The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Month: May 2015

Skip the donation bins & declutter without leaving your home

I don’t know about you, but for me, packing up those unwanted items for donation is only half the battle. Decluttering experts suggest several ways to make sure this stuff actually leaves your house: for example, keeping it in the car or dropping it off that very day.

For people with ADHD, it’s not that easy. After my son’s birthday party this year, I shoved six pizza boxes into my car to drop off at the sanitation yard “on my next errand.” I do a lot of errands and the sanitation yard is a five-minute drive from home. The boxes sat in my car for weeks.

When it comes to ADHD decluttering, I’ve found one thing that works: whether you’re throwing away or giving away, do it without leaving your home. Here’s how:

declutter without leaving home

Charity pickups

Many charities offer pickup services. After you schedule your pickup, you just need to put your items out on the appropriate day. Organizations with pickup services include:

If you live in a city, charities may even send you postcards with dates when their trucks will be in your neighborhood. Some charities include a large plastic bag with the postcard. Why not set a goal of filling these bags with clutter when they arrive and setting them out on the designated pickup date?


Freecycle is a grassroots network of communities dedicated to giving (and getting) stuff for free to keep usable items out of landfills.  The process is simple: post an offer on the site, receive emails from interested parties, choose someone who seems sincere, and coordinate a time for them to pick it up from your porch/front yard/etc.

Freecycle also makes it easy to declutter piece by piece. Rather than setting aside time to fill a big box for charity pickup, you can harness your impulsivity and rehome unused items one thing at a time. No matter what it is, there’s a good chance someone out there wants it.

A word of warning: be careful not to acquire items from Freecycle unless it’s already on a shopping list and it’s close to home. If you need to, unsubscribe from all email alerts except those in reply to your own offers. I once drove a half hour across town for a new set of shower curtain hooks I had no idea I needed — until I saw them advertised for free on the internet.

The bottom line: there are many ways to donate or give away unwanted items without leaving home. For people with ADHD, this is the way to go. Freecycle and charity pickups allow you to complete the decluttering process more gracefully, without adding an errand to your list or junk to your car.

When you’re decluttering, how do you make sure unwanted items actually get out the door?


Trying supplements for temporal lobe ADD

Stimulant medication makes ADHD symptoms manageable for a lot of people, but some will always choose supplements and dietary changes instead.

And some — myself included — will experiment with supplements in addition to stimulants. Stimulants have been a lifesaver for me, but I still suffer from emotional and memory problems.

After reading Daniel Amen’s Healing ADD from the Inside Out, I decided to experiment with a few of the supplements he recommends. It’s been about a month, and I’ve learned a lot.


The many faces of ADHD

ADHD doesn’t just mean lack of focus: it often comes with emotional disregulation, forgetfulness, and a host of other problems.

When I read Healing ADD, I related to Dr. Amen’s description of “temporal lobe ADD” quite a bit. While Dr. Amen’s ADD subtypes haven’t been adopted by the wider community, they can be useful to guide conversations about common groupings of symptoms.

For example, Dr. Amen describes people with temporal lobe ADD as having a quick temper (often with little or no provocation) and suffering from dark thoughts and unpredictable moods. Some are especially prone to déjà vu, and others experience odd sensory effects: objects changing shape, shadows that aren’t there, buzzing sounds, etc.

In Healing ADD, Amen goes into more detail, talking about memory issues, violent thoughts, and patients whose personalities changed completely following a minor head injury.

My experience with supplements

Intrigued by Dr. Amen’s claims about supplements, I decided to try adding GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) and ginkgo biloba to my standard medication routine. GABA can help with mood stabilization, while ginkgo has long been touted as a memory aid.

I can’t really say whether the ginkgo has helped my memory — it’s possible it went from unbearable to pretty bad, but that’s a crude measure — but I’ve noticed some surprising changes since starting the GABA.

GABA is actually an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it keeps your brain’s activity in check (low GABA levels have been linked to anxiety and panic attacks). GABA supplement supporters claim its calming effects can soothe ADHD, anxiety, mood instability, sleep troubles, and even PMS. In some cases, Dr. Amen suggests trying it before prescription anti-convulsants like Depakote, which works by increasing GABA production.

