Parenting The ADHD or ADD Child - With Merriam Saunders LMFT [Podcast]



All about parenting the ADD or ADHD child


In this episode you will learn:


  • Simple ways to improve behavior
  • The three types of Attention deficit disorder
  • The benefits of mind-body exercise for the Attention deficit child
  • College and ADD / ADHD
  • The best therapy for ADD / ADHD
  • Is a diagnosis important?
  • Why elementary school is not about grades
  • Emotional trauma and ADD / ADHD
  • Why entrepreneurs with ADD can be highly successful
  • How to motivate a child with inattentive ADD
  • How routine helps
  • And much more...










Subscribe on Stitcher


Subscribe on Itunes


Subscribe on Google Podcasts


Subscribe on Spotify





To contact Merriam go to:

For the podcast special on the Learning Success System go to




Phil: 00:00:00 Hello everyone and welcome to the learning success podcast. And today we have Merriam Saunders with us. Let me tell you a little bit about Merriam. Merriam is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She is has specialized training in adhd and autism, just specialized training in coaching for adhd. She is an adjunct professor in the counseling psychology graduate program at the Dominican University. She is a certified mediator and has worked for Marin County Office of education as a special education mediator. She's a panelist for Marin County family court's case, settlement conferences and she is a published children's book author with a book titled My whirling Twirling Motor and I believe when coming out called my wandering dreaming mind. , she uses mindfulness training, cognitive behavioral interventions, communication and behavioral modification training to positively help empower clients to uncover their strengths and solve their greatest struggles. She is a mom of three teens two with ADHD and one with auditory processing disorder and anxiety. Hello Miriam.

Merriam:  00:01:10  Hi. Thank you so much for having me. I'm really happy to be here today.

Phil:  00:01:14  Welcome. We're really glad to have you. So can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your practice to start off with?

Merriam:  00:01:21  Yeah, sure. I mean, as you mentioned, I'm a marriage and family therapist and I work almost exclusively with parents that have children with Adhd or autism. and I came about specializing in those two things in particular because I have children who struggle with those issues myself. So it seemed like a natural progression. Absolutely. Yeah. So I have worked with children directly in the past. at this stage though, I'm focusing more on working directly with parents because I feel that that's really where we see the most impact.

Phil:  00:02:01  Yeah, I can absolutely agree with that. I think that parent reactions to it and their emotions have such a so much to do with it. So that actually leads us right into one of the first questions in your book. the, was it, am I correct in saying that the first book is obviously out, my whirling twirling motor and is the second book out or is that, is that coming out?

Merriam:  00:02:26  No, second book is not out yet. It will be out within the year. The illustrator is, working on the drawings as we speak, I believe.

Phil:  00:02:35  Okay. Fantastic. That'll be exciting. Good. So you talk about the wonderful list and this is something we actually do we call it catching in the act, but can you explain what the wonderful list it is, what it is and how it's helpful for guiding behavior?

Merriam:  00:02:54  Yeah, so I can speak of the story because this is one of the first interventions that I, ask my clients to do when they come to meet with me. because children with ADHD specifically, and most frequently children with the hyperactive presentation of Adhd usually spend their days being told everything that they've done wrong, which over time has a drastic impact on a child's self esteem. Because Adhd is an impulse control disorder. If they have the hyperactive kind. Oftentimes these children find themselves behaving in ways that they weren't even able to control and happens before they, you know, even knew that they had done what they did. So to be told that you're constantly doing something wrong when it's outside of your control is really detrimental to your self esteem. And so I have parents write what we call a wonderful list, which is, you know, grab a notebook or use your iPhone and try to catch your kids doing something right.

Merriam:  00:04:09  And we find that they do things right all day. They might not be spectacular. They're not, you know, solving world peace or anything, but they're picking up their socks or their bringing up plate, you know, from the table to the sink without being told, little, little tiny things that they do. Right. And not only does it help then to read that list to them at the end of the day, but it also helps to reframe the way we look at our children as parents because when we're so focused on the negative, it doesn't feel good. It's not joyful parenting.

Phil:  00:04:48  Framing is really everything. And of course, the quote what we focus on grows, right? Yeah. We used to use, I was 20 years as a Kung Fu instructor. And so we would have a real big mix of children with Adhd. E arly on in my career we had a elementary school teacher, not teacher, a principal who has brought his daughter in and what we did. And then he sent us, I think every ADHD kid in his entire school to our classes. And along that he sent us his dyslexics in his dyscalculics and his dysgraphics and everything. So, we had quite a quite a testing ground and figuring things out. But one of the things we would do is use the wonderful list theory. And at the same time a lot for a kid with learned helplessness.

