From Impulsivity to Self-Control

Self-Control increases as the brain develops

(but science isn’t exactly sure HOW)

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

Self-control is a developmental process.

Self Control — none of us are born with it, and very few of us are able to banish acting on impulse completely. A percentage of us struggle to manage our faster-than-a-speeding-bullet emotional responses for our entire lives: those who retain high levels of what is termed impulsivity.

Not surprisingly, some of the most comprehensive understanding of impulsivity comes from the study of children and teens.

Laurence Steinberg of Temple University, the neuroscientist who led the team testifying during the Supreme Court case that abolished the death penalty for juveniles [Roper v. Simmons], is well known for his research that has illuminated some of the underlying causes of reckless behavior in teens and young adults.

He explains impulsivity as an imbalance in the development of two linked brain systems that he describes in the following manner:

  • the incentive processing system, regulating the anticipation and processing of rewards and punishments, as well as the emotional processing of society’s behavioral expectations, and
  • the cognitive control system, orchestrating logical reasoning and impulse regulation – two important skills that make up what is termed our Executive Functions, which depend on neurotypical development of the PreFrontal Cortex [PFC]

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Impulsive by nature

We are all impulsive as youngsters. It seems like practically anything can happen if you turn your attention away from a young child in your charge for even a moment.

Almost any mom or dad could regale you with tales of broken bones, near-misses when a toddler ran into the street, and other behavioral mishaps in the first ten or twelve years of their children’s lives.

As time goes by, young children learn to govern their adventurous natures by what they have been taught are “the rules,” more than an authentic understanding of the benefits of self-control. Depending on their temperaments, they are either eager to please or eager to avoid the consequences of punishment for getting caught breaking the rules.

Gradually, and through different ways and means, most children begin to see the cause-and-effect rationale behind some of those rules, beginning to develop what adults call common sense.

It takes TIME as well as teaching

Without adult supervision, the development of the ability to self-monitor and self-supervise would be severely delayed.

Parenting books galore are filled with information about developmental stages: what kind of behavioral control to expect at what age. Those are composite statistics, however. Individual children develop different skills at different rates, regardless of how attentively they are parented.

Cognitive control develops slowly and steadily as the PFC matures, a process that continues well into the twenties (and into the early thirties in some individuals). Without the development of effective Executive Functions, many of the skills we tend to take for granted will need to be compensated for in other ways.

Related articles:
Executive Functioning Disorders: Not Just Kid Stuff
What ARE Executive Functions


And THEN you have a teenager!

As puberty approaches, the incentive processing system enters what you might think of as a growth spurt.

It changes rapidly, quickly outpacing expected improvements in impulse control, reasoning and consequence prediction, because the steady growth of the PFC (regulating cognitive control) can’t keep pace with the suddenly rapid development of the incentive processing, or “SEEKING” system.

As Steinberg puts it, “the accelerator is activated
before a good braking system is in place”

The ages between 14–17 are a time when disparity between the two systems seems to be the greatest. As a result, teens become relatively more aware of immediate rewards, which generally means a strong preference for rapid feedback, increased sensation seeking, and a frustration with, if not active dislike for, the idea of delayed gratification.

We can see this most clearly in the study and test-taking habits of intelligent teens who under-perform in school, and in teens who fuss when text returns are not immediate.

Scientific research has also indicated that the “Peer Effect” seems to have a positive correlation with teen impulsive behavior, while impulsive adults are less likely to jump from impulse to action under peer observation (without the influence of alcohol, or the effect of what is often referred to as “mob mentality”). This effect appears more moderate in young adults (19–22 years old), although it is still evident.

In other words, the presence of same-sex, same-age friends tend to prompt
an increase in risk-taking behavior until the PFC comes fully on-board.

But WAIT, there’s more . . .

As an excellent article on brain development and learning found HERE puts it, there is a “back story” as well. Jay Giedd, a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health describes it this way:

“The cerebellum, in the back of the brain, is the part of the brain that changes most during the teen years and does not finish growing well into the early 20s. The cerebellum used to be thought to be involved in the coordination of our muscles. So if your cerebellum is working well, you were graceful, a good dancer, a good athlete.

