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How An ADHD Child Taught Me to Focus

One day, not too long ago, my sister and I were talking about her son on the phone. He’s almost five and has ADHD.

She told me something that day that has since transformed the way I concentrate on any type of work.

We were talking about the differences between the way her son and my daughter learn. They’re only three months apart, but they’ve always been drastically different in their abilities.

For example, he could climb stairs and hit a baseball at eighteen months old, but she couldn’t do that until she was three or four. And she could do basic math at two, but he couldn’t do it until he was three or four.

They’re so different, but so capable in their own ways.

That day on the phone, she said, “Felix won’t pay attention to anything I’m trying to teach him unless he’s distracted.”

At first, I was confused. He couldn’t pay attention unless he was distracted? How did that make sense? By this point, his ADHD had been diagnosed so I wondered if it was something unique about him that I wasn’t understanding.

That was exactly the case.

The way my sister explained it was that half of Felix needed to be occupied so that the other half of him was free to learn. Specifically, she said that he needed physical stimulation in order to pay attention mentally.

For example, if his preschool teacher let him spin in a swirly chair during class, he retained everything so much better. Or if she gave him a puzzle to work on while she was talking, half of his brain was busy enough that the other half of his brain was free to pay concentrate on something different.

I vaguely understood what my sister was saying (I mean, I’ve read a lot about how ADHD minds work), but it didn’t really sink until a little while later.

That night, I was trying to work on one of my books when I became fed up at my lack of productivity. I couldn’t produce more than a few words at a time because I was so stinking distracted.

I tried turning all the TVs off, putting the kids to bed, waiting for my husband to fall asleep, drinking some coffee… nothing worked. I still couldn’t pry any words out of my brain. Whenever I would get a solid thought going, my brain would take off on a different path and suddenly I was thinking about whether or not unicorns would feel self-conscious around horses.

It was ridiculous. I was clicking on Facebook every thirty seconds and wasting every ounce of my writing time.

Then I remembered what my sister had said about my nephew. He needed half his brain to be distracted so the other half could concentrate.

Would that work for me? Probably not, but I was desperate enough to try.

So I got out some little trinkets to fiddle with while I was thinking. It didn’t really help.

Maybe I wasn’t doing it right. (Plus, fiddling with something made it hard to type.) So I tried pacing the room. That didn’t work either. It made me antsy and it was impossible to type while I was standing.

I tried several different physically stimulating things, but nothing turned on my mental faucet. Eventually, I realized that those things wouldn’t work for me because I’m different than Felix. Duh! I don’t have ADHD.

I don’t need physical stimulus to distract half of my brain. I need mental stimulus.

Everyone is different, but for me, my brain is always running in hyper drive. I’m an over thinker. I’m constantly analyzing everything around me, and thinking ten different thoughts at once, whether I want it to or not.

For me to concentrate, I needed to distract my subconscious mind so that my conscious mind could concentrate.

The solution? White noise.

I turned on some music that didn’t make me want to sing or dance (don’t try turning on Beyoncé – it won’t work) and started writing. Much to my surprise, my thoughts started flowing freely as soon as the first song ended. It was as if I’d opened the flood gates to my thoughts.

It was wonderful.

The time I spent working became so much more productive. My mind didn’t wander so much. My eyes didn’t spastically dart around the room, looking for something to focus on. I didn’t click on Facebook every thirty seconds.

In fact, writing time started passing so quickly that a thousand words passed before I knew it. And then two thousand words. A couple months later, my book was finished.

Thanks to my super cool nephew with ADHD, I learned how to distract myself in order to concentrate.

Give it a try while you’re doing homework, or while you’re writing your budget for the month. If you’re a teacher, try it in your classroom. Give each of your students a Rubik’s Cube and see how well they concentrate.

You’ve got nothing to lose but frustration!

How An ADHD Child Taught Me to Focus

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2015). How An ADHD Child Taught Me to Focus. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Nov 2015
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