A science-y aside: now is a good time for a reminder that correlation doesn’t necessarily imply a causal relationship, and there are very few controlled studies on the effects of supplements. Some scientists argue that GABA doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier and, consequently, has no real effect beyond placebo.

Then again, some parents of children with autism or ADHD have reported big successes with GABA.

The reality is, there just isn’t enough science for us to be sure. All we can do is try it, and if it doesn’t work, scrap it and move on.

And what has my experience been with GABA supplementation?

Most noticeably:

  • Increased mood stability; tamer peaks and valleys; fewer “all-or-nothing” moods
  • Reduced intensity and frequency of migraines
  • Reduced morning coffee cravings
    This is similar to my experience during pregnancy, where I could do with coffee or tea in the morning, whereas previously I needed coffee to feel even minimally functional
  • Possibly even reduced overall food cravings
  • Gentle lift in mood; more calm, controlled energy/motivation in the morning after taking supplement

Though I was on the lookout for mood changes, the migraines (or lack thereof) were a nice bonus, if not a surprise. While Dr. Amen goes into detail about the temporal lobes’ effect on mood, memory, and social skills, the temporal lobes also play a huge role in epilepsy and migraines. Interestingly, Depakote is prescribed for all three issues — as a mood stabilizer and to prevent seizures and migraines — so there is a clear link. I wonder how many of Dr. Amen’s temporal lobe ADD cases also suffered from migraines.  (Fun fact: migraines are not all that dissimilar from seizures, so if you find them debilitating, cut yourself a break.)

While I don’t see any way a GABA supplement could eliminate the need for prescription medication, it does provide — for me, at least — a helpful boost. Of course, there’s also a chance I need to adjust my medication and dosage to manage my ADHD symptoms more effectively. There always is. But for now, combining traditional stimulant treatments with a few natural supplements seems to work better than either would on its own.

Have you tried treating ADHD with natural supplements? What was your experience?

Note: hopefully I’m stating the obvious here, but I’m by no means a doctor, and this post is not medical advice. Before starting any new supplement or natural remedy, you should check in with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you — especially if you’re already taking other medications. Just because it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s zero-risk!


The only early childhood activity worth my money

“Whose child is this?”

Talk about mortifying parenting moments. This one happened at a sing-a-long story hour at our local library branch. All the other children were sitting placidly on their caregivers’ laps while R, who was probably around a year old at the time, had walked straight up to the front of the room.

music together graphic

He wasn’t misbehaving — at least, I hadn’t thought so — just hanging out a few feet away from the woman leading the program.

All the same, the woman brought the songs and stories to a grinding halt and told me, “you need to come get him.”

Later that day, my friends commiserated with me, then invited us to a different program at a different library.

After a few months of trying to corral my kid at that story  hour, I gave up.

Even now, R is only two. I have no idea whether to blame upbringing, temperament, or faulty neurochemistry. Or a kids’ program with developmentally inappropriate expectations.

What I do know: thinking (or saying) “all the other kids his age can handle it” helps no one.

We did eventually find an activity that works for us. If you have a kid between zero and five, it may work for you, too.

It’s called Music Together, and it’s the only kids’ activity that’s been worth my money.

Many of my parent friends say things like, “[the library sing-a-long story time] is just like Music Together, except it’s free.” It’s not. Mother Goose on the Loose style programs bear some similarities to Music Together, but perhaps the most important difference is this:

Music Together is research-based, kid-focused, and there are no expectations of the children.


Not that they sit down, not that they dance at the appropriate time, not that they even stay in the circle with the other parents and kids.

The only expectations and rules are for the parents.

We sit in a circle, sing, and participate in the activities. We refrain from using our speaking voices and communicate only with music and singing. We model for our children and have faith that they are absorbing what’s going on and will join us when and how they’re ready.

The crazy thing is, they do. Just like author and parenting expert Vicki Hoefle promises us in Duct Tape Parenting, the fewer overt attempts we make to control our kids’ behavior, the more they’ll impress us.

Music Together is the only structured activity I’ve encountered that promotes a non-interventionist policy with the kids. Unless they’re being unsafe or unreasonably disruptive (e.g. screaming or running), parents are supposed to just let them do their thing.

For a while, I thought Music Together would fail us, too — or we’d fail it. R spent most of the class climbing under a side table or sitting on a long bench in the back of the room. Our teacher told me to give him time.