“But we now know it is also involved in coordination of our cognitive processes, our thinking processes. Just like one can be physically clumsy, one can be mentally clumsy. And this ability to smooth out all the different intellectual processes to navigate the complicated social life of the teen and to get through these things smoothly and gracefully instead of lurching seems to be a function of the cerebellum.” [Giedd, PBS Frontline, 2002]

Executive Functioning Dysregulations

We don’t need research to tell us that a high degree of Impulsivity is seen in certain disorders, although it does corroborate our observations.

  • Sheri L. Johnson of the University of California, one of the experts on bipolar disorder, has noted that impulsivity is strongly connected to reward responsivity. She discloses that, compared with controls, the brains of those with BP-II show an elevated, a-typical reward responsiveness.

In other words, her research indicates that there is an increased tendency to respond to positive mood states with rapid changes in behavior — usually seen in sensation-seeking activities and/or rash decisions without little to no consideration of consequences.

It was also noted that, in bipolar individuals, attaining one’s goals tends to trigger manic symptoms, which further increase impulsivity.

  • Among others, Timothy J. Trull of the University of Missouri, examined both impulsivity in people with bipolar disorder and affective instability (mood swings) and impulsivity in borderline personality disorder (BPD), and found a similar brain-based increase in those symptoms. He particularly noted problematic behaviors like an inability to get along with others, to habitual conflict, and a high likelihood of substance abuse.
  • The majority of long-term experts in ADD/ADHD, EFD (Executive Functioning Disorders) and prefrontal cortex dysfunction consider impulsivity among their key symptoms.
  • Individuals who have experienced concussions and brain injuries [TBI/ABI] frequently report that they seem to have lost emotional or physical self-control in one or more arenas, often for the first time in their lives.

It only makes sense when you think about the necessity of balance between the two systems described above.  If one area has not developed in a neurotypical manner, or has been damaged subsequently, the balance is disrupted.

Since the cognitive control system is located primarily in the cortex, the brain’s outer layer, it is most likely to have suffered the most damage.

The PFC, the front portion of the the cortex (right behind the forehead), is not only the area where atypical development is seen in EFD, ADD/ADHD, BP-II, etc., it is also the area most vulnerable to damage.

Kludgy Executive Functioning, unreliable disinhibitory control.

The primary areas of responsibility for the emotional incentive processing system are located more deeply, in the older and primarily unconscious parts of the brain – less likely to have sustained damage.

VOILA – instant teenage-like impulsive behavior!

But-but-BUT . . .

You don’t have to have a formal diagnosis of ANY type to struggle with impulsivity.

None of us seem to be immune from its siren call at certain times and in certain situations. We struggle unsuccessfully with all sorts of bad habits that we sometimes can’t seem to resist, despite effective willpower at other times.

A prior article in my Impulsivity Series offers two lists of behaviors that many of us struggle to contain, to our chagrin, despite the obvious negative effect in our lives.

Click to read: Low-grade Impulsivity Ruins Lives Too.

Looking for help with Self-Control

An internet search for “self control” returns page upon page of articles, some claiming to have found solutions, others explaining why it’s so difficult to develop, and still others imploring us to work on it, since it’s so important, doncha’ know.

Many of them seem to imply that diligence and willingness “to pay the price” are behind their own success with staying the course, along with that of others they profile.

Not so many seem to be interested in really investigating why there seems to be such a wide gap between individuals who are able to develop rather effective self-control and those with life-long struggles with impulsivity.

Surely they can’t believe that ALL of us of us whose lives are less successful than we would like are simply lazy, uninformed, or looking for an excuse or an escape hatch!

Help & understanding are on the way?

Christopher J. Patrick of Florida State University believes that individual differences in arenas like defensive reactivity and inhibitory control can be measured using physiological (body-based) measures, including a close look at what’s going on in the brain.

His research hopes to discover the neurobiological mechanisms of action that correlate with psychological vulnerabilities and the development of trait resilience.

“More specifically,” he says, “my research applies cognitive and affective neuroscience methods to the study of psychopathy, impulse control (“externalizing”) problems, and anxiety and mood (“internalizing”) disorders.”

“My work focuses on understanding these disorders in terms of individual difference characteristics such as inhibitory control and defensive reactivity that are directly linked to neurobiological systems.”