Phil:  00:05:42  And that comes up a lot. And we could use a kid who might be the class clown on one hand who was trying to get attention and the one with learned helplessness who was trying to just be absorbed into the background and not noticed. And we would try it. And we were conscious of just look and look and look for, for the tiniest thing from the kid with learned helplessness to get their behavior change to where they would try hard. Because they wouldn't try it all. And then at the same time we were ignoring the kid who was acting out. And so we've then finally when we could compliment the one with the learned helplessness and do that over and over until we, and you just have to find the tiniest thing and they almost didn't believe that they did something right. You know?

Phil:  00:06:29  and so we could control the whole class, and bring them by that methodology. So I really love what you do and then we would, of course we were teaching the parents how to do the same. So that also brings into the concept of, of what something else we would do called what I'm good at and the idea that that self confidence and self esteem are transferable from one activity to another. And this comes up in Amy Cuddy's book. She talks about having a list of things that a child is good at and then if they come into something that they're not good at, then talking, then going through that list of, of what they're good at to raise confidence. Can you speak about that and raising confidence.

Merriam:  00:07:18  Yeah, absolutely. I think that if you, even as an as adults, right, if you can achieve mastery or a sense of agency in one area, it's such an empowering feeling to, to know that, okay, I could do that. It's probably now I have this positive experience that I can transfer to something else. I know what it takes. I know that it's not just going to call them automatically. I have to work hard at it, I have to practice and then eventually I can achieve this thing. so yeah, if they, if you have a child who's never experienced or told that they, you know, either in the learned helplessness child have a sense of agency or in the child is always acting out and being told what they're doing wrong, that they actually do things right, then how can they transfer that across and generalize it to other parts of their life?

Phil:  00:08:14  Right. Right. And you use the word mastery. I'm a big believer in that and mastering anything just to, to learn the process and then that gives you the confidence that you can master something else.

Merriam:  00:08:25  Right. And it doesn't, when we speak of mastery, it doesn't have to be like, oh, you know, I've become a black belt orI've acheived this great, great thing. It really is just mastering a certain behavior. It could be mastering, brushing your teeth correctly, or, you know, a bedtime routine or it doesn't have to be this huge impossible task.

Phil:  00:08:47  Right. Right. And actually a question that I have later, I'll just go ahead and jump to that. Is that, the idea, so you'd mentioned, you know, dopamine and that children with Adhd are maybe lacking dopamine. And so we use the concept of Kaizen, so which means just breaking things down into tiny things. And so that every time that you master that tiny task, you're getting that little spurt of dopamine. Can you speak about that, about how small those, that mastery and, is that a technique you would use to build confidence? Okay.

Merriam:  00:09:26  No, yeah, absolutely. All ties together from the sense of mastery and something like the wonderful list and getting these kinds of praise because dopamine is what stimulates the area of the brain called the prefrontal Cortex, which is where the higher level thinking takes place. it's where you organize and plan and remember things. It controls your sense of time and inhibition control. And if you don't have enough gas powering that part of your motor, it's not going to work properly. Right. It's just so studies have shown brains, we've done brain scans in children with Adhd, particularly that shows a, that that part of the brain is actually, on average three years behind in development. And that is also not getting as much dopamine into it. So it's just not getting stimulated enough. So when you add something like praise, which increases dopamine because dopamine is the pleasure neurotransmitter, if you will. It's the one th at gets created when we are happy, or when we are experiencing something we love or if someone's praising us. So if you get praise or you have that sense of ac complishment and it creates joy that will create dopamine which will then allow the prefrontal cortex to achieve even at a higher level.

Phil:  00:10:55  Right, right. Yeah. And I've, I've read a study where that Aha moment of learning is a dopamine being excreted. But it doesn't matter the size of the learning. It doesn't matter the size of the win.

Merriam:  00:11:13  Right, right. Exactly. To your earlier point, right, even the smallest, the smallest sense of achievement of, you know, I did one more problem on the worksheet than I did yesterday. Can give that little dopamine hit.

