Three More Keys to Understanding the ADHD Brain

As promised, this episode will be the remaining info I learnt at a seminar out in Kelowna with Dan Duncan on ADHD. Check out his website here for more ahhhmazing content and for when his next seminars will be. You won’t regret it, I promise.

In Episode 7, I covered 3 areas that have helped us tremendously which was Working Memory, Selective Attention and Spatial Spanning. That episode can be found here.

In today’s episode, I am going to discuss Task Related Executive Function, Response Inhibition and Emotional Regulation.


Task Related Executive Function is another big one for people with ADHD brains. Let’s just say this whole section has to deal with organization. And I’m pretty sure organization is my middle name and my parents just didn’t put it on my birth certificate. So imagine… kids not having the ability to keep things organized….my idea of a nightmare!!

ADHD brains have a hard time with the following task related items:

TASK MANAGEMENT – prioritizing, organizing, or initiating an activity.

ATTENTION MANAGEMENT – focusing, sustaining, and shifting attention to certain tasks.

EFFORT MANAGEMENT – alertness, sustaining effort, managing energy, and the speed that they process info.

INFORMATION MANAGEMENT – using their working memory to recall info.


From them getting out of bed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, you name it…..impossible. Until one day I learned the strategy that changed everything. The reward system! Every single behavior expectation is listed on a document that hangs on our fridge (for each child) and if they reach a certain amount of smiley faces for the week, they will earn a reward that was determined at the beginning of that week.

Our kids LOVE rewards and they love to know what things they need to accomplish before they can have “free time” before going to school. During the summer, this is not in use as much but during school it is imperative to follow this routine to have a good start to our day. The charts we use are shown below! Click on the link below for a PDF copy!

We also use a Good Morning Schedule and a Good Evening Schedule…..these show what they need to accomplish before they can have free time. Free time for our family could mean time on their devices or watching some cartoons.

Another thing that we did in this area is organize our front entry. Each kid has a basket where they put their school papers or library books right when they come in the door. They have their own coat hook and shoe location. The front entry has a calendar that shows what is happening for the week.

We also use timers…..we have used the hour glass kind as well as the apps on our phones and TV’s. Giving them a visual of how much time they have for certain tasks gives them comfort. I will also give them warnings. For example….if we are leaving for school in 15 minutes….I will get their attention by making eye contact, let them know we are leaving in 15 minutes and get their acknowledgment that they understand. I will then repeat at 10 minutes, 5 minutes and 2 minutes. This has helped TREMENDOUSLY in giving their minds time to prepare for the upcoming transition.

Homework planning is still one we are working on. But it does tie back to what we discussed in Episode 7 around working memory, selective attention and spatial spanning. Things need to be made interesting in order to capture their attention. And homework needs to be broken down into chunks of time in order to maintain attention. I highly recommend the use of calendars and homework apps to keep kids and yourself organized. We used an app called myHomework Student Planner for Avery in Grade 6 and it worked great as it could sync across all of our devices.

Kids with ADHD are notorious for poor paper management. They need help with this. Ensure there is a central spot in your home for all school paperwork to collect and then assess what needs to be dealt with from there. When the homework or library book is done being read we put it in their cubby at the front door.

Keeping things as simple as possible and not over complicating routines and tasks is absolutely critical for the ADHD brain.


Response Inhibition is the capacity to THINK before you ACT. With ADHD, it’s recognized as impulsivity. Blurting out, interrupting, reacting and poor decision making are some of the hallmarks of ADHD behaviour.

The impulsive nature of ADHD means that if your child feels angry, he communicates it right away. He doesn’t have a few seconds of lead time that a child without ADHD has and they haven’t yet developed strategies that adults with ADHD develop.

When your child seems to be out of control it can seem difficult to stay positive in order to redirect them. But using a strategy called ACE has helped our family……ACE stands for Acknowledge, Compassion and Explore Options.

Acknowledge – name it……what is it that is going on to get your child or yourself to react angrily. For example, “when your brother’s backpack knocked into you, that must have really surprised you. I know you didn’t want to yell at him for doing that”.

Compassion – show your understanding for the mistake your child just made. For example, “I get really freaked out when I get startled too”.

Explore Options – work it out. Explore options for how to handle things differently in the future. Redirect the behaviour or problem solving. I have used code words to redirect the kids’ attention. If I see they are in a heightened state, I will use our code word and that is a signal that it’s ok they are feeling the way they are but we are going to find other ways now to express ourselves.

In regards to interrupting, the strategy that I learnt many years ago when Avery was small was called “Hand on the Arm”. If she needed to talk to me about something, I would ask her to put her hand on my arm….I would then put my hand over hers as a sign of acknowledgement, that I know she wants to speak to me. When there was a natural break in the conversation, I would excuse myself briefly to acknowledge Avery and let her know when I would be able to give her my full attention.

Remember the ADHD brain has a hard time holding on to a thought or an idea and they want to say it or get it out of their head before they forget it. I have even had them write down their thoughts if I can’t get to them right away so they won’t forget. We have had LOTS of notes written by Avery over the years and it definitely has helped! Now that the boys can spell and write words I will be using this strategy with them more.


This is a big one for our family. This is related to managing frustration and emotional intensity. Strategies to help kids who struggle with low tolerance for frustration, low self-esteem, general mood regulation and social problems.

We have seen the most success in dealing with emotional regulation through medication. It has not been an easy road to finding the right medication but over time we have found the right dosages for each of our kids to help regulate them for longer periods of time.

Prior to their diagnosis and understanding the strategies….if they went off and lost their cool…..I would follow suit immediately. There was A LOT of yelling in our home and it was utter chaos. Until I learnt that wasn’t the way to handle the outbursts. What actually does work better (after many, many failed attempts)….is to remain calm. I know, you think I am crazy by saying that. But it’s true. Before going in to attempt to diffuse the situation, step back and take about 5 deep breaths. Then what I have done is grab a hold of my child into a bear hug type grip and get them to look me straight in the eyes. And then I repeat over and over and over……”I’ve got you, you are ok, you are ok, you are ok. I understand you’re upset, I am here with you.”

Does this strategy of giving bear hugs work every time, nope. But it has worked at least 95% of the time. And there is way less yelling in our home and I’ll take that!

Very often, a person with ADHD will get angry, shout, etc. Then, 10 minutes later, they feel better and continue on with their day. Though for the people whom the anger was directed at, it can take hours to feel normal again. In a non-ADHD brain, it is typically ONLY zero OR 10….nothing in between.


It is important that you work to help the ADHD brain escape the stress cycle that it has fallen into. This can be done using the following steps:

Awareness – help them realize they are out of control…..sometimes they don’t even know it.

Reclaim the brain – once the brain is in a state of rage or over emotional, it needs to be regulated again. Calming tools such as fidgets, stress balls, big body movements (like kicking or punching a boxing bag) are ways to calm the brain down.

Create a new story – generally when a brain is triggered, it is telling oneself a story that is not very helpful to the situation. But it’s important to reframe the situation or help your child reframe the situation.

Take action based on the new story – once you consider another way to look at a situation, you’ll notice that new possibilities for action become available to you.

Like I said in Episode 7…….I can’t emphasize enough how highly I recommend Dan Duncan. I encourage all parents, grandparents, teachers and school administrators to take a seminar from Dan. He describes ADHD in a way that makes you understand so clearly what you or your child is experiencing…..because he experiences it himself. I have also learnt so much from many books and online resources. Some of my favourite ones are shown below.

My GRATITUDE from this part of our story…..

Until next time, be kind and stay well.

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Date posted :

August 25, 2020

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