According to his FSU webpage, his recent research has also incorporated behavioral and molecular genetic techniques to look at questions about the causes of impulse disorders and the vulnerability to the traits that accompany them.

He believes (and looks at, through the results of an inventory he has developed) that they are a heritable vulnerability that is expressed in differing ways (e.g., as impulsive aggression, alcohol dependence, or drug problems) depending on other environmental and genetic influences.”

More research is needed, clearly, which may eventually lead to effective treatment options – perhaps even methods of prevention.  Meanwhile we must look to ways of developing work-arounds that will help us get where we want to go despite the tractor-beam of  impulsivity.

Make sure you make some time to check out Peer Coaching Basic Training to find out how to set up a fee-free type of accountability coaching that will shore up your willpower reserves and help you stay on task despite the siren-call of impulsivity.

AND STAY TUNED – Future articles from the Impulsivity articles of The Challenges Inventory™ Series will explore more of the “back-stage and under-the-hood” dynamics, along with ways to manage the various presentations of several types of impulsivity — articles that will help you figure out how to deal with your very own life more effectively.

BY THE WAY, if you will let me know where your struggles with impulsivity lie (in the comments section below), even if I don’t have time to respond to each comment comprehensively, I will make it a point to include suggestions targeted specifically for YOUR challenges with impulsivity in the upcoming series.  

That amounts to free Professional Coaching
if you’ll make the time advantage of it!!

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There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some one-on-one (couples or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series, click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end, or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page. Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

Related articles right here on
(Some repeated – in case you missed them above)

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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!"

25 Responses to From Impulsivity to Self-Control

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  9. Pam Augspurger says:

    I’m gonna jump on a different thread Madelyn, if you will indulge me. I myself continue to be a hot mess! Changes have occurred over time that snowballed into making it more and more difficult for me to have any sort of semblance of EF.

    I’m gonna jump on one of the biggest influences on me that results in a complete lack of self-control. I am the adult poster child for impulsivity! Hand-held technology. I have always been impulsive but now with my phone in hand (iPad too), it’s beyond manageable!. I don’t know if it’s FOMO or just that my impulsive behavior is more out of control than ever. I’m constantly looking at my phone. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m horrible about it when I’m driving! It’s like I truly can’t help myself! I have to answer, read, look at, look up whatever NOW! I keep telling myself it can wait, but I can’t stop. I’m truly like a teenager! And that scares the hell out of me! Yet, I continue to do it while recognizing how impulsive I am.

    As if my life needed more distractions, this technology is affecting me in so many ways. I guess I’m an addict. I think we ADD’ers are just so vulnerable to it because we live in such an instant gratification world now.

    I have moved my business back home, but I still suck at running a business. I have all these great ideas and things I need to do but I can’t get off these stupid devices because I guess I’m so stimulated by the instant information. I can’t get enough. I have completely lost all EF. I don’t know what to do to motivate myself to go to “work.”

    Sometimes, though, when I do get motivated, it’s like I’m on fire! Feast or famine. But as I said, I can’t run a business like that.

    When I lost the structure of working outside the home when my children were young, I suffered but their activities and school kept some semblance of order. Then my husband began working out of town. Then one child went to college, and finally my second child began driving himself to school. My husband continued to work out of town off and on all those years and for the last two years, he lives in another city Monday through Thursday. Thus the hot mess that I am! I have nothing of any structure in my life and I lack the ability to self-impose.

    How does one with impulsive behavior and a lack of motivation in what needs to be done (like conduct business) fix these issues? I was just diagnosed a few years ago thanks to my son’s diagnosis. I don’t have the tools to be productive on a regular basis. I feel like I’m only getting worse!!!

    See? I’m on my iPad at this time of night because it can’t wait until tomorrow! (And of course having DSPS doesn’t help!)

    Madelyn, I have rambled again. Hope it made some sense. I so appreciate all that you share with us!!!



    • Quick COACHING response

      Oh Pam – you have provided the perfect example of the problems that are highly likely happen when most ADD/EFDers put their lives on their devices – and only one of the reason I keep saying put it on PAPER (and why the title of a time management book is Never Check Your Email in the Morning.)

      You have raised a complex issue that I can’t help you resolve in a comment – even as long as my comments tend to be – but I will take it on in an article (or several), so stay tuned.