Phil:  00:11:28  So, tell me about, I've also heard you use the phrase "to fill via self esteem bucket". Quoting you on that so is tell me about self confidence and self esteem as I kinda feel bad as a prerequisite for being a good learner. do, how do you think self confidence and self esteem, it affects just the, the way the brain functions as being a good learner?

Merriam:  00:11:58  Right. I think if you have been told over and over again that you do things wrong and that you just had your own personal experiences, that you struggle at something and you just can't seem to get it done as easily as you know, Johnny who sits next to you in that class than you. It's almost like a self fulfilling prophecy that you start to believe that yourself, well, I'm just no good at this and if I believe I'm no good at this, then what's the point in trying, because I'm not really ever going to accomplish in any way, whether it's learning to play soccer or learning your multiplication table.

Phil:  00:12:36  Sure. So, of course now if they want to avoid that would that lead into, some negative behaviors where they use that.

Merriam:  00:12:47  Yeah. Yeah. Usually, especially in the sense of in the case of hyperactive Adhd is that they tend to be more noticeable inattentive Adhd, you know, it's quiet in the back of the classroom, often goes undiagnosed for awhile. With the hyperactive children, they're the quote unquote troublemakers. They're the ones who are constantly being told, don't touch that, quiet down. It's not talking time. Don't talk out of turn. and they're not finishing their work. They're forgetting it at home. and so they, if they reached the point where they feel like, well, I'm no good at this anyway, no matter how hard I try, I'm still doing it wrong. So what's the point? Then, that's who they feel they are and they will probably, you know, start to elevate those behaviors because that's who they are. Right? That's who everybody thinks I am. I can get a laugh at least if maybe if I goof around. So maybe I'll try that approach, get the dopamine hit off the laughter from my classmates, even though I know it's going to get me in trouble.

Phil:  00:13:57  That makes perfect sense. Right. All right, so the the inattentive ADHD child would be more the wallflower.?

Merriam:  00:14:10  Yes. Yeah, absolutely. They don't have the hyperactive piece or they don't have, the impulse control piece. So they tend not to be children that act out. They are the children that will, seem to be daydreaming in class, will forget things at home a lot or forget where they put things. But because they're not acting out, they're not troublemakers. They often don't get, you know, they're not the squeaky wheel. So they often don't get the grease until, you know, grades really start deteriorating. Maybe this is the trial that's not learning to read as quickly or you know, doesn't turn homework in all the time. And so grades start getting impacted.

Phil:  00:14:59  Yes. So that's when it gets noticed it, there's no other real common indicators that people would notice?

Merriam:  00:15:06  No, because there aren't typically the behavior issues. Right. So, you know, and there isn't really homework. Well, there shouldn't be anyway in kindergarten, first grade, second grade when we are to, expect higher reasoning when you start to read, to learn instead of learning to read in third grade. you know, that might be when, oh, what's going on with this child? Starts to become a little more noticeable. Percentage wise also ADHD. Inattentive type tends to be diagnosed more in girls, of course, it's not exclusive.

Phil:  00:15:44  So actually that leads me something. I just recently we have an online, dyslexia screener and I took the data from that screener and just did a really deep dive into that data. I found quite a few interesting things, but one of the interesting things that just was really baffling to me was that I found that these are parents taking the screener for the child and, just filling in. And I found that the boys that the screener is being taken for the median age. That was between five and seven. Maybe five and five and eight. The girls was between 14 and 16. Wow. These are girls that are having problems in reading. So whether its dyslexia or possibly the innatentive adhd, I don't know if there's a relationship here. but that just really, that stands out to me that this inattentive ADHD would not get noticed.

Merriam:  00:16:48  Yeah, that's interesting. I mean, I, I'm not all that surprised. I think because girls have a tendency to be, you know, I hate to stereotype across the board, but, right. It's just frequently girls might have a tendency to be more people pleasers , and we'll just push through and try to go unnoticed and just do what they have to do. And there could be a correlation.

Phil:  00:17:13  Y eah. Yeah. That's , I mean, everybody I've spoken to has had the same thing that girls typically have a higher on the agreeableness scale. And so therefore would go and then, you know, they, they use, I've, I've had girls in my class then the way they'll avoid things is being cute, you know, and, and it works. It worked, you know, and so, they can divert your attention from, from problems in a way that, their, they can be pretty skilled at it actually. Yeah. So, it's amazing that the coping factors that are developed, right? Right. And so if a child is really, really struggling and then they're starting to either show extreme lack of self confidence or self self esteem or a lot of negative behaviors, should a parent back off of the academics at that point and until something is resolved, I see a lot of kids that just get pushed harder into more academics when that may not when that may be causing some more problems.

