in many schools – but usually as a means of taking notes. It may not work so well for the planner itself, but you may be able to put it to use at home. See my next post for more about mind mapping.
  • Teach your child “shorthand”. We all have our own version of shortening things when we’re taking notes. This may be something your child is either unaware of, or reluctant to use for fear that they may not remember what it means. That’s a real concern that may very likely happen, so it’s best to start small and practice. Maybe a shorthand cheat sheet could be stored in the planner. By the way, pictures and symbols are much more efficient than words, so try to incorporate them as much as possible.
  • Remember the concepts of creativity and sensory experience as you help your child modify their planner. Working on this project (even if all you do is drive them to the office supply store and pay for the stuff) is a bonding experience for both of you; it lets your child know that you understand them maybe a little more than they thought. The finished project will inspire true ownership and that will encourage it’s use.

Wish me luck on finding my perfect planning system!

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About Brenda Nicholson

I am an ADHD Expert, Coach, and Consultant. I want you to learn how to celebrate your life with ADHD too.

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