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ACO Conference Binder 2012 –
Blog expanded Speaker Content
Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – Part 2

Neurons that wire together fire together;
Neurons that fire together WIRE together 

We now know that the brain’s neural network respond to stimuli in a self-organizing pattern – beginning with our very first experience with a novel stimulus.

Cause and Effect Linkage

Which neurons “wire” together depends on whether the stimulus is congruent with brain expectations, whether it is reminiscent of another pattern of stimuli, and what happened NEXT.

Some self-help books refer to this neural patterning as “recording new tapes,”
furthering that analogy with terms like “playing old tapes”
— as they encourage us not to.

In actuality, we have no choice: the human brain automatically “searches its database” faster than we can exert any conscience influence over it in the moment!  It’s designed that way to safeguard the survival of our species.

We can, however, make a few tweaks to the system after the fact.

That’s the exciting implication of what we now understand about the brain’s neuroplasticity – the fact that it can CHANGE creates the opportunity for ADD Coaches to make a positive difference in the lives of our clients.

Biology doesn’t HAVE to be Destiny

Genetics predispose us to certain talents, abilities and disabilities — but our personalities,
talents and functionality are determined by what happens afterwards.

Our life experiences, thoughts, actions and emotional reactions
actually change the physical structure of our brains

For better or for worse, once a “neuron group” has decided to get together for coffee and donuts, their tendency to hang out together becomes increasingly ingrained with every repetition of their little coffee klatch.

Yet a pattern interrupt can force a reorganization: neuroplasticity in action!

For better – or for worse.

  • In order to be effective, ALL coaches need to understand what helps and what hurts to have a glimmer of a shot at championing intentionality and client growth.
  • In order to be effective with ADD clients, however, ADD Coaches need to remain aware of WHY things work – or don’t – so we understand what we need to do to help our clients get back on track.

We certainly wouldn’t want to make anything worse!

Understanding the interrelationship of the various areas of the brain implicated in ADD will help you understand how ADD symptoms can vary widely from person to person, and can be erratic, changing from day to day or month to month, as wall as over a lifetime.

It will also help you explain to your clients how,  in response to challenges,
an ADDer’s functional temperature  can change on a dime .

We need to know how to listen for those changes, what helps, what hurts,and how to adapt both coaching and client homework to inspire action regardless.


Human brain, lateral viewThe Cerebral Cortex, our “gray matter” is a layer about 1/8 of an inch thick on the brain’s outward surface. It is primarily composed of cell bodies. Underneath the cerebral cortex are the axons and dendritic material that make up the white matter of the brain.

The cerebral cortex has raised areas (gyri) and grooves or folds (sulci), each with a unique pattern. Two principal grooves (the lateral fissure and the central sulcus) divide each hemisphere into four main areas or lobes.

Each lobe is associated with a particular set of functions.

We’re going to take a quick tour of brain architecture before we narrow our focus further to a cursory exploration of the lobes of the Cerebral Cortexthe Frontal, Parietal, Temporal, and Occipital lobes, and the Cerebellum (that little bump at the back of the brain drawings you’ll see around the ‘net – kind of like a little-old-lady bun, low on the neck, and close to the Brain Stem).

(Look for it, remembering that the frontal lobe, at the front of the brain, right behind your forehead, is on the other side of the representation of a brain you are trying to figure out from a picture)

So what do these lobes DO?

Remember that neuroscience facts are a moving target: in the last twenty years we have learned more about the brain than in the entire period before, and we will probably double that knowledge every decade for some time.

Currently, we’re fairly certain that the functional associations below are in the ballpark of accurate, but don’t forget that science was once fairly certain that the earth was flat, too!

As you read the descriptions that follow below, make a mental note to remember to
check-in from time to time with one of the brain-based websites to make sure your
information represents the current “facts.”

Professional Recommendation

A free subscription to Dr. David Rabiner’s Attention Research Update is a great way to make sure you don’t fall behind on the latest research with implications for ADD. He has been publishing monthly since 1997, originally available by paid subscription. I have been reading it since the beginning, save all issues in my personal archives, and still reference them.