Merriam:  00:18:21  Yeah, I am a big proponent in the parental backing off, especially when the children are in elementary school and even up to eighth grade provided your you're not trying to get your child into our private school because no one is ever going to see those grades. The grades don't matter at all. But what really does matter is that your child isn't learning how to learn, has a joy for learning and feels is that learning is something they can accomplish. And if you are, you know, having to sit down with your child and strong arm them into getting their homework done, then wouldn't it be better to figure out what's the underlying issue here? How can we tackle that? Give the child the support they need so that they will have the possibility of being more successful later in their academic career. continuing to ask of them what's asked of a neurotypical learner or a learner without a learning disability. as if there's, you know, they have no struggle is just frustrating for them. And who would want to continue doing that? I wouldn't, I would shut down.

Phil:  00:19:35  Sure, sure.

Merriam:  00:19:37  The other piece that's important to remember too, especially early on, is that if, if you at home or having to help your child that much where you have to sit next to them and essentially, you know, do their homework for or with them to the degree that they can do it independently, then you're robbing the school, of the opportunity to understand what's going on with this child because all the teachers sees is , something unusual is happening in my class, but gosh, this child manages is to get their homework done perfectly well and all the answers are correct. And that parent gets upset because the school won't give them the help that they feel they need. So I often will consult with parents and say, I know this is going to be difficult, but you need to let your child fail right now.

Phil:  00:20:25  I, I can see now why you, you counsel the parents that's making a lot of sense. Yep. What are the symptoms of Adhd?

Merriam:  00:20:39  Well, there are 18 different symptoms, so we can list them all. But I'm sure, you know, as we mentioned before there are actually different types. There's hyperactive and attentive and combined type and you just need a minimum of six in order to to meet the criteria for the diagnosis. it does have to be diagnosed before the age of 12 or the symptoms that we, I'm sorry, it doesn't have to be diagnosed with the symptoms need to have appeared before the age of 12.

Phil:  00:21:06  Why is that?

Merriam:  00:21:08  Well I guess you'd have to ask the, the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual that we use, but they determined it used to be earlier and it used to be seven and in the latest revision of the manual, they, they increased it to 12, which would capture a lot more children that might have that and you can diagnose it as an adult. absolutely. If that adult adult can reference recalling having had those symptoms before the age of 12 and the other, the other thing is that this, a level of impairment has to occur in two different settings. So if you have a child who's an angel in school and, and just, you know, awful at home, that child does not have ADHD because it's not something that can be controlled so they can control and in one setting and not the other, then that's not what's going on.

Phil:  00:22:12  A nd what should a parent do if they suspect that the child has Adhd?

Merriam:  00:22:18  The first thing to do is to visit your pediatrician? Because a lot of different physiological things can mimic ADHD and it's really important tool those things out before just jumping to the conclusion that your child has ADHD and some of those things are things like a sleep disorder. You might not even know that your child has sleep apnea. food allergies, depression, anxiety, experiencing a level of trauma. so they're, you know, there are other things that could be going on and it's important to really understand if you rule everything out, your pediatrician will likely give you a screening tool, which is a questionnaire that a parent and a teacher will fill out. and if you meet, you know, you check off enough boxes, the pediatrician can give that diagnosis. At that point you have a couple of different options.

Merriam:  00:23:16  One, if there's a level of impairment happening at school where learning is being impacted, you can ask the school to do an evaluation. And if you have the means you can get a licensed psychologist to do a neuropsychological evaluation, which I highly recommend. If that's something that you can do. It breaks all of the processes down. And so that even if you get the diagnosis of Adhd, this gives you a much better picture of really what's happening behind that diagnosis. Is it an auditory processing problem, a visual processing problem? Is it a working memory issue? it's just a lot more information.

Phil:  00:23:58  So any, any of those can be the underlying cause?

Merriam:  00:24:03  Well, the underlying cause, you know, we don't really know. We know that it's partially that there's a very high genetic factor, but it can also be a function of environment, not parenting environment. I don't mean that, but I mean, you know, it could be something that happened at birth that, that causes the symptoms. but know what I mean? Is that the Adhd, even though it's not called a spectrum disorder, because there are 18 different symptoms and you can have any combination of them, it's going to present differently for everyone. And one child might have really, really awful working memory. Another child might have terrible auditory processing and those might be the underlying, what's, what's feeding the behavior or feeding the symptoms that are most obvious?

