Forgetfulness and ADHD

The other day, as I was busy doing other things, several thoughts came into my head; ideas for things that I wanted to share here. Because I was busy on other aspects of my business, and I was really having a productive day, I didn’t stop to write anything down. I was actually pretty fired up about what I wanted to say. In fact, the ideas were coming so fast that it reminded of something I had read once, about how the ADD mind is like a series of websites with hyperlinks. You go to the first one, and see a hyperlink to something you’re interested in, so you click it, and then the same thing happens with the next site. It keeps happening over and over until you’re miles away from where you intended to be.

Well, needless to say, I’ve forgotten every single idea I came up with. I’m sure they’ll come back to me eventually, but in the meantime, I thought I would delve a little deeper into this forgetfulness thing. I had an email the other day from a women whose son has been recently diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, and she asked me a couple of things: first, how to help him not be so forgetful, and second, how to deal with it when he forgot things over and over.

Here’s what I told her, more or less:

I think first you need to understand that forgetfulness is part of the ADD package. Nothing you can do will ever really change the fact that your child is more prone to forgetfulness than others. It’s not an intentional act, it just happens. Rather than fighting it and punishing them every time they forget, accept it, and learn instead to find ways to minimize it. Yes, I’ve been there – the big homework assignment due tomorrow and the book at school. I’ve lived through a thousand little crises all precipitated by forgetfulness. It’s aggravating and it’s maddening, but it just is. Save your energy for solutions.

OK, so what are the solutions? Well, the solutions vary according to the problem, but they are all based on two ideas:

  1. Make it a habit.
  2. Tie it to an existing habit.

Let me explain with a simple example: The things that irritate you most when your child forgets are likely to be the ones he forgets repeatedly. I once coached a young man who constantly forgot to write in his planner at school. He was taking a class designed to help him improve his study habits and grades, and part of his grade depended on whether or not he recorded homework assignments in it.

A little discussion revealed that he couldn’t remember to write in the planner because he hardly ever remembered to get it out in the first place. So, I needed a way to help him develop the habit of getting his planner out during every class period before I could expect him to start recording his assignments.

The best way to develop a new habit is to tie it to an existing one. In this case, the one thing he did without fail in every class was to take out a pen or a pencil to write with. This became an easy problem to solve. He began storing his planner in the same pocket that he kept his pens and pencils in. Every time he reached for something to write with, he saw the planner and that was enough to trigger him to take it out and record his assignments.

Not all problems are so easy to solve, but they are solvable with some thought and creativity. Just remember that it takes a minimum of 21 days for the average person to make a new behavior into a habit, and that it may take ADDers longer. Also, when you come up with a great idea like this, especially if it’s an easy one to solve, the temptation is to keep the momentum going. Don’t do it. You’ll only end up overwhelming your child and undoing all the good you’ve done so far. I think one new behavior every six weeks or so is plenty.

Next time, I’ll explore this topic a little more, and offer you some more specific solutions.

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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.

Comments

  1. Our 11 year old daughter, now in 6th grade, was diagnosed with ADHD in 1st grade, and has taken Adderol since then. She is now taking 40mg each day. We do not allow TV watching during the week, as she gets totally engrossed in it and gets mad when made to turn it off. She is currently on the school soccer team and has practice 4 afternoons a week. The one day of no practice this week, all she did after school was read a book, sometimes in the family room and other times in her room, with the door closed. I’m glad she loves to read, but am worried this could be a sign of depression. Her doctor said this could be a sign of depression and to lower her dosage for a week to see how she acts. She is often quiet and I’ve asked her if there are any problems at school (a new one to her) and she said no. I’ve told her she can tell me if there is a problem so I can help. Should we be worried about her reading so much?
    Thanks!

  2. Depression can occur along with ADHD, but if I’m correct, this is a recent change in her behavior. Sounds like she’s had a busy week and just needed some down time.

    If you aren’t noticing other signs, I think I would keep a careful eye out but not worry overmuch.

    You say its a new school; is it new because you moved or because she’s transitioned to middle school? Either scenario can cause stress, especially for a child with ADHD, and in that case it might be more likely that she is depressed.

    How is she on the soccer team? Does she enjoy it? Does she interact with her teammates? If she seems content there, then I would say you have nothing to worry about.

    Also keep in mind that she’s at that age when her hormones are going to start kicking in. Hormones can have an effect on ADHD. See this post for more: http://addstudent.com/2010/02/hormones-and-adhd-2/

    Another possibility is that she’s beginning to experience the typical ups and downs that all teens do.

    Just keep an eye on her, let her know you’re there for her, and try not to worry too much.

  3. Hi Brenda, I have been searching for support with my feelings of helplessness in helping my ADHD son with his forgetfulness. Other aspects are easier to relate to and find solutions but I have been getting frustrated with not being successful in helping him to help himself by developing the habits that he needs to survive the school system, sports and general society. It’s frustrating to him and to others to forget. Thanks for your tips and words of encouragement! I will bookmark your site!
    Carrie

  4. I just came across your site and article. Just today another I witnessed another incident of forgetfulness and imagined the natural consequences. I am curious to see how my son handled himself when he discovered the items he said were in his backpack were actually in the car. This is what I am running into again and again. We run through the list of items needed and where they need to be. generally no more than 3- 4 items MAX. Then, moments later I ask if said items are accounted for. Often the answer is yes. Later, I find at least one of the items left in the car or at home. He was on medication for a year and a half after his diagnosis. But after his summer (medication) break, I wanted to see how he would do academically and socially without the meds. I have to wonder if I am doing my son a disservice. I like my child without medication though – he feels more like my kid.

Tell me what you think!