Then, one day, he came over and sat in my lap. He walked up and engaged with the teacher, smiling and dancing. He started singing the songs at home.

My hard work and patience had paid off.

I know there’s an argument that kids need to learn certain skills: how to sit still, how to stand in line, how to listen attentively. I’m committed to helping my child do all those things. What I won’t do is force him to practice those skills for their own sake, in an environment that feels unnecessarily restrictive. I’ve stopped looking at the other kids and started looking at the environment and expectations — from my toddler’s perspective.

If you have a kid between birth and age five and you’re sick of reminding him what to do during activities that are supposed to be fun, look up Music Together. Don’t be shy if your child has special needs. The program welcomes and includes them, and even lists tips for a successful class experience with your child. If there’s a class in your area, ask about dropping in for a free trial. Many programs will let you observe a session before you commit.

Parents with young children: what has been your experience with activities and educational programs? What has worked for you? What hasn’t?


How a stick shift can help ADHD families stay safe

Are you a good driver?

Is your spouse or teen with ADHD a good driver?

We might hate to admit it, but the answer is often, “no” or “it depends.” ADHD cripples the executive functions required for safe and conscientious driving.

Thanks to lower maturity levels and lack of driving experience, teens and young adults are especially at risk. Young ADHD drivers are significantly more likely to have multiple car crashes, to suffer injuries from those accidents, and to be at fault in a crash.

How a stick shift makes ADHD driving safer

Walking into a lamppost can be funny — the same mistake in a car quickly turns tragic. As Jeff Emmerson of Living With Adult ADD writes, “all it takes is a split second to take a life when we’re distracted.”

Driving with ADHD: how to stay safe

The best thing you can do to protect you, your family, and others on the road is to take your medication. It’s the only proven way to make an ADHD’er a better driver.

But we aren’t always on our meds, and for some, that’s not enough.

As it turns out, driving a stick shift may reduce your risk of being in an accident.

Many ADHD’ers — myself included — say they feel like better drivers with a manual transmission. A study from MIT confirmed it: people with ADHD performed better in a driving simulation when using a stick shift.

Driving a stick shift forces you to focus your whole body on driving. You consistently use both hands and feet, you need to know how fast you’re going and what gear you should be in, and you need to control your speed when you start from a standstill. Many drivers say it’s just more fun. Keeping your mind and body engaged will help you avoid fidgety, stimulation-seeking behaviors and distractions.

Not only that, that fact that you need both hands to operate the steering wheel and gearshift may make you save the food or cell phone for later.

Another angle to consider: as a new driver, my trusty five-speed Toyota Camry kept me in the parking lot for longer than my peers. Experts recommend giving ADHD teens more supervised practice hours to monitor and develop driving skills. Spending more time getting used to the mechanics of the car — in an empty parking lot, away from high-pressure, high-stakes situations — ensured that once I hit the road, I felt 100% comfortable with the basics.

While stick shifts have gone out of vogue in recent years, they have distinct advantages for ADHD’ers. If you’re shopping for a car, give it some thought. All my cars, since that very first one nearly 15 years ago, have had manual transmissions. It really does make me feel more in control — of the car and myself.

And when it comes to car safety, I want as many statistics on my side as possible.


Why this ADHD mama loves cloth diapers

It was a typical Monday morning for me and my son, tackling some quick chores and our weekly trip to the grocery store.

We’d just returned home for lunch and nap when I noticed we were out of diapers.


When you only use two diapers a day (nap and bedtime) it’s easy to lose track. My husband used the last diaper and forgot to tell me, and I forgot to check. Can you tell we’re an ADHD family?

It wasn’t always this way. For a year and a half, I never, ever had to worry about running out of diapers.

cloth diapers

That’s because we used cloth diapers, and I positively loved it.

ADHD’ers may shy away from cloth diapering because it means more laundry. “Piles of laundry, unknown whether clean or dirty” feels like it should be in the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. But let me tell you, cloth diapering was amazing for our family.

I’m not saying we never ran low on diapers, or I never forgot to wash them.

However, when that happened, I didn’t need to run to the store. I spend a lot of time home alone with a sleeping kid, and hitting the grocery store at all hours isn’t always an option.

