Dr. Carrie McMillin is a naturopathic physician that specializes in treating adults and children with ADHD and anxiety.
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The abrupt transition to online school last year was less than ideal and has left families dreading virtual classes in the fall. So in order to support a successful year, I have created a Remote Learning Survival Guide, with some simple steps for parents of ADHD kids. Over the next few days I will be posting details on how to make these 7 steps work for you.
Step 1. Be Flexible
I truly hope this is an easy transition for your family. But more likely than not, there will be some frustrations and rough patches.
Remote learning is still new for most students and teachers, and not ideal for many. But you will learn what doesn't work, you will find things that DO work, and you will adapt. It's sort of like when you start a new job--you expect that first few months will be less than ideal. This is no different.
When you do run into problems, try to pinpoint the specific hurdle and then consider some solutions.
For example, maybe your child is incredibly distracted during online math lessons. Let's say these presentations are 30 minute videos or video calls with the teacher and you notice that after 15 minutes your child is just can't pay attention any more. The problem may be that it is just too long of a period of time for your child to stay engaged. Solution: Break math time into shorter segments of 10-15 minutes, with short breaks in between. If it is a video call, ask the teacher if it can be recorded so you can do this.
Here's another example. Perhaps the class is assigned to read a specific book together, with one chapter of at-home reading per day. Your kiddo may technically read the chapter but is so distracted they don't remember anything they just read. Solution: Try getting the book on audio book--information that is heard is processed differently in the brain than information that is read. Still distracted? Have them listen to the audio book in the bathtub. Add some epsom salts to the tub to help relax the body, and you may find they can follow the story better.
Ask your child if they have any ideas on how to overcome a specific problem they are running into. ADHD brains are innovative brains, and they may come up with a creative solution too! You've got this!
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The start of a new school year is just around the corner and for many families, this means a return to remote learning.
The abrupt transition to online school last year, was less than ideal and has left families dreading virtual classes in the fall. So in order to support a successful year, I have created a Remote Learning Survival Guide, with some simple steps for parents of ADHD kids.
These steps are:
1. Be Flexible
2. Take Breaks
3. Reduce Workload
4. Check Environment
5. Review Weekly
6. Bust Out the Reward Charts
7. Be a Cheerleader
I will be going into more detail on how to apply each of these steps, with examples of common struggles and how to overcome them. You've got this!
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I talk a lot about the practice of mindfulness with my patients because it is an ideal tool to have in your toolbox. Mindfulness can significantly improve concentration and focus, calm anxiety, and can even increase neuroplasticity (the ability for our brain to make new connections and learn new skills or behaviors).
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t cost anything either!
I don’t get too many raised eyebrows when I “prescribe” mindfulness activities. Most of us can understand the benefits and would love to incorporate it into their routines--but getting started can be tough!
I recommend setting aside a regular time (even just 5 minutes) to sit down and do one mindful exercise per day. Anchoring it to an already established habit (ex. after lunch, after brushing teeth) can be helpful. If you can incorporate it more frequently, even better!
I also recommend picking a very simple exercise that doesn’t require much time. One of my favorite books with simple ideas for kids is “Calm: Mindfulness for Kids” by Wynne Kinder. This book not only shows simple exercises that are great for starting up a mindfulness practice, it also has inviting photos and illustrations. And you can totally jump between pages (we are talking ADHD brains here).
One of my favorite exercises illustrated in the book is the high-five breath. This is a simple technique where you slowly trace the outside of your hand, breathing in as you move to the top of each finger, pausing at the top, and exhaling as you move down the other side. Give this a try, tracing your hand 5 times for a mindful high-five.
I recommend checking out this book for more easy ideas. You can find other great resources at www.mindful.org
Interested in the science behind mindfulness and ADHD? I recommend the book “The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD” by Lidia Zylowska
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Sleep is such a common issue for people with ADHD and anxiety. With current schedules thrown out the window, and little to no time for kids to burn off some energy playing with friends, I have seen a major uptick in sleep struggles for my patients and in our own family over the past few months.