Phil:  00:24:57  I see. So it sounds like with it, with those symptoms and then this could be really highly comorbid with like dyslexia or dyscalculia or any of those things. Is that correct?

Merriam:  00:25:06  Yeah, adhyd can be comorbid with a whole host of things including autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, but also, yes, very highly correlated with a learning disability.

Phil:  00:25:21  So would they always have a learning disorder?

Merriam:  00:25:24  No, no, they don't always have a learning disability. So you might have a child with hyperactive ADHD. That's a whippersnapper in school, you know, who learns to read really quickly, great at math. their main problem is they just don't pay attention. And so they missed the material because they're not listening, but it's not a processing issue. It's, you know, it's not, there's nothing technically happening that's impeding their ability to learn to read, for example. And so that child would not qualify for special education under, under a specific learning disability. They would qualify if they did under other health impaired.

Phil:  00:26:06  Okay. So I hear that type of child, you hear their parents sometimes say my child is just bored in school. And that's why they acted as that kind of that child that you're describing that

Merriam:  00:26:18  Well, yeah. I mean that child isn't getting dopamine to the prefrontal cortex. That dopamine allows someone to pay attention when the material is boring to them. And so yes, that technically they might just be bored in school, whereas, you know, the kid who sits next to him is also bored but still can push through and pay attention.

Phil:  00:26:44  Okay. Okay. So what, what type of therapy is best for a child with Adhd?

Merriam:  00:26:51  Well, the CDC recommends, for young children in particular, the first line therapy is parent behavior training. because parents are with the child most and young children don't really have the cognitive ability to access therapy, remember what they're supposed to do and you know, and really generalize an hour of therapy a week into their life, especially when they're experiencing a disorder that impacts inhibition control. Sure. then I, you know, beyond that, there's the most research of course has been done on medication. Medication is a highly, highly personal choice and one that should be just thoroughly discussed with your pediatrician or a psychiatrist because everyone feels differently about it. But you know, the general first line protocol would be a combination of behavior therapy and medication. That's what they've found to be most impactful. Okay. There have been a lot of studies done on things like martial arts and that actually has been shown to help. Yoga has been shown to help. A mindfulness practice. Things we don't have a lot of evidence on are, you know, but, but that you'll hear a lot about our, food dyes, having, having been big impact. and you know, we just don't, we don't have a lot of, studies to show that that's actually having that kind of an impact.

Phil:  00:28:35  That's almost one of those things. It's seems accepted to be true.

Merriam:  00:28:40  No. If you're a child who reacts to a food dye and you will swear up and down that that's what's going on and it might be for your particular child, but across the board they haven't been able to do a study that really shows that that's what you know, has an impact on all ADHD behaviors.

Phil:  00:28:58  Interesting. What is parental behavior training?

Merriam:  00:29:02  Well, it's very, very specific to, you know, that particular family. because there are a lot of factors involved in what they might need, including, you know, does this child have a comorbid learning disorder or depression and anxiety? Are there siblings in the household? Are they younger or older? has the child been diagnosed and for how long has the child aware of their diagnosis? Things like that. And then beyond that, you know, what are the particular behaviors that are causing the most impairment, not only in school but also with the family dynamics. and then we just start to attack those one by one. And the first thing we look at is, is how is the parent reacting to those behaviors? Because nine times out of 10, the reaction is one that you might give to a neurotypical child that ought to quote unquote know better.

Merriam:  00:30:06  And it's just not a helpful reaction for a child with an impulse control disorder because they didn't really, they couldn't control what they did, asking them to not do it again or punish them because of something they did generally just won't have an impact. And so the parent and child line of getting more and more and more frustrated.

Phil:  00:30:28  Is this a form of therapy or more education?

Merriam:  00:30:33  I really like to call it more a training. Therapy is working more on your emotional side. And, and this really is more specific to, okay, let's problem solve. Let's, let's look at what are you doing and how can you do it differently to get a different outcome?

Phil:  00:30:57  Finding what works. Why would it not work?

