ADHD and Mind Mapping

Jump to:

In my last post, I mentioned mind mapping as a way to organize your thoughts or brainstorm ideas. It’s a concept that I find is being utilized more, in both educational and business settings. If you’ve been to any kind of training seminar lately, the trainer most likely used mind mapping as a means of brainstorming new ideas. Mind mapping is also being taught in schools, so there’s a possibility that your child may already be familiar with the concept.

If mind mapping (or concept mapping) is a new idea for you, let me explain what it is: a mind map uses pictures, drawings, and diagrams to represent thoughts and ideas. Shapes, lines, and colors may be used to link ideas, differentiate ideas, or otherwise organize thoughts. Here are some examples. As you can see, a mind map can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it.

I often find that when I mention an idea such as this to a client – a concept that they’re already familiar with – they tend to dismiss it. Sort of an “I already know about that, tell me something new” attitude. The truth is, that you may have experienced mind mapping as part of a group project once, or your child may have actually done one once with a teacher, but unless this is something that you’ve tried repeatedly, you haven’t really scratched the surface.

Mind maps are powerful things for anyone, but especially for people with Attention Deficit Disorder. The written word can be our weakness. We may or may not be good readers (although there is a good likelihood that we have an above average vocabulary). Even if we have excellent reading comprehension, though, the truth is that too many words on a page is overwhelming for us.

Have you ever wondered why some of my words are in color and others are not? It’s to help those with AD/HD find the key words in what I have to say. I’ve been told that I am “verbose” when I write; I take too long and too many words to say what I mean. Maybe that’s true, but I do that in order to be as clear as I can about what I want to say.

As a person with Attention Deficit Disorder, I’m not often understood right away. Asking me to make it shorter makes it less likely that I will say what I mean. So, I write more than might be considered “enough”, and I end up with something that looks pretty intimidating to anyone with AD/HD. The colors are my way of hitting the highlights; making it easier to understand.

That’s part of what mind maps do; they provide that “picture worth a thousand words”. Mind maps are much more powerful than just that, though. Mind maps spark creativity, and help the mind make leaps and connections between ideas that might not have occurred otherwise.

I’ve said more than once that an ADD mind leaps from one thing to another. Think about visiting a website that you like; they may have an article on something that you’re interested in, so you click on the hyper link. You find something else interesting on that site, with another hyper link, so you click on that one. Can you see where I’m going with this? You may end up far away from the topic you started with, but somehow, they’re all connected. The ADD mind does this naturally, and faster than you can imagine. A mind map is a way to facilitate, document, and help make sense of this process.

Mind maps also increase comprehension and retention. A picture is read by the mind and understood much faster than words. It also makes it easier to recall, especially for visual learners. Don’t assume, though, that only visual learners will benefit from the use of mind maps. Kinesthetic learners can also learn more effectively with mind maps, because the act of drawing is more of a physical, right brain activity than writing.

Last week, I had the opportunity to listen to a teleclass taught by Dr. Ned Hallowell, M.D. Dr. Hallowell is one of the foremost people in the field of Attention Deficit Disorder, and the author of “Driven to Distraction”, a classic in the field. Dr. Hallowell had a great deal of good information to share, but one that I want to highlight here is that he believes that it is imperative that people with AD/HD have a “creative, productive outlet” in their lives. In fact, he thinks that it is vital to their mental health.

I’m sure that what Dr. Hallowell had in mind was something both pleasurable and productive; he happens to write books as his creative outlet. I’m not sure that mind maps as a means for studying fall into that category; OK, I’m sure they don’t. However, I firmly believe that if you absolutely have to do something, you should make it as pleasurable as you can. It makes what you have to do more appealing. That’s why we all love scented laundry detergents and household cleaners that smell like sunshine (whatever that smells like). I also believe that you should make things fun whenever you can; lots of colors and funny drawings work for me.

So, if you’ve got to do homework, if you have to put together an outline or a report, make it as pleasurable as you can. Designate an area in the house as “homework central”. Buy one of those easels that trainers use and a bunch of markers. Get big ones with lots of different colors. Then use mind mapping as the way to get the job done. Don’t just try it once or twice; use it for lots of things, all kinds of things. You might be surprised at how much more productive you are. And hey, if you’re having fun, too – what could be wrong with that?

Picture of Lacy Estelle

Lacy Estelle

Lacy Estelle is the writer of and the Podcast host for An ADD Woman.

Read More

2 Responses

  1. It’s so true though that I would be willing to buy an ebook or something from a site I trust, even if I know that some heavy research online would get me the answers for free – it’s about the relationship they’ve built with me

  2. Hello! I am a sufferer of multiple learning disabilities. I have been diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), and an initial diagnosis for ADHD coupled with a possible cognitive disability. While I am currently aware of, and implement, adaptive techniques for APD, I know that Mind Maps work for me in two contexts:
    1) Out of Class: Create summary materials for a tests and exams – I plot all major topics of a course into one big mind map at the start of the term. After each topic is completed (~1 to 3 weeks depending on the course), I create a topic-specific mindmap with all of the concepts, formulas, etc, enriched with the mind map style. This is a permanent mind map. I put a lot of effort into it. It is more planned, than organic. So, it looks great and represents my full understanding of the topic.

    2) In Class: Every class, as the teacher conducts their lesson, I create a new mindmap centred on the topic of the individual class. As they speaks, I write down and incorporate the ideas that are “sequentially presented”, into the associative mindmap. This mind map is more organic, and only planned if I have been able to read the lecture notes in advance (this is rare at a university level – professors hold back their lecture notes to incentivize attending class! 🙂 ). If I don’t understand anything, I ask a question to clarify. If I can’t ask a question, I use a different colour to write my question, anchored on the mindmap node in question. Often, in class I am simultaneously: a) audio recording the lecture b) annotating lecture notes and text c) creating a mind map of the class topic. So, I am always busy! But I understand! I really, really do!

    The effect is astounding. I went from a university student who suffered progressively under undiagnosed learning disabilities (~60% average), to receiving 87% average in my latest term. Fellow classmates now come up to me after class and ask me for help (rather than the professor)! They seem to believe that I am some all-star student. And they ask to photocopy my notes! LOL!

    Right now, I am continuing my studies, but also proceeding through the formal Pyscho-Educational Assessment. It is a long process and I am sure that I will be officially diagnosed with ADHD. However, as a current student, I need solutions that work *now*. And the two-fold Mindmap technique above is incredibly! I am happy to share!

    PS: I did a google search for ADD and Mindmaps and came across your site! Very useful!