Many people have heard of "fidget" tools for helping focus, but may not understand how these simple tools can help the brain to focus better. This has to do with how our body, brain and nervous system work together to process sensory experiences. We all process sensory input, such as visual, noise, touch, taste, smell and body sensations in our own unique ways. Some people, especially people with ADHD, tend to seek out certain forms of sensory input more than others. Fidget tools are tools that provide the brain and body with sensory stimulation, that can help with paying attention during focus activities, such as listening. If you tend to move a lot while sitting, you may find that using movement "fidget" tools, such as siting on an exercise ball as a chair, can help you stay more focused. People who are often touching their face or things around them, may find that using a hand "fidget" tool, such as squeezing a ball helps them stay focused. Mouth "fidget" tools, such as chewing gum, can work well for people who tend to chew on pencils. If you would like to learn more about how fidget tools that can help focus, check out the book 'Fidget to Focus' by Roland Rotz and Sarah D. Wright. Another helpful book for understanding your sensory processing patterns, is 'Living Sensationally: Understanding Your Senses' by Winnie Dunn.
One of my favourite articles that explains ADHD, is an article called 'ADHD and Executive Functioning', written by Russell Barkley. This article was published in the August 2014 issue of CHADD's Attention Magazine. Executive functioning is defined as "self-directed actions needed to sustain problem solving towards a goal". Or in other words, executive functioning skills are the brain-based skills we use to control our own behaviour. These executive functioning skills are needed to help us to use self-regulation, or in other words, stop, think about our choices, and make choices based on what our goal is. In the article, Barkley described how ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is actually more of a SRDD (Self-Regulation Deficit Disorder). Anyone who knows someone well with ADHD knows that ADHDers can usually focus very well on the activities that they love doing, maybe even better than others. What is hard for them is having the self-control to stop focusing on that favourite task, to switch to something else, especially when that something else is more boring to them.
Thinking about ADHD in this way can be very helpful for finding ways to manage the ADHD frustrations that can pop up every day. Barkley described people with ADHD as having a more limited "executive functioning (EF) fuel tank", which I think is a very helpful analogy. So when a person with ADHD is faced with an EF heavy task, such as cleaning a room, they have to use a lot of effort, which often leads to frustrations. Using executive functioning strategies that can "externalize" the information used by the "EF tank", such as checklists, visual timers and immediate rewards, can help to reduce the drain on the "EF tank". Also, regular use of strategies that can boost the "EF tank", such as regular exercise and breaks, can also be very helpful. So when we are finding ways to manage ADHD, the trick can be to make sure to use EF fuel-saving strategies, and also take regular breaks so the tank stays full. No one likes being stranded on the side of the road with an empty tank, especially when there is still very far to go.
Barkley, R. (2014). ADHD and Executive Functioning. Attention Magazine, July, pg. 8-11.