Merriam:  00:31:07  You know, unfortunately, parenting a child with Adhd in particular is exhausting. It takes a lot of forethought, a lot of what I call preventative parenting. you're, you're having to be two steps out of your child and really thinking about, okay, we're going to have a barbecue on Sunday. It's, you know, 1:30 does my, you know, my child might be really tired because that's when they nap. Or at my child might be really hungry and hate the food at the barbecue. Like just really, really thinking ahead or maybe even deciding barbecues to start in our future at the moment. A lot of parents are in a state of denial. They don't want their lives to be impacted like that. They want to go to that barbecue and they, they want their child to just do what they're told. So they will fight the fact that actually they're the ones that have to change first and change is difficult. You know, you're often, this isn't the road that they thought they would be on. It's not what they signed up for. there are a lot of parents that, you know, just really wished somebody could work with their child and change their child. and yeah, and it just, unfortunately, it's not that easy.

Phil:  00:32:45  Yeah. When we, when we shut down, we ran our country school for 20 years and it was really hard, we hated to shut it down. We had to. And a few parents came to us and said, "who will discipline my child now?"

Merriam:  00:33:00  Yeah.

Phil:  00:33:02  I really, I just like, we had no answer. We didn't know what to do, so I would have given him your number.

Merriam:  00:33:12  Oh Gosh. Yeah, no, it's, I've been there. You know, I had, I have two of my three have ADHD and I remember those years and they were not easy or fun. It's really hard. And you know, most people who don't have kids with issues don't understand how hard it is either. Parents will frequently have a sense of some kind of parenting failure, you know, like if I had only done something differently or be different, or shame, you know, I can't bring my kid to a barbecue because he's probably gonna have a meltdown, crawl under the table. and, and there's a lot of judgment by, you know, people who don't understand, why can't you, why can't your child behave, you know why it's, Gosh.

Phil:  00:34:05  Yes. So you mentioned several emotions. Are there like stages of those emotions that they will go through?

Merriam:  00:34:10  Absolutely

Merriam:  00:34:12  It's something very similar to the stages of grief because in fact what they're grieving is the parenting experience they thought they were going to have.

Phil:  00:34:21  Right. That's exactly where I was going. Yeah. Right. Yeah.

Merriam:  00:34:24  Yeah. So you know, there's denial and anger and yeah. You know, and sadness and, and everything that you might feel when you're grieving something.

Phil:  00:34:34  Alright, so the parents may need therapy at that point right?

Merriam:  00:34:40  Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, just because you might be getting parent behavior training so that you can help your child doesn't mean that you shouldn't think about getting some just straight on therapy for yourself as well. Because those are some really big feelings. And then people will feel guilt because they feel that way. Right? It's like I'm supposed to just unconditionally love my child. I have a lot of parents that when I give them permission or I voice in the room that it's possible you might not like your child, then, you know, they'll just erupt sobbing because it's true. And they've held that in and it's embarrassing and they feel terrible. But it's true. They love their child, but they don't always like their child.

Phil:  00:35:29  Yes, yes. Very understanding. Wow. Okay. So I've got a couple of questions here. Who is, let me put these in context there from a friend of mine who has a child who is, I think he's probably 20, 21, inattentive ADHD, very late diagnosed. I'm not sure when, but maybe just recently, went off to college. It didn't go so well and he's now dropped out. and so these are our questions from, from her and she says, what are some practical ways for individuals with inattentive Adhd, inattentive add to motivate themselves and deal with a changing their entrenched behaviors after diagnosis? So this is an older child, okay.

Merriam:  00:36:19  There are two things to, well, more than two things to consider, but you know, because of the late diagnosis this now adult would have a lot of self esteem issues, right. That they've been struggling for years and years and years with no understanding of why, why can't I do what seems to come so easily to everybody else? And, they've been, you know, just continually labeled as forgetful. You're not trying hard enough. and, and they haven't had the benefit of any type of training to understand, well, sure, this doesn't come easily to me, but these are the five things I need to do in order to succeed. I need to use my agenda or my iPhone in a totally different way than anyone else. I need to set reminders. I need to put my keys in the same place all the time.

Merriam:  00:37:10  You know, just little tips and tricks. They don't have those. the second thing to consider is in order for someone with Adhd to really achieve like a greater success, the best path for them is one where they're passionate because that passion will create dopamine, which will always help their prefrontal cortex. So if you love to dance, but you are a finance and accounting major because your parents think that that's, you know, gonna be a better breadwinner. you're not likely going to succeed in that and you probably will drop out and then you won't learn anything. Yeah. So, really drilling down and understanding what are this person's interests and is there a way for them to go down that path instead of this well, I've got to go to college and I've got to study, you know, psychology because that's what everyone, that's what I'm expected to study.

