ADHD Coaching Can Improve Focus and Organization

ADHD coaching builds practical skills for daily life

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What Is ADHD Coaching?

The idea of personal coaching to help individuals with ADHD was first presented in an article by Dr. Edward Hallowell in 1995. The article, "Coaching: An Adjunct to the Treatment of ADHD," was based on Dr. Hallowell’s clinical experience as a psychiatrist working with patients with ADHD and his frustration with his inability to provide the more intensive support that was often necessary to help his patients manage the challenges and complications of daily life.

“While most of these patients want to succeed, their symptoms keep tripping them up,” noted Dr. Hallowell. “Their problems lie not so much in assessing what they should do as in following through. Most individuals with ADHD can tell you what they would like to do, their problem lies in doing it.”

This is where a trained coach can assist, provide guidance, support, accountability and supplement treatment. The field of ADHD coaching has come a long way since 1995. Professional associations for coaching have been established, specific training and certification standards have been developed, research in the field is emerging, and many books on the topic have been written.

What Does an ADHD Coach Do?

According to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) Subcommittee on ADHD Coaching, “ADHD coaches support their clients in developing a comprehensive understanding of both the nature of ADHD and the impact of ADHD on their client’s quality of life.

In addition, ADHD coaches work with clients to create structures, support, skills and strategies. Coaching assists clients with ADHD to stay focused on their goals, face obstacles, address core ADHD-related issues like time management, organization, and self-esteem, gain clarity and function more effectively.”

Many people with ADHD lack organizational skills, often losing things or becoming overloaded with commitments. They may struggle with managing their time, prioritizing, planning, persisting at tasks and sustaining motivation towards goals. ADHD coaches tackle these and similar practical matters. “The coach provides a supportive non-judgmental partnership in which the client is encouraged to set reasonable and attainable goals and create an action plan to reach those goals,” says Jodi Sleeper-Triplett, an ADHD coach and the author of Empowering Youth with ADHD. “The coach provides support as the client works to increase self awareness, self-esteem and self-reliance, all important for health and well-being.”

Common Day-to-Day Challenges for Teens and Young Adults with ADHD

Sleeper-Triplett lists some of the common challenges teens and young adults with ADHD may face including:

  • Poor organizational skills leading to lost homework, missing books, lost cell phones, articles of clothing, forgotten appointments, frustration, and chaos on a daily basis.
  • A tendency to become overloaded with too many assignments at once. Many times nothing gets accomplished or only portions of the work are completed. Although accommodations may be available, these students are reluctant to ask for help, preferring to "go it alone" and avoid looking different from their peers.
  • Life planning skills are limited or unrealistic. Financial management, time management, prioritizing and planning skills are not fully developed. The teens and young adults need to create a structure that will support their executive functioning deficits.
  • Self-care is oftentimes neglected. Teens and young adults have inconsistent sleep habits, poor nutritional habits and forget to take their medication.
  • When preparing for high school or college graduation, young people need guidance to seek out an academic path or career path that match their interests and will accommodate their ADHD. Inappropriate career choices lead to frequent changes or failure in college and a poor work record, making it increasingly difficult to "try again".
  • Transitions from middle school to high school or high school to college are challenging. Responsibilities change and structure may decrease as the young person becomes more independent.

Common Day-to-Day Challenges for Adults with ADHD

Adults with ADHD who seek out coaching often have similar issues to those reported by teens and young adults, notes Sleeper-Triplett. Challenges may include struggles with focus, poor executive functioning skills, difficulty sustaining relationships, financial problems and lack of self-care. For adults, these issues can often be compounded by years of misdiagnosis (or no diagnosis at all), leading to a string of failures in many life areas.

“An ADHD coach can help adults with ADHD increase their self-awareness, identify their strengths and support the process of self-exploration,” says Sleeper-Triplett. “Together they identify areas of focus for growth and change. The coach partners with the client to set reasonable and attainable goals and monitors those goals and progress on a regular basis.” And when spouses, partners or work supervisors are unaware of the impact of ADHD on the individual, the coach can help the client self-advocate and explain how ADHD gets in the way of daily life.

“The process of working with an ADHD coach saved my life, in the sense that it got my life on track,” says Jeff Hamilton, an adult with ADHD who works in the sales and marketing field. “For me, coaching was the next step after starting my medication phase and I know that it was a required piece of my puzzle. Coaching has had a huge impact on me.”

Finding an ADHD Coach

ADHD coach David Giwerc, who is also Founder and President of the ADD Coach Academy, recommends that anyone interested in hiring a coach should interview at least three coaches to determine: (1) their knowledge base of ADHD, (2) how it is integrated into the coaching, and (3) their level of skill competency facilitating the coaching process.

“A potential coach should be able to tell you their coaching philosophy, how they will work with you and what you should expect during a session,” says Giwerc. “Most coaches will offer you a complimentary session for you to experience the coaching. During the session gauge how the connection to the coach feels, how comfortable are you sharing with this individual? Is he/she empowering you or giving advice? How much progress did we make in the session? What new awareness did I gain during my session? Did I learn more about how the coach and the process can move me forward? Did I learn how my ADHD gets in the way?”

Giwerc stresses that ADHD coaches need to be well-trained, preferably at an accredited coach training school such as the ICF, International Coach Federation, the governing body of the coaching profession.

Below are some organizations that list directories of ADHD coaches:

International Coach Federation (ICF); www.coachfederation.org

Institute for the Advancement of ADHD Coaching (IAAC); www.adhdcoachinstitute.org

AD/HD Coaches Organization (ACO); www.adhdcoaches.org

ADD Coach Academy www.addca.com

Edge Foundation www.edgefoundation.org

National Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA); www.add.org

Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (CHADD); www.chadd.org

Professional Association of ADHD Coaches (PAAC) www.paaccoaches.org (no listings to date)

Sources:

Giwerc, David. Interview/email correspondence. January 5 and 9, 2011.

Hallowell, Edward. “Coaching: An Adjunct to the Treatment of ADHD” LifeManagement Center 1995.

Sleeper-Triplett, Jodi. Interview/email correspondence. December 8 and 10, 2010.

Hamilton, Jeff. Email correspondence. January, 5, 2011.

Monastra, Vincent. Unlocking the Potential of Patients With ADHD: A Model for Clinical Practice. American Psychological Association. 2008.

Ratey, Nancy and Jaksa, Peter. “ADDA Guiding Principles for Coaching Individuals with Attention Deficit Disorder” Attention Deficit Disorder Association. 2002.

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