Bedtime routine is so very important to help get the brain into “sleep mode” and should absolutely be your first step when working to overcome sleep difficulties. It can be helpful for the last step in this routine to be playing soothing sounds, music, audiobook or podcast. Try out a few different ones and see what works best for you. The goal is to find something that isn’t too interesting or exciting, so keep that in mind.
One podcast we have found helpful in our family is “Nothing Much Happens” by Kathryn Nicolai. Exactly what the title says, these are stories that aren’t really about much action, but rather descriptions of small moments and scenes. Kathryn reads them in a calming, sleepy, monotonous voice that is very relaxing. It is available on Spotify, Stitcher, and Apple Podcasts https://www.nothingmuchhappens.com/stories
I hope this helps to make bedtime a bit easier in your household! More posts about sleep support to come!
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My 4th grader really struggles with math. She has dyscalculia in addition to ADHD, and many tears have been shed over math worksheets. And while we limit the amount of workbook-type lessons she is doing in most subjects, for math they are somewhat unavoidable. So we needed to have a plan for how to make math time doable while she’s at home. Here are some tips that you may be able to apply to your homework/homeschool routine!
1. Be intentional about WHEN math time is
We broke math into two 30 minute blocks. One is in the morning at 10:00AM. My kiddo does pretty well at this time of day as far as mood and she has not yet drained her attention reserves for the day. This is also just shortly after breakfast, so she is not getting hungry yet. The second 30 minute block is at 1:00, after lunch and recess, when blood sugar is good and energy has been burned off!
2. Work for short chunks of time with mini breaks
For my kiddo, she needs a short brain break after 10 minutes of math. We set our timer for 10 minutes. When 10 minutes are up, we set the timer for a 5 minute break. Once that is up, it’s back to a 10 minute work chunk followed by a 5 minute break. That equals our 30 minute math block.
3. Use a visual timer
It can be tough for ADHD brains to get a good feel for how much time is left with a standard timer (one that just shows a number). Visual timers can be super helpful as an alternative, and usually don’t require a big investment. These timers have a block of color that shows the quantity of time remaining, in addition to a number. Search the term “visual timer” online for a physical option, or choose an app with the same set up.
4. Sit with your kid
You will soon get a feel for noticing when they are getting distracted or need support. I have found it’s incredibly effective if I ask her to explain how to do a problem--and I am being genuine. I honestly don’t often understand the methods she is currently being taught and when she explains them to me she has a sense of pride. She is also motivated to help me out because I want to understand and she wants to help me. Once she explains roughly what they are working on, we are able to work on the worksheets together.
5. THE BREAK JAR
This is the best part of our method. And we only use the break jar for math because it is the bane of our existence...at least it requires the most effort.
I have several slips of paper with ideas for things to do on the 5 minute breaks. These are simple things like “Dance!” (see full list below), and ONE of the slips is for a prize!
6. Give lots of positive feedback
High five, “Great job!”, “You are working hard!”, “You are a rockstar!”, fist bump, etc. Your kid is super amazing, so let her know!
If they are getting frustrated and struggling, let them know you can see they are working hard, how can you help? Offer support if they would like it.
So here’s a breakdown of how we use the timer:
10 minutes math
5 minute break (draw a slip from the break jar!)
10 minutes math
5 minute break (draw another slip from the break jar!)
Here are the things in our break jar:
Get a drink--this could even be something special like a cup of juice with an umbrella in it
Watch a funny animal video--I have a few compilations cued up on my phone to watch
Have a treat--we’ve done 2 of each color skittles or M&Ms;try something that’s special
Fresh air- maybe go outside and look at the clouds, run up and down the driveway, etc
Fidget--I will get our fidget basket out for her to choose one
Sing--we like to belt out David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” at the top of our lungs
Snack--usually less coveted than the “Treat”, but good to grab a fruit, trail mix, etc
Dance--I may or may not have put on “Despacito” for this one (don’t judge)
Dog snugs--we have a very squishy pug, and some cuddle time with him is a nice break
Jokes--I have a few pages of kid jokes bookmarked and we take turns telling them
Yoga--we do a few easy yoga poses
Short video--my daughter likes to watch trailers or previews from a cartoon she likes
Lotion--we will take time to put on some really yummy smelling lotion
PRIZE--these are just small things I have picked up for a few dollars here and there and set aside (ex. a squishy frog)
Note: We set aside a slip of paper once she’s picked it. That way all slips are used before they are all added back to the bowl to start over.
