Thursday, August 9, 2012

Daydreamers Unite!

 I was recently involved in a discussion about ADD and tips for getting yourself back on track when distracted or daydreaming.  And I'm trying not to let it go to my head that the blog author, Josh Weed, picked my comment as one of three from 100+ to mention in his follow-up post.  Who am I kidding?  I'm FAMOUS!  Almost.  I mean, at least some random people from somewhere who don't know me from Eve are seeing my name in print on blog today.
p.s. If you are looking for a quick fix of the good stuff, meaning laughter, head over to The Weed.  Josh's humor is very medicinal.

If you want, click here to see the original post that I commented on.  And click here to see the follow-up post where I became famous!

I was actually feeling like a bit of a fraud posting any comment because I was thinking, 'I'm not ADD and my children aren't either'.  But then after about 2 seconds of contemplating the validity of that statement, I realized that actually I am quite a bit ADD and so are my kids, I just never put those labels on any of us before even though two of my children are on ADD medication and I take special vitamins to help me focus and we all do MeMoves every morning to help organize our brains.  That and when you add into the mix the fact that this was my FB status today: Why yes, I did drive to the wrong office for my orthodontist appointment today. That's just how I roll :)  In my defense, my kids go to one office and I go to another and it's all the same company, which may belong to my brother-in-law which makes it even more embarrassing.... well I think maybe I'm qualified, though not an expert, to give my opinions about on the subject.  Go figure.

So here is my experience with and two-cents on ADD and focus/attention problems.

What being engaged looks like. My kids rock bandanas.
Being engaged does not include being
glued to the Tube.  Though the Tube is great
for keeping people calm when someone's just had
eye surgery and cannot engage in strenuous activities.

Typical days at our house might go something like this:  I wake up, reveling in the quiet calm of the house and relishing my oh, so comfortable Denver mattress and feather pillow.  I stretch and yawn and roll out of bed and onto my knees offering a quick prayer that no one will get hurt today in our home, physically or emotionally and that I won't find something disastrous waiting for me on the other side of my door.  I quickly get lost in thoughts of lotion smeared in the beds and red gatorade on white carpet and entire boxes of cereal ground to bits on the tiles and 10 lb bags of flour covering every surface in the downstairs (all of which I have found upon emerging from my room before).

Sighing I get to my feet and emerge from my cave... there in the middle of the living room floor is Big Brother (11), headphones on and connected to the 60" monstrosity my husband calls a t.v.  He's watching yet another dinosaur documentary.  A T-Rex is tearing some other lesser creature to shreds on the screen.  The volume is all the way up, I can hear it from my bedroom doorway.  I walk over to him and lift an earpiece from his ear.  He doesn't even notice.  "Brodster," I say firmly.  No response.  I tap his shoulder, still nothing.  I grab his shoulder and give him a shake.  Not even a blink of the eyes.  I reach up and turn the t.v. off.  "Mom! You scared me half to death.  Why didn't you say something?  I would have turned it off?"  Really?  I choose not to say anything.  He knows the rule is no t.v., video games or computers (to include iPhone, iPad, DS, Leapster, etc) until 3pm, so I don't need to remind him 5000 times.  Also, I don't want to engage in a confrontation this early in the morning.  Turning it off is enough in that moment.

We then move on to the morning routine: breakfast, morning chores, scripture study, prayers.  In this time frame--which should really only take about 40 minutes to complete, but in reality takes about twice that long--Big Brother derails about 15 times, veering unfailingly to the t.v. every time.  Yes, Big Brother has Asperger's, among other things.  But, we have been homeschooling for over 2 years now and have had the no-electronics-until-after-3 rule since the first week I brought them all home.  This is nothing new.   He is capable of learning.  And, if you ever asked him when can the t.v. and other electronics be turned on, he'd answer proudly, "3 o'clock."  So why is this so hard for him?

