Holiday Help for the Inattentive

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • Most articles written about ADHD often lump the three subtypes together, giving a fairly "one size fits all" perspective on how ADHD affects individuals. But in my work helping adults and families with ADHD, I see some very distinct differences in how people with the different subtypes are challenged in daily life activities.


    First, a short primer on the three subtypes of ADHD:


    1. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Predominantly Inattentive Type: The person with this subtype has six (or more) symptoms of inattention (but fewer than six symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity), which have persisted for at least six months.

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    2. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type: The person with this subtype has six (or more) symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity (but fewer than six of inattention) which have persisted for at least six months.


    3. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Combined Type: The person with this subtype has symptoms of inattention and six (or more) symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity which have persisted for at least six months.


    Below are some of the symptoms seen in inattentive ADHD and are included in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-  a comprehensive classification of officially recognized psychiatric disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, for use by mental health professionals to ensure uniformity of diagnosis).


    • (a) often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work or other activities
      (b) often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activity
      (c) often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
      (d) often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions)
      (e) often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
      (f) often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork or homework)
      (g) often looses things necessary for tasks or activities (e.g., toys, school assignments, pencils, books or tools)
      (h) is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
      (i) is often forgetful in daily activities

    I'd like to add my own clinical observations to this list:

    • Has difficulty starting/initiating tasks
    • Often becomes overwhelmed
    • Has sensory issues, ie over-sensitivity to noise, touch, visual stimuli, etc.
    • Emotionally over reactive
    • Difficulty shifting from one activity to the next, especially when demand is external (parent, boss, spouse)
    • Problems with executive function (how to start, finish, etc.)

     ...and much much more.


    Given the extensive list of difficulties above, it makes sense that holiday time is not always festive for those touched with ADHD. Below are some tips to help the inattentive ADHD adult or child get through the holiday season without meltdowns, anxiety or depression:

    1. Give yourself and/or your child plenty of down time. The excitement of the season can be over stimulating.
    2. Cut back on the number of social activities and outings and plan quiet time at home.
    3. When visiting friends and family and attending parties, watch for signs of overwhelm. Don't wait till it hits; have a plan to leave on the early side. There's no need to make an excuse; simply say you (or your child) are exhausted and need to make it an early evening.
    4. Being squished in people-packed malls with music blaring through speakers is generally an unpleasant experience for the inattentives. Purchase gifts online whenever possible. Or buy gift cards in bulk, to save yourself from having to run through many stores. Ask your spouse or partner to handle the shopping, if it's too overwhelming for you.
    5. If you're hosting a holiday dinner, cut back on the amount of people you'll be having.
    6. Bring in ready made food. Remember: it's not the food; it's the company that's important.
    7. Build in quiet activities for the kids and yourself. A quiet game of cards will help settle down your frayed nerves.
    8. Consider taking a short trip away from everything and enjoy a quiet holiday at a Bed and Breakfast or small inn.
    9. Remember the obvious: get plenty of rest, drink sensibly if at all, and make good food choices.
    10. Ask yourself what you can give up in order to make the holiday pleasant. Can you forgo sending holiday cards? Can you change your menu and make foods that are easier and quicker to make?

    ADHD symptoms typically flare up during times of stress. Even GOOD stress is stress, so find ways to help yourself get through the next few weeks by reminding yourself that it's ok to make changes so that the holidays work FOR you, not against you.

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Published On: December 18, 2008