      I have already written quite a few articles that are in the ballpark – think concepts, not particulars – and don’t discount what you read because it doesn’t apply to your situation EXACTLY (even private coaching doesn’t always do that, though it comes close). I know, reading is not the same as DOING, but it prepares you to do better than what you are doing now.

      I’m rushing to reply, so you may have to read through the remainder of this comment more than once, since I don’t have the time to edit and sequence – but this will get you started.

      Get a notebook and a pen and write down 9 to-dos that you need to handle “today” (tiny things to begin with, that you KNOW you can do relatively quickly and are probably going to do anyway) and leave #10 blank for a moment. Keep this notebook with you INSTEAD of your cellphone – that alone will bring to consciousness what you have been doing, changing the response to the “checking” cue. NOTICE what prompts you to check, btw – and write down the cues. ON PAPER – IN your notebook.

      Check it often and cross things off AS you do them. Write down anything ELSE you do and cross those off as you do them. (See The Backward To-Do List <==link) Hand writing is a psycho-neuro-motor activity that "programs" your subconscious mind for paying attention to what you do vs. tapping keys that primes distracted doing without thinking.

      After you have read this comment, go to your COMPUTER (changing the cue) and read the first article in the following Series. (link below). Write down what you read as item #10, then cross it off. Whenever you feel that old pull to step into cellphone quicksand, make yourself read at least one more article *before* you allow yourself to do whatever it is you do on your phone or iPad (a pattern interrupt).

      START with the Habits, Decisions and Attention series <== link to the first — Linklist to the articles in the Series HERE

      Keep your notebook handy so you can take notes of anything that comes up while you read. It will "close the loop" to have something to review later – whether you actually go back to read what you wrote down or not, you will probably find that it "sticks" better to have written it down.

      HERE’S THE PROBLEM: You have reached the point where you are keeping your phone with you and “checking” it constantly – it’s become an unfortunate HABIT. Pulling back won’t happen immediately – so adjust your expectations or you will default to a “What’s the use?” feeling that will have you right back to doing what you have been doing.

      Keep reminding yourself that you have developed the unfortunate HABIT of using your phone and ipad – and you need to develop a different habit – one that gets you where you want to go. That won’t happen over night, and you will be unsettled while you attempt to change how you respond to cues, but you CAN start immediately and baby step your way through it.

      If you’re like most of us, while reading the above paragraph, you just had the black and white thought in this ballpark, “But I have so much to do, I can’t AFFORD for it to happen slowly!” Breathe. Now, think about how much you are getting done while you are doing what you are doing *now*? EXACTLY! Small improvements are still improvements, right? As long as you keep it up and keep adding small improvements, life gets better. (by the way – did you notice that I took the time to give you another link in the above paragraph? Make sure you READ it!)

      While you’re listing useful articles you need to read, put “The Virtues of Lowering Your Standards: When “Good enough” is Good ENOUGH! near the TOP of your list.

      Other thoughts & suggestions:

      When we know we are impulsive and that using technology is a recipe for hyperfocus, we have to avoid getting started on it to avoid staying on it. Remove the temptations.

      1. Resolve right now to keep your phone plugged in when you are at home. Then, at least, it is tethered, like phones of old. Make yourself go get it every single time you have to use it – and don’t plug it in somewhere convenient. Use it as a PHONE – not an information center (change the cue). In the car, keep your cell in your purse and put your purse in the back seat. Unless somebody you love needs a kidney, whatever it is can wait for a response until you stop the car. Pull over if you must – but make yourself get out of the car to return the call. You need to break the “while driving” habit immediately.

      2. Figure out what you have been using your phone (etc) to DO and change that. How else can you get the job done? Different is better, in this case. (again, work on paper!)

      3. Stop texting. I know – that’s a bear – but texting and IM’s are the biggest distraction in many ADDer’s lives. BEGIN by *only* answering texts during a particular time, tethered to something you already do later in the day. Like dinner (or only when you are on the toilet).

      CALL your friends & family who text you often and throughout the day & tell them the chronic distraction of texting has become a big problem for you and you plan to stop cold turkey. “Please help me by calling, if it’s important, okay? Don’t text, call.”