Thing 1 and 2 (9) also know the deal.  And they rarely try and circumvent or deviate from the rule.  However, they constantly get distracted by other things.  Thing 1 is our in-house Absent-minded Professor.  His are the belongings spread all over the house, the objects everyone else is always tripping over.  And he can never find anything, even when it is literally under foot.  His mind races with ideas and he quickly moves from one project to another, leaving a wake of tin foil and cardboard behind him.  He loves to build things out of the recyclables.

Thing 2 is a squirrel, like Hammy on Over the Hedge.  Everything that moves or makes a sound, everything catches his attention... which basically means his focus shifts every 0.0000002 seconds.  There are two things that keep his attention for longer than that: legos and drawing.  And with these things he is very particular and possessive, often making it impossible to pull him away from those activities if he isn't 'finished'.

The interplay between Things 1 and 2 goes like this:
Thing 1 is randomly wandering from room to room, flitting from project to project.  He accidentally crushed Thing 2's latest lego masterpiece when he goes into the 'red' room to find an extra piece of tape to hold together his most recent robot, R2D2 model 59,278.1.  (The name of the red room makes me a little nostalgic for Stephen King, but really it's just deemed the red room because of our... and when I say 'our' I mean MY, red couch).  Thing 2 jumps up yelling and shoving Thing 1 for trashing his legos.  Thing 1 is totally confused because he has no idea what his brother is talking about.  Thing 2 points to the lego scrap heap.  Thing 1 says, "I didn't do that, maybe it was sister."  He then proceeds to walk around the lego pile that his foot was just on top of.  Thing 2 goes to follow him with the intention of punching him in the face for wrecking his baby.  He grabs Thing 1's arm and turns him about.  "Yes, you did too do it.  You wreck my... hey, what's that you're building?  Is this a solar panel?"  And then they go into talking about the intricate design of Thing 1's most recent robot.   Fast-forward 10 minutes.... Thing 2 goes back to building legos.  "Hey!  Who did this?  Mom, someone crushed my inter-dimensional pirate ship I was building with my legos!"

Also, Thing 2 is notorious for asking the same questions 9536 times a day.  Questions like: "Mom, what's the plan for today?"  "Mom, what's for dinner?"  "Mom, when can I play my DS?"  "Mom, are we going anywhere today?"  "Mom, what's the plan for today?"  It's extremely frustrating and I used to think it was an OCD behavior, which it still could be, but recently I have started seriously pondering that it might be more of an ADD issue or a memory problem.  He either loses focus in the middle of the conversation and cannot then recall what I told him because he never really got the input the first time, or he simply cannot retrieve the information I've already given him.  Both the Things are set to have a full evaluation by a developmental pediatrician in a week.  It will be interesting to hear the Doc's thoughts on all this.

I also have a Bouncy Babygirl.  She isn't a baby anymore as she reminds me all the time.  Still she's my Babygirl and daddy's too and she's stuck with the nickname for now.  She quickly bounces from one brother to the next, doing her sisterly duties to distract and/or annoy them.  She actually has good attention skills, but she does a lot of stirring up the dust at our place and usually just seconds after it's been settled.

Now, is any of this problematic?  I mean, really problematic, not simply annoying or exhausting to deal with, but will these things cause problems for them later in life?  Maybe, but there is hope.  There are some, like Temple Grandin and Jonah Lehrer, that almost praise neurological differences.  Those things that set the typical people apart from those that aren't... well, typical.  Temple Grandin often talks about the world needing people like my amazing boys that see the world differently.  That can focus on the tiniest of details and bring fresh eyes to the puzzles and problems of nearly every academic field.  To quote her, "Who do you think made the first stone spears? The Asperger guy. If you were to get rid of all the autism genetics, there would be no more Silicon Valley.”  But she also reminds us that we can't allow them to be lost in thought all the time: "We have got to work on keeping these children engaged in the world."  *See above pictures of my way-cute kids for an idea of what does and does not qualify as engage.