Rabiner is currently the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, where he also conducts federally funded research on ADD and the effectiveness of computer-based interventions for children with attention difficulties.

Attention Research Update is now sponsored by Cogmed, known for their computer assisted working memory training — based on initial concepts and discoveries by Swedish cognitive neuroscience professor and researcher Dr. Torkel Klingberg (an international authority on cognitive training and author of The Overflowing Brain, Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory.)

I have not personally worked with Cogmed’s technology, but I’d stake my professional reputation on my belief that if David Rabiner is willing to be associated with Cogmed, he has researched it thoroughly and can stand behind the claims that it is useful technology for ADDers, ameliorating struggles with working memory. I have researched Klingberg, and am quite impressed with his work. I highly recommend The Overflowing Brain, as well as Attention Research Update.

So what DO these lobes do?

Cerebral Cortex Lobe Functions

  • FRONTAL LOBES (red) – Associated with reasoning, planning, movement, emotions, problem solving & parts of speech.
  • TEMPORAL LOBES (yellow) – Associated with perception and recognition of auditory stimuli (hearing), speech, and memory (particularly in a temporal structure called the hippocampus)
  • PARIETAL LOBES (dark blue)Concerned with perception of stimuli related to touch, pressure, pain, and temperature – associated with movement, orientation, recognition, and perception of stimuli.
  • OCCIPITAL LOBES (green) – at the back of the brain, behind the parietal lobes and temporal lobes – associated with many aspects of visual processing.

THE CEREBELLUM (brown) – like the cerebral cortex itself, the cerebellum has two hemispheres and a highly folded cortex (surface).

Historically, it has been associated with regulation and coordination of movement, posture, and balance, playing a role in maintaining equilibrium and muscle tone.  Now that scanning techniques have become more sophisticated, there is growing evidence that the cerebellum is involved in more than just motor control.

We have believed for a while now that the cerebellum  played a significant role in complex mathematical and musical skills, but more recent imaging studies of healthy volunteers suggest that the cerebellum is also active during sensory processes such as hunger and thirst, hearing, smell, awareness of body movement, and the perception of pain.

The Cerebellum may well be implicated in tasks associated with adequate Executive Functioning, generally attributed primarily to the Prefrontal Cortex, like attention, impulse control, working memory, planning and scheduling.

An imaging study at the National Institute of Mental Health found that the cerebellum of children with ADHD is reduced in size. (2002, Castellanos, Rapoport et. al).

THE BRAIN STEM (turquoise) beneath the limbic system. This structure is responsible for basic vital life functions such as breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure. Scientists say that this “simplest” part of human brains is probably the oldest, since the entire brain of some animals (like reptiles, who appear early on the evolutionary scale) resemble our brain stem.

Implications for ADD and ADD Coaching

As we learn increasingly more about that black box inside our heads, research scientists continue to develop more advanced tools and technologies that allow us to learn still more.  Scanning technology, once limited in a manner similar to xray technology, is changing the game with every new development in functional brain scans.

(CLICK HERE for a quick explanation of scanning basics)

Even a basic understanding of the “regulation responsibility” of parts of the brain, and the connections between them that make up the distributed network inside that black box, will add considerable depth to your understanding of how to work with and around ADD brain wiring — for yourself, and for your clients.

Helping professonals who don’t understand brain-based fundamental concepts can only use a random hunt-and-peck approach, hoping to impact the output of that black box positively – working in the DARK.

They’re guessing, essentially – or relying on the guesses of fields developed before mankind had a wealth of brain-based information to draw upon.

Brain-based information is a flashlight! 

Only one example:

A research team led by Jeffery S. Anderson, M.D., Ph.D. assistant professor of radiology at the University of Utah, uncovered a “wiring diagram” showing how the brain pays attention to visual, cognitive, sensory, and motor cues.  To those who understand how to USE the information, it provides a critical foundation for further study of challenges with attention that can be seen in disorders like ADD.