Even if I can take my child to the store with me, it’s not worth the hassle for just one thing, even if that one thing is clean diapers.

Now that we use too few diapers for reusables to feel worth it, I appreciate what I missed for the first 18 months of our son’s life: husband promising to buy diapers on the way home, then accidentally working until 4:00 a.m. Running out of diapers right before our Amazon Subscribe & Save is scheduled to arrive. Borrowing diapers from a neighbor because I don’t have time to buy more before nap time.

Back then, forgetting the diapers had little or no negative consequence. Even if I was already in my PJs for the night, I could run downstairs and throw them in the washer.

Not only that, I had something to do while I was watching TV.

I enjoy television in theory, but in practice it’s unpleasant to sit still for long enough to watch even a 20-minute sitcom. I watched a lot of great shows while I folded and stuffed clean diapers.

Cloth economics

Cloth diaper advocates also love to tell you how much money you’ll save with cloth. Nay-sayers will toss out counter-arguments that cite pricey all-in-one diapers, high water bills, and the like. In reality, your results may vary.

If you play it smart, though, cloth diapering can save a lot of money.

That’s no small consideration for ADHD’ers, many of whom struggle with finances. If you plan to have multiple children, reusing the same batch of diapers for two or more kids can make a huge difference in your bottom line.

So what should a beginner look for?

All the cloth diaper terminology can be overwhelming, as can the wide spectrum of costs and materials: all-in-one, all-in-two, microfiber, cotton, wool, PUL…huh?

If you want the simplest, cheapest option, there’s one word you need to know: prefolds.

Prefold diapers are basically just cotton rectangles. Buy a bunch of these, a few waterproof covers, and a pack of Snappis, and you’re ready to go. This is the cheapest, most durable diapering option you can get.

If you’re not sure where to shop, try finding a natural baby store in your area. They usually have a team of helpful, knowledgeable staff to point you in the right direction. I’ve also ordered some great diapers at very reasonable prices from Green Mountain Diapers.

As tempting as it is to jump right in, make sure you learn how to care for your investment.

Don’t be fooled into paying a ton of money for special detergent when you can really just use Tide. At the same time, don’t be fooled into thinking your diapers are clean when they’re not (yuck). My go-to resource for diaper care is Fluff Love and CD Science. These ladies are committed to proper diaper care for real people.

The bottom line, though — the one thing I want everyone to know about cloth diapers — is:

It’s nowhere near as confusing, inconvenient, gross, expensive, or difficult as you think it’s going to be.

For ADHD families, the flexibility and cost savings can be a lifesaver.

If you’ve tried cloth diapering and something went wrong, or if you’re interested but don’t know how to get started, please share in the comments! I had a great experience and I’d love to help others do the same.

Note: while some posts may contain Amazon affiliate links, I only link to products and vendors I like, use, and support. If you’re able to support a local independent business instead, please do!


Drown your ADHD in a hot shower

Do your emotions tend to run away with you?

It’s okay, you can answer silently, but if you often find yourself overwhelmed, embarrassed, confused, or even frightened by your emotions, you’re not alone. At least half of all ADHD adults suffer from deficient emotional self-regulation, defined for the lay person as “excessive emotional reactions to everyday occurences.”

There’s a lot to talk about here, especially in light of the high correlation between ADHD and self-harm.

But before we do, I want you to go take a hot shower.

Yes, I’m serious.

When you’re feeling out of control, stuck, or about to say something you shouldn’t, here are three reasons to climb into the shower and stay there until you feel better — or until the hot water runs out.

  1. Dopamine
    That’s right — your old friend. The safe, relaxing environment of a hot shower triggers a release of dopamine in your brain. One of the “neurochemicals of happiness,” it won’t just make you feel good. It’ll help regulate those wild emotions and calm your impulsive reactions.
  2. Quarantine
    If you just can’t resist the urge to keep crying, complaining, or yelling at your spouse (or whoever happens to be in the room), get away. If you don’t want your spouse to know how much he or she just upset you, take some private time in the shower. Work out your emotions — alone. Once you’re calm, you’ll be better equipped to discuss your feelings productively — or just let them go.
  3. Time
    While you’re out of the fray, everyone has a chance to settle down and change gears. In addition to providing an influx of dopamine, the shower is a great place for productive distraction. You can safely switch out of intense problem-solving mode and get into the right frame of mind for a new insight on the situation.