 A great presentation by Temple Grandin on the need for all kinds of minds.
I really, really love her.  Someday I would love to take all my boys and meet her :)
If you haven't seen the movie Temple Grandin, shame on you... go get it.  Now!
Seriously.  You need to watch it.

Jonah Lehrer in his book Imagine: How Creativity Works, spends several pages dedicated to daydreamers and the distractables, as I loving call them.  He talks about how often times daydreaming and being distracted and letting your thoughts float and carry you away is viewed as lazy and non-productive.  (I did mention some of this in a previous post, so if you are bored, move along.)  Lehrer states that research indicates a certain amount of daydreaming and mind-wandering is actually very productive and a rich asset for creativity.  And he also believes that the world benefits from these types of minds that can take in so much detail their minds shoot of in ten directions trying to process it all.  #score for my boys

Unfortunately, I can't quite remember the details Lehrer discussed in regards to the specifics of how much daydreaming and mind-wandering is good and exactly how it harness it and use it productively, because I was daydreaming when I read that section!  Guess I felt overly justified while reading that it was good for me and took advantage of the moment.  I am totally a closet daydreamer.  Did I forget to mention that I spend countless hours doing next to nothing other than daydreaming?  I mean, not all at once, but I really do lose myself in my thoughts quite frequently.  And I get very distracted, especially when I am on the computer.  In the last hour that I have been working on this post, I have read/glanced over four different blogs, watched a few youtube videos, checked FB about 20 times, did a google search for quotes from Temple Grandin which diverted me to lists of autism quotes which lead me to a forum for parents of autistic children, checked my email 8 times, googled a link for Imagine: How Creativity Works by Lehrer and discovered his book is actually being pulled from shelves for plagiarism and other things--now I feel like a schmuck for referencing this book not once, but twice on my blog, but I really like the ideas in the book, so I'm leaving it--cleaned my fingernails, rushed to the kitchen to start my pizza dough because I got distracted and forgot, and checked on my iPhone for Instagram updates once.  But hey, I did write this post. 

So I guess my personal feelings are this: ADD or ADD-like symptoms are not something that should be deemed evil and then squashed, but rather they are something we need to learn to master.  I believe attention and inattention alike are both skills that can benefit not only our own lives, but those of others as well.  I believe daydreaming brings a bit of relaxation and escape and also a touch of hope and humor into our days and despite the Lehrer debacle, I do think mind-wandering can ignite our creative production.

Tips for dealing with inattention and lack of concentrated focus:

First here is the tip I shared on the other blog, of course, this is for an adult or a teen: Write it down, multiple times.  I have several calendars and write the things I need to do on all of them.  I do this for two reasons.  First, the repetitious writing helps cement it in my forebrain.  Second, the variety of sensory input helps.  The different look, feel, and even the smell of each calender attaches more input to what it is I need to remember and thus provides more neuro-pathways for gaining access to my to-do's.

That thought leads me to the next tip: Sensory input.  Many times simple things like holding something in your non-dominant hand, sitting on an exercise ball to do desk work, having music in the background, talking aloud while you work--not to be confused with talking while you work, what I mean is verbalizing what you are doing--or even sucking on a candy may help you maintain or achieve focus.  Sensory input also works for drawing children away from intense focus and diverting that focus elsewhere... except in the case of my 11 year old :)

Our bodies are magical mechanisms that speak to our brain and train it.  We can use that to our advantage by giving the right sensory input that will help calm our minds or engage them when we need it.  This is one reason why I do MeMoves with my children, as mentioned above.  Click here to read more about it.  Also this is why other programs like yoga and tai chi have gained global popularity.  The movements of these routines help organize the brain.

So if you find yourself floating and unfocused or if you have a child that often needs redirecting, first don't get frustrated it's not an entirely bad thing.  Embrace your inner daydreamer and try to harness a bit of the meandering mists as it dances across your brain so you can put those treasured morsels to work.  And later experiment; try and find some sensory input that may help organize you... and don't be afraid to use it once you've found it.

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