You’ve heard the phrase, “No two snowflakes are alike,” and although it seems farfetched with all the billions of snowflakes that fall around the world each year, it’s actually true. Snowflakes form over changes in temperature and humidity as the water crystallizes in its fall to earth. A slight altering of degrees or shift in wind, and a wide variety of complex shapes emerge from the cloud droplets. No two droplets experience the changes and fall to the ground in the same way.
Over the years that I’ve been working with people with ADHD, I can honestly say I’ve never met two people who are exactly alike with their ADHD or two people that balance their challenges the same way. And while the brain is more complex than the snowflake, its formation (and subsequent changes as it ages) is influenced by a variety of environmental and internal factors that cause such complexity that no two brains are exactly the same. It’s almost like science prefers not to carbon copy the ADHD brain, making sure that each one is unique and special in its gifts.
And when you take a closer look at the brain and how it works, it makes sense. ADHD symptoms aren’t localized in one section, but spread out all over. The largest part of the brain, the cerebrum or frontal cortex, modulates and commands our executive functioning- all those planning and problem solving tasks that also involve attention and working memory. This part of the brain is your ‘personal assistant’ or the very first ‘Suri’ (from the iPhone) and where a good majority of ADHD characteristics are housed. If you put your hand on your forehead, this is about where your frontal cortex lies.
Tucked away in the middle of our brain is the limbic system (referred to as the ‘emotional brain’) which processes what’s happening right now- how you are feeling and the body’s needs. The four major sections within this system control impulses and moment to moment changes in the focus of attention, interpret physical boundaries, turn short term memories into long term, and tell you when you’re hungry, cold, tired, etc. The involvement of this area of our brain and ADHD is why people with ADHD often have memory challenges and others experience emotional impulsivity such as getting easily upset or angry.
Another section, the cerebellum which lies at the base of the skull about where the back of your head meets your neck, fine tunes coordination, balance and posture. The cerebellum regulates the information from your body to your brain. It is the area of motor control and physical activity, the ‘personal trainer’ that actually makes you move and exercise (and helps with coordination).
And finally, underneath the limbic system is the brain stem which controls our basic survival functions that keep us alive. It also processes information from our five senses, emotions, long term memory, motivation and monitors sleep. It is one of the most important parts of the brain when it comes to ADHD, this area produces dopamine.
Now if your brain hurts from trying to picture these parts and determining what does what, how, where and why…don’t worry. Fortunately they all work in tandem and without much effort on your part. And even when you are retraining your brain to work differently (by using different strategies to maximize focus and attention), you don’t need to know which part of the brain the tools are affecting, you just need to notice whether they are working.
Like the snowflake, you don’t have to analyze the brain’s complex anatomy to appreciate its beauty. But you do need to learn what shovel, salt or tool works best for you to reduce the challenges and complications that come from too many ‘snowflakes.’ And it helps to see how many different parts of the brain control the different aspects of your ADHD so you will understand why it’s so complicated…and why what works so easily for one person with ADHD, doesn’t work for you.
So remember- there is no cookie-cutter fix or strategy that works best for everyone with ADHD. No two ADHD brains are alike, but there are certainly strategies that overall will help. And there is a strategy out there for everyone!
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