Feel free to add things that make sense for your kid, keeping in mind they are for a 5 minute break. (So nothing that they might start and want to continue instead of going back to their next work block.)
Hope this helps you and your kiddo. And hey, you are doing an awesome job! You’ve got this!
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Like so many families right now, we will be staying in our home for an extended period of time. We also have an immune-suppressed family member, so our kids have already been home for a week. And we are already getting a bit stir crazy!
With schools closed in our area for the next six weeks or more, many families are trying to figure out how to keep kids entertained and hopefully even get a bit of schoolwork done as well. With ADHD kids, this can be exceptionally difficult. But when schedules have been thrown out the window and the usual structure of school is gone, all kids are going to struggle a bit. So I’m sharing a few things we are doing at my house to manage!
I’m using this term lightly. In our home, schedules need to have a lot of free time scattered throughout, and some room for flexibility. Our priorities right now for schoolwork are staying on top of math, practicing typing, and reading something every day. The rest is really a bonus. Here is what works for us.
My 4th grader’s weekday schedule:
Hopefully our schedule can help you to create one that works for your family. On weekends, we let kids have much more flexibility, but keep wake times, mealtimes, and bedtimes fairly consistent. Having some sort of schedule is really important for ADHD brains, but finding what works for your kids may take some trial and error. That’s okay, you will figure it out!
Stay tuned for details on things like how we stay motivated, getting through really tough subjects, and ways to tweak the schedule when needed. You’ve got this!
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These are the slides from the presentation at the Connecting Our Community event on February 8, 2020. Nancy Colburn, who co-founded Eastside Parents of ADD/ADHD Kids with me, worked with me on this presentation which we gave together. It was an amazing event that connected parents to information, resources, and support!
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I recently gave the presentation: "Helping a Distracted Child Succeed: Understanding the Role of Executive Functions" to a group of parents and educators. If you were unable to attend, or simply want to revisit the slides, I have posted them here.
Note: You may recognize many of these slides from my presentations on executive function deficits. This is because understanding exactly what executive functions are, and how they are related to the struggles associated with ADHD, is one of the most important steps to finding tools that work.
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Eating can be a major struggle for patients taking stimulants, and picky taste buds can make it even more challenging. I’m always on the lookout for snacks that are delicious and offer a reasonable amount of protein. This can help to avoid blood sugar spikes (and eventual drops) which can lead to mood swings, outbursts, difficulty concentrating, and essentially an aggravation of a lot of ADHD symptoms.
Side note: Not eating enough earlier in the day can make the 3:00-4:00 “after school breakdown” far worse for a lot of kiddos!
I am will be regularly featuring snack ideas that I recommend to my patients who struggle with appetite suppression. I do not receive any financial gain or other benefit from any of the companies, but want to give more people specific options to try. Hopefully you will find a few that work for you!
Nutrition bars are an obvious choice for packing a lot of nutrition into a few bites. But often the tastiest bars are mostly sugar with little protein, and many nutrition bars are really not tasty enough to eat when you aren’t hungry. One of my favorite bars offers a great mix of nutrition and taste--and it is dairy, gluten, and soy free too! One Zing dark chocolate coconut bar has 10g of protein, 8g of fiber, and contain low glycemic carbohydrates, all of which can help the body to maintain a more stable blood sugar level. And honestly, this tastes like a candy bar. They also offer other flavors which you may like better. (Note that not all are dairy-free and most contain nuts) Zing bars are available at many grocery stores, health food stores, or can be purchased online.
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Understanding medications used for ADHD can be overwhelming, particularly when you consider the vitamin and supplement options as well. As a part of one of my favorite events, I gave a presentation that breaks down some of the main points about ADHD medications: classifications, how (we think) they work, and information on how some supplements can also be an important part of a treatment plan. I decided to post my slides here as a resource for parents and patients.
These slides give a fairly broad overview, with a focus specifically on pharmaceuticals and supplements. Follow my blog or Facebook page for future posts that go more in depth on specific vitamins, herbs, and other treatment options!