      DO NOT respond by text if they text you again. CALL them, nicely remind them of your conversation, then ask what they need. Unless it concerns flood, blood, etc., it really is not very considerate of them – and certainly not very nice – to prioritize their own impulsivity over your need to focus, right? Hold that thought when they try to make it out like YOU are the unreasonable one!!

      ALSO: link below is to the first article in the TaskMaster Series. If you will actually DO the work suggested, you will be amazed at the change in your life.

      Hope this helps.


      • Pam Augspurger says:

        Madelyn, you rock! I AM going to work on my bad habits! Sometimes your blogs are eerily relevant at the moment in time for me! After our “discussion” yesterday, I decided to re-visit the use of Vyvanse with my doctor with whom I had a 6 month checkup today. We’ve got my hormones as balanced as they can be for someone in my life stage and most recently we’ve gotten my thyroid under control. Between May and December of last year, it went haywire. (Not surprised. Hypothyroidism runs rampant in my mother’s family.)

        I was as depressed as I’ve ever been last fall and it’s no wonder after seeing the results of my bloodwork in December. I’ve been on synthroid for 6 months and I finally feel as “normal” as I’ve felt in a long time! It took a while but after telling him that my EF is the pits, we decided to give the meds one more try. I will be curious to see if the impending doom/sad feelings show back up now that we seem to have gotten everything levelized!

        Interestingly, I’m a list maker. I have to write it even if I don’t look at it again. But here’s my problem….I end up with lists in about 5 different notebooks or note pads! No kidding! Then I don’t go back to, them so I just start a new list. Will there ever be hope for me? Lol I do a lot of “if-then” scenarios with myself. Then I fail when I try to implement because I can’t stick with it. But you have energized me (along with a great report from the doctor today) to really work on it! You’re the best!

        Funny how over the last few months I have been really conscious of how having a phone with me exacerbates my impulsivity. Your timing is impeccable!

        Thank you for being fabulous!


        • Yea Pam!! I’m never sure how any of my comments are going to land, so I’m absolutely thrilled that you responded with renewed faith in your own abilities. 🙂 Keep getting back on the horse – because you WILL fall off (and sometimes often ::groan::)

          I do the same with lists, btw – even journals (where after the fact notes like “See RED journal for Sept.” aren’t uncommon) ::HUGE ADD grin::

          Brian Tracy actually believes it is a GOOD thing not to look at yesterday’s lists when you make today’s (of course, he is speaking of goals lists, not pragmatic ones). Actually, there ARE benefits to looking at the day’s to-dos with fresh eyes, but not when we spend more time list-making that DOing.


          Whether you are working alone or with a coach, I recommend a 3-ring binder as a “coaching” notebook (no bigger than 2″ rings or it is unwieldy and you will HATE it!). Fill it in advance with tabbed separators, your favorite kind of paper, and a bunch of those top-loaded plastic sheet protector dealies. THEN, when you find other lists, etc., you can slip them in the binder – and you can stick little post-its right on the plastic until you no longer need them. Eventually, you will develop the HABIT of sticking your lists in the binder.

          Get the kind that allows an insert on the front, back and spine. THEN insert the loudest, gaudiest colored paper you can find (heavy wrapping paper is great for this.) That way, it pops out because nothing else in your house looks at all like it. Get one with plastic pockets inside as well (for r-e-a-l-l-y lazy moments) – “file” later.

          LAST thing: use velcro to stick a couple of writing implements to the binder – “for want of a nail” has derailed many a system!

          ONWARD and UPward!

          PS. Crossing my finders that the Vyvanse works!


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  12. noelleg44 says:

    My husband and I are SO familiar with all this – my son, born in 1982, is ADHD,significantly so. Not much was known at the time, and he wasn’t diagnosed until he was seven, after three very tough years in school. He managed well on Ritalin until he was a junior in high school (he also went to a special school for a half day each day, where learning was competitive) when he decided he didn’t want to be on Ritalin any more because of the side effects. He was accepted into college but decided to go career Army and despite the ADHD is doing well – the rules, regs and boundaries of the military is a good fit for him.


    • Congrats on living through your son’s ADHD 🙂 – and for getting him help at a young age. Since learning builds on prior learning, kids who need medication and don’t get it fall behind quickly, and tend to stay there. The statistics are daunting!

