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50 Tips On The Management Of Adult ADD

In this article we will outline some general principles that apply both to children and adults concerning the NON-MEDICATION treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder: 

  • Be sure of the DIAGNOSIS.

  • Realize what Attention Deficit Disorder is NOT (conflict with mother, etc.)

  • Give up GUILT over high-stimulus-seeking behavior -- choose wisely, rather than brooding over the "bad" behaviors.

  • Try to get rid of the NEGATIVITY that may have infested your system.

  • Give up trying to be the person you always THOUGHT you should be and let yourself be who you are.

  • EDUCATE yourself. Read books. Talk with professionals.

  • Educate and involve OTHERS -- they will be able to understand you much better and to HELP you as well.

  • Remember that your condition is caused by BIOLOGY, by how your brain is wired. It is not a disease of the will, nor a moral failing.

  • It is useful for you to have a COACH -- to stay on you to get things done, keep tabs on you, and in general be in your corner.

  • Attention Deficit Disorder adults need lots of ENCOURAGEMENT.

  • Listen to FEEDBACK from trusted others.

  • Consider joining or starting a SUPPORT GROUP.

  • Try to help OTHERS with ADD. You'll learn a lot about the condition in the process, as well as feel good to boot.

  • STRUCTURE is the hallmark of the non-pharmacological treatment.

  • Many people with Attention Deficit Disorder are visually oriented. Virtually anything can be made more MEMORABLE and therefore attention-getting with color.

  • Try to make your environment as PEPPY as you want it to be without letting it boil over.

  • Keep a NOTEPAD.

  • Read with a PEN in hand.

  • Set up your environment to REWARD rather than deflate -- so that you will not constantly be reminded of your limitations.

  • Acknowledge and ANTICIPATE the inevitable collapse of X% of projects undertaken, relationships entered into, obligations incurred.

  • Embrace CHALLENGES -- as long as you know they won't all pan out, and as long as you don't get too perfectionistic and fussy.

  • Accept FEAR of things going well. Accept edginess when things are too easy, when there's no conflict. Don't gum things up just to make them more stimulating.

  • Notice HOW and WHERE you work best: in a noisy room, on the train, wrapped in three blankets, listening to music, whatever. Let yourself work under whatever conditions are best for you.

  • Do what you're GOOD at. There is no rule that says you can only do what you're bad at.


  • Break down large tasks into SMALL ONES. Attach deadlines to the small parts.

  • PRIORITIZE. When things get busy, the adult Attention Deficit Disorder person loses perspective: paying an unpaid parking ticket can feel as pressing as putting out the fire that just got started in the wastebasket. Put first things first.

  • Know that it is okay to do TWO THINGS at once: carry on a conversation and knit, or take a shower and do your best thinking, or jog and plan a business meeting.

  • Leave time between engagements to gather your thoughts. TRANSITIONS are difficult, and mini-breaks can help ease the transition.

  • Know that your MOODS will change willy-nilly, independent of what's going on in the external world. Don't waste your time ferreting out the reason why or looking for someone to blame. Focus rather on learning to TOLERATE a bad mood, knowing that it will pass, and learning strategies to make it pass sooner.

  • Plan scenarios to deal with the inevitable BLAHS. Have a list of friends to call. Have a few videos to get your mind off things. Rehearse a few pep talks you can give yourself, like, "You've been here before. These are the ADD blues. They will soon pass. You are O.K.

  • Expect DEPRESSION after SUCCESS. The high stimulus of the chase or the challenge or the preparation is over. The deed is done.

  • Learn symbols, slogans, sayings as SHORTHAND ways of labeling and quickly putting into PERSPECTIVE slip-ups, mistakes, or mood swings. When you turn left instead of right and take your family on a 20-minute detour, it is better to be able to say, "There goes my ADD again," than to have a fight over your sabotaging the whole trip.

  • Choose "good", HELPFUL ADDICTIONS such as exercise. Many adults with Attention Deficit Disorder have a compulsive personality such that they are always hooked on something.

  • Try to let the successful moment last and be REMEMBERED, become sustaining over time. You'll have to consciously and deliberately train yourself to do this because you'll just as soon forget.

  • Remember that Attention Deficit Disorder usually includes a tendency to overfocus or HYPERFOCUS at times. Be aware of its destructive use: a tendency to obsess or ruminate over some imagined problem without being able to let it go.

  • EXERCISE vigorously and regularly. It helps work off excess energy and aggression in a positive way, it allows for noise-reduction within the mind, it stimulates the hormonal and neurochemical system in a most therapeutic way, and it soothes and calms the body.

  • Learn to JOKE with yourself and others about your various symptoms, from forgetfulness, to getting lost all the time, to being tactless or impulsive, whatever. If you can be relaxed about it all to have a sense of humor, others will forgive you much more.

  • Have structured BLOW OUT time. Set aside some time in every week for just letting go -- pick some kind of activity where you can let loose in a safe way.

  • Recharge your batteries -- waste without feeling guilty about it. Take a nap, watch television, meditate.

  • Recognize the following CYCLE: 1) Something "startles" your psychological system, a change or transition, a disappointment or even a success. 2) This "startle" is followed by a mini-panic with a sudden loss of perspective, the world being set topsy-turvy. 3) You try to deal with this panic by falling into a mode of obsessing and ruminating over one or another aspect of the situation.

  • Use "time-outs" as with children. When you are UPSET or overstimulated, go away and calm down.

  • Avoid premature CLOSURE of a project, a conflict, a deal, or a conversation. Don't "cut to the chase" too soon, even though you're itching to.


  • Learn how to ADVOCATE for yourself.

  • Make a good choice in a SIGNIFICANT OTHER.

  • Schedule activities with FRIENDS. It is crucial for you to keep connected to other people.

  • Find and join GROUPS where you are liked, appreciated, understood, enjoyed.

  • Don't stay too long where you aren't UNDERSTOOD or appreciated.

  • Pay compliments. Notice other people. Get SOCIAL TRAINING.



Copyright 1992 Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. (328 Broadway Cambridge, MA 02139) -- author of "Driven To Distraction". This educational material is made available, courtesy of Darryl Peterson and Attention Deficit Disorder Resources, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to help people with Attention Deficit Disorder achieve their full potential. You may contact them at ASW / P.O. Box 7804 / Tacoma, WA 98406-0804 -- via telephone at 253-759-5085 -- or via email at . You may also visit their web site at

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