“The brain is organized into territories,” Anderson explains, “sort of like a map of Europe. There are visual regions, regions that process sound and areas that process sensory and motor information.  In between all these areas is [a part of the brain], which is known to be a key area for processing attention.”

 “We discovered [that part of the brain] contains a miniature map of all of these territories. We also found an organized pattern for how control regions of the brain connect to this map. These connections help our brain switch its attention from one thing to another.”

In addition, scientists have discovered that this miniature “map of all things attentional” is reproduced in at least 13 other places in the brain!  They found connections between these duplicate maps and the original map.

  • Each copy appears to do something different with the information.
  • For instance, one map processes eye movements while another processes facts in an analytical manner.

This map of the world that allows us to pay attention may be a fundamental building block for how information is represented in the brain.  A brain-based understanding of what coaching DOES allows you to read the map — so you understand how to head your clients (and yourself) in the right direction.


Stay tuned – I will be posting all of my speakers content from the 2012 ACO Conference – edited and augmented to take advantage of the lack of space constraints and the possibility of adding links to context, illustrations and additional information.

I also plan to add more than a few resources that I did NOT have time to share at the conference, content that those of you who stick with the series will LOVE me for sharing
Get it NOW, while its free for the taking.

Leave me feedback (comments, likes or gold stars)
 and  help me spread the word
(or I might just change my mind ::grin::)

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the Brain-based Resources series – or any new posts on this blog – give your name and email to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right.  (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too)
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 graphics not otherwise attributed, are courtesy of
Wikipedia, under the Creative Commons License

Articles in this Series
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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"


  1. Pingback: Brains Need SYSTEMS to Develop | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. Kim Carrington says:

    Madelyn, this information is great. The brain graphic is very helpful to understanding what is happening (or not happening) up there! I’m not a savvy social networking person, but once I am, I’ll be sure to post your information. Thanks for making it available to everyone and for ensuring that the information you provide is credible. See you for class tonight!


  3. annie ellerbusch says:

    Such great articles! and great links! having so much fun – but now I must go to bed, tomorrow is another day (to read and learn!) Thanks Madelyn!!


    • It IS fascinating once you get into it – I’m glad you are clicking around. TONS of great stuff out there – and THEN there are the books. Oh my!

      Good thing there’s new research on long-term damage to memory circuits as a result of chronic/habitual/repeated sleep deprivation or I might NEVER go to bed!


  4. This is a wonderful summary. And crossposting it on my facebook page.


    • Thanks Jean. As you can probably tell from the comments, Peggy Ramundo & I are using this series as part of the “context content” in our 2012 ADD in the Spirit Coach Training. Posting it allows me to share with others in helping professions, who can use the information as background for whatever they are doing.

      We all have brains, after all. Understanding how they work allows us to take advantage of the [relatively recent “discovery”] of neuroplasticity — essentially, working WITH the brain to make conscious changes in how we function, how we feel, and our ability to continue to learn as we age.

      Understanding the brain’s “user’s manual” also allows those doing what YOU do (Conscious Leadership), to understand WHY change is difficult (but not impossible), so that you can do the great work you are doing more easily and effectively, cooperating with the design of the brain – in ways intuited but rarely understood in earlier times. So I’m THRILLED with the crossposting.

      More to come in this series – to illuminate the connections between design and behavior, underscoring the necessity of brain-friendly techniques to take advantage of our potential for cognitive flexibility. Putting it together represents a lot of work over a great deal of time on my part, so I’m REALLY glad when more people learn that it is available. Thanks!


  5. Ann Miller says:

    I so appreciate the time you have taken to distill this to what I consider the Goldilocks amount of information–“just right!” I appreciate the material not being dumbed down and while I can handle a lot of technical brain stuff (and have read a lot of it a long time ago), it is nice to have you point the must-knows. I feel very blessed to have found you and Peggy! Lots of love and appreciation coming your way (written with tears in my eyes for some very odd reason–I’m verklempt!)


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