      Although their medication rules are stringent, the Army seems to be a great structure for ADD/EFDers. The rules are clear (and the same for all), the exercise is a brilliant assist for self-management, and you get “prizes” for doing well (promotions!).

      I’m not aware of any studies, but I’ll bet that impulsivity helps quite a bit on the rifle range – tho’ I doubt that few impulsives become snipers, due to the “one shot/one kill” patience that is required.

      btw – I’m an AF brat, myself – Army in my lineage, way back to the Civil War.

      Thanks for sharing!


      • noelleg44 says:

        My son is uber careful about any drug he takes, and we were glad he had learned to live without Ritalin before the Army. Funny thing about these kids, or maybe it’s just him? – if he gets on to something he likes and has an interest in, he can focus for hours. We noticed this when we gave him Leggos as a kid. He would spend entire days putting together complicated pieces without using the instructions . As a staff sergeant, he was the sniper for his company in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He talked to his dad about his first kill, which was an emotional event for him. It hasn’t gotten easier for him, but he’s learned to accept his role. The guys with ADD have the ability to see things happening that others don’t – I learned this from going to museums with him – he finds the MOST amazing things that we overlook!


        • When fascinated, practically all ADDers hyperfocus — their attention is captured (like a tractor beam). It can be quite a problem, actually – especially when those around them don’t understand the difference between that situation an an authentic ability to focus at will, sustain focus as needed, and shift focus BACK when distracted (all volitional).

          “See – you can focus when you really want to!” isn’t accurate – and I have heard literally hundreds of ADDers say that they have been ‘beaten up’ with that stick, to the detriment of their self-esteem. Once they understand what’s behind what they experience, they begin to stop thinking of themselves as “lazy, stupid or crazy” (book title)

          Since the executive functioning “filters” aren’t neuro-typical, we do notice more than those with what I call “vanilla” brains attend to (brains without the ADD/EFD ‘mix-ins’) – we can’t help it. It’s part of the reason that distractibility is such a big problem. Only with hyperfocus does most of the rest of the world fade into the background.

          But without parents (or the Army lol) to “call us to dinner,” breaking that tractor beam is a very tough thing to learn to do . It takes the development of a great deal of self-control to realize that it simply must be done, we have to figure out HOW – and make ourselves do it. We never want to.

          Interestingly, children whose minds are medicated are available to learn how to manage as adults MUCH better than those who are not (only part of what’s behind the myth that ADD goes away after puberty). Good habits, developed young, pay lifelong dividends, as long as they weren’t developed at the expense of trashed self-esteem.

          From what little I know of you, it sounds like your son had excellent parenting, and has found something that encourages him to figure out how to drive that brain of his without medication.

          Some ADDers (like me) can only limp along without meds – tho’ Ritilin-like meds (methylphenidate-based) don’t work for me, so I use dex-based medication (Adderal is the best known of those, tho’ not what I take). Other ADDers, however, can manage well without meds once they find a good job-fit, have adequate structure and positive feedback in their lives, and get plenty of exercise. Some need to go back to medication if/when life changes, some don’t . But the goal is to be able to live a successful life, NOT to live without medication, right?

          I’m amazed that he has become his unit’s sniper. Apparently, marksmanship is something that fascinated him and he has excelled. That must be tough for you to embrace – it would be for me – but his ADD will help him notice threats much more quickly than the average bear, so he is likely to be much safer.

          I’m pleased to read that your son talked about his first kill with your husband – and it seems that he is able to continue to do so, since you know that he has somehow found a way to accept what he needs to do as part of a soldier’s job. Post-combat PTSD is much more likely to develop in soldiers who have never processed what they’ve been through.

          I’m also pleased to report that the Armed Services have gotten a lot more savvy about the mental damage that their former “stiff upper lip” attitudes can lead to, and have set up services to help with PTSD.

          Didn’t mean to turn a response into it’s own blog post! 🙂 Let me conclude with a request. Please pass this on to your son: THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!



          • Pam Augspurger says:

            I’m reading lots of things familiar in my life and my 20 year old son’s. (I need the regiment of the military but at 54, that’s not an option! Lol That’s another subject for another thread.) My son would jump from hobby to hobby but by gosh not before he researched each to the nth degree! He just couldn’t stick with one. As he is growing up, he seems to be narrowing his focus. His hyper-focus ability (thanks for the ADD gene, Mom!) is serving him well at the moment as he attempts to choose a career path. Sound strange?