Do you struggle with out-of-control emotions? What self-soothing techniques can you recommend?


Book Review: Healing ADD from the Inside Out

Daniel Amen's Healing ADD from the Inside OutPsychiatrist Daniel Amen’s work is controversial, to say the least. While Healing ADD from the Inside Out has some good information, readers should also be aware of criticisms from the scientific community.

That said, Dr. Amen provides a valuable perspective on ADHD, coming from a brain science angle that many will find appealing. As his patient anecdotes illustrate, people often open up to treatment after seeing their behavior’s biological roots.

That may be the book’s most important takeawayADHD isn’t a personal failure, it’s a measurable neurological condition.

Common-sense advice for managing ADHD

Readers will also find plenty of common-sense advice. For example: avoid hitting your head and damaging your brain, stay hydrated, eat a healthy diet, and limit TV and video games.

What Amen has to say about head injuries — even minor, forgettable ones — may shock you. Amen Clinics’ doctors ask new patients five times about previous head injuries, even minor ones where the patient never lost consciousness. The degree to which your behavior and personality can change as a result of a bump on the head is startling, and certainly makes me glad I wear a helmet when I ski.

My biggest criticism of Dr. Amen’s lifestyle advice is its severity. He recommends some pretty radical diet changes — for example, eliminating sugar and bread. Don’t get me wrong, I agree refined sugar is terrible for you, but strict elimination diets feel out of reach for a lot of people. I’ve benefited from drastically reducing refined sugar and switching in whole grains whenever possible. Dr. Amen overlooks the benefits of eating brown rice and whole grain breads and pastas for those who aren’t willing to give them up entirely.

Though Dr. Amen’s five ADHD subtypes haven’t been adopted by the scientific community, I found them useful to illustrate the point that every ADHD case — and every treatment plan — is different. Managing ADHD symptoms takes some finesse, not just a quick evaluation and a prescription for stimulants.

SPECT imaging and supplements: buyer beware

Beware, though: Healing ADD focuses heavily on the Amen Clinics’ treatment and diagnostic methods, which cannot be replicated at home or at your local doctor’s office. After reading Healing ADD, it’s easy to convince yourself you’re at the mercy of your brain until you get one of these SPECT imaging scans — especially if you’ve been frustrated by past treatment failures.

However, the Amen Clinics are alone in their use of SPECT imaging in routine diagnosis, and most of the scientific community feels there’s a good reason for that. Bottom line: you don’t need to travel to one of these clinics and pay over $3000 to get better.

Parts of the book also felt more like an advertisement for the Amen Clinics’ products and services than a standalone self-help text. The techniques and advice seem broad and cursory, like Healing ADD is only an introduction to the whole system: DVDs, supplements, an online brain gym, and consultation at a brick-and-mortar Amen Clinic.

Comprehensive but not warm and fuzzy

Healing ADD may pack a lot of advice and brain science, but it won’t feel warm and personable. If you want that, read Wes Crenshaw’s I Always Want to be Where I’m Not. Dr. Amen kicks off Part One by trying to build rapport with readers and prove he truly understands ADHD on a personal level, but he does it by talking about how guilty and embarrassed his ADHD family members make him feel. Maybe this rings true for some readers, but I didn’t need any reminders.

Overall, Healing ADD is worth a read for many people, especially those who doubt ADHD’s biological roots or have complex cases not aided by typical treatment approaches. The book inspired me to try a daily GABA supplement, and I do think it has helped tone down my migraines and mood issues. Certainly it’s a great starter resource for those interested in alternative or complementary therapies.

If you’re looking for in-depth techniques and help for any single facet of ADHD, though, Dr. Amen covers way too much ground for that. For example, the chapter on stopping “automatic negative thoughts” offers a gold mine of easier-said-than-done advice. If you’re truly struggling with these harmful thought patterns, you’ll need to seek professional help.

And that’s okay. Healing ADD provides, at the very least, a comprehensive guide to what you should expect to hear from a therapist or coach (minus the need for SPECT imaging). There’s plenty of bad information out there, and Dr. Amen goes a long way to cultivate educated consumers in his readers.


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