            He’s been attending the local technical college with the hopes of transferring to the university that the entire family attended. We have always told him don’t feel obligated! High school was a struggle enough! He is finally coming to realize that he is more suited for a tech school degree. We are also seeing that he has an innate ability to “fix” things. So how does he do that? He hyper focuses and teaches himself. His impulsivity seems to be waning some as he is discovering this gift he has. And people just really like the kid! He gets job offers when not looking! (Even his high school teachers whom he drove nuts said he’s such a nice young man!)

            He looked into the armed forces, particularly the Coast Guard. Unfortunately, he has asthma so that knocks him out of some opportunities. I’m just happy that he has now said he doesn’t think he wants to go to that college. He’s accepting the fact that he really is better suited for that technical degree. It does my heart good seeing him mature in this way.

            Btw-we tried medication for him. He hated the impending doom feeling so we said no! I knew exactly how he felt having experienced the same side effect. Having myself as a (bad) example is helping me encourage him to deal with the hand he’s dealt inside of fighting it. There’s a place for him and no doubt he will be successful! I wish I knew at his age what I know and understand now! He’s gonna be just fine! Now if we can just “fix” Mom! Lol

            Thank you Madelyn for allowing me to ramble on!

            Pam A

            Liked by 1 person

            • How wonderful to hear from you again, Pam – and not to worry about ‘rambling-on’ (we both seem to have the ‘wordy’ gene lol). I prefer to think of us as COMPLETE communicators. 🙂

              The fact that your son is finding his way is YOUR report card: A+ in parenting!
              Good for you for not should-ing on him about college. And I’m so sorry to hear that both you and your son are not medication-responders. For those of us who can take them, it levels the playing field considerably. Systems and structure are essential for you guys (i.e., putting things on auto-pilot) – but they are so difficult to put in place, and take so darned long to become habitual.

              A LOT of ADD/EFDers find success in the technical fields, btw, where hyperfocus works FOR (instead of against), hours tend to be more flexible as long as you get the work done, dress-codes are more relaxed, etc. A biz-coach colleague of mine (who’s dx’d ADD but not ‘out’ about it publicly) works with folks in Silicon Valley. She has frequently commented that she rarely meets anyone who is NOT ADD in that environment (though not always diagnosed).

              I’m right there with you on the “if only I’d known sooner” comment – I blog hoping to offer coping short-cuts so others don’t have to meander through life attempting to figure everything out on their own.

              HOWEVER, if you figure out how to “fix Mom” you’d better come right back here and share your secrets. I could still use more than a little “fixing” myself. 🙂 REALLY! The sad truth is that the later we are diagnosed, the more we have to “undo.” Life takes a lot of hits pre-dx, and we have a ton of new habits we must develop AS we deal with the carnage.

              When life goes nuts, the systems we’ve put in place tend to go belly-up, and we are [almost] back to go. Over and over and over again. But I doubt I’m telling you anything you don’t already know.

              Thanks for reading, and for taking the time comment.


          • noelleg44 says:

            I will certainly pass that along, thank you! We learned, once he was diagnosed,not to say “you can focus if you want to” since we knew he couldn’t. But oh, the trauma before the diagnosis. I was a horrible parent, pushing or punishing. I fear it traumatized him. I am learning so much from this interaction – thank you!


            • My pleasure – that’s why I blog. (TONS here, btw, should you need or be curious). Start with the articles on the “New to” list for the most informative posts about what’s going on. link==> When You are New to ADD (or this blog, etc) Scroll down to the ADD Overview Series.

              I’m sure you weren’t “horrible” ‘tho – love heals a lot of wounds, and I think all the best parents wish they could have do-overs. You did keep at it until you discovered what what “wrong” (i.e. different) – and got him to a good doctor, allowed him to try medication, and sent him to a school where he could get the additional help he needed.

              BTW- for those fortunate in having the experience, the ADDers I’ve coached and met at seminars ALL say that having a parent apologize for what they didn’t know made the single biggest difference in their lives (even well into adulthood).

              ADDers are unusually forgiving, when given the chance – and everybody wins.



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