Merriam:  00:38:16  Then if, if you can garner a level of excitement for whatever that path is, I would highly recommend if someone has the financial wherewithal to hire a coa ch, an ADHD adult coach. An ADHD coach, it's not a once a week session. It doesn't work. This person usually will be more of a daily, like 15 minute check in or sometimes even at text kind of relationship. But that person with ADHD needs, what we call a scaffold they need, until they learn those skills. We talked about it in point number one. They need someone on the outside kind of doing those skills for them and reminding them of those skills constantly and really reinforcing that behavior until they can leave the bit the bird's nest on their own.

Phil:  00:39:13  Right. Okay. So it's a behavioral training, so yeah. That's fantastic. Okay. So second question she asks is, "Practically speaking such a low percentage of those with Add and Adhd are able to finish a traditional college education. So is it practical for them to even embark on it?"

Merriam:  00:39:37  Well, yeah, I'm not sure that I would agree with the low percentage. It's a shame. It really is a question of, you know, are they in school for something they're interested in? A lot of children with Adhd will absolutely thrive in college because this is the first time they can choose their classes. They're not stuck in all just for, you know, a dreary eight hours being, being taught things they're not interested in. So the question really is, are they able to major in something that lights their fire and, and if not, then you know, maybe it's okay to look at something else. This person would rather be a masseusse or you know, a barber or, you know, something that just really interests them.

Phil:  00:40:25  Right. Yeah. Okay. Very good. I do hear in the the entrepreneurial world, a lot of, entrepreneurs, successful entrepreneurs claiming that their ADHD is the source of their success in a way.

Merriam:  00:40:40  Well, yeah. The thing about people with Adhd and autism also is their ability to hyperfocus yes. When and when they're interested in something, then they can just lock onto that and do it for hours on end. And so a lot of parents will say, my child can have attention deficit disorder. You know, he or she can sit at a lego table for hours on end or play video games for hours on end. There's no attention deficit there at all, but they're just misunderstanding that it's the attention required when something is boring. That's where the deficit is.

Phil:  00:41:20  Okay. So if they have a passion, then they'll have incredible attention.

Merriam:  00:41:24  Yeah.

Phil:  00:41:26  That answers a lot of questions about some of my students. Okay. Huh. Okay. So, then, as an adult diagnosed or what's the best way to overcome, the emotional trauma from not having a diagnosis until adulthood?

Merriam:  00:41:43  Well, I would send you to a therapist for that one because it's emotional trauma. Its usually best dealt with in the hands of somebody who knows what they're doing. and you know, there really is a certain amount of emotional trauma, although we use the word trauma like very lightly these days. but you know, to a degree you've had a lifetime of thinking that you're a failure when that's really not the case at all. You know, it's just a question of your brain functioning differently from other people's. I often like to use the analogy that everyone around you just seems to know how to naturally speak Chinese and you are being asked to speak Chinese and no one's bothering to teach it to you. And they're getting increasingly frustrated with you that you're not speaking it and you start to feel like, well, I should be able to speak it. Everyone else can. Yeah. so as an adult you've had years and years and years of that feeling. so I would say I go to a therapist to deal with the emotions, but find an ADHD coach, somebody who can really look at, well, you know, what is your particular struggle? Is it time management? or is it forgetfulness? And there are so many tips and tricks that you can work on. And if a coach is too expensive, there's so many books as well. There's a lot of help.

Phil:  00:43:14  Let's jump to, you touched before on sensory input and again, can you mention what role do you think sensory input plays in Adhd or just the ability to focus?

Merriam:  00:43:27  So sensory input is going to be one of those things that some children with Adhd have and others might not. and so, you know, if you have a child who absolutely hates certain noises or, sights, or textures, the feel of some types of food in their mouth, then, you know, those aren't children that are just being difficult. Those are children that have sensory issues and they're very, very real to those children. Those sensory issues can make you feel like you want to crawl out of your own skin and you can't get away. So they're not going to impact every child, but some, some children will have them and it's, you know, it absolutely can be something else that just gets in the way of learning. If you're bothered by your underwear tag, how are you supposed to pay attention in school all day? And this is something that's just making, you know, want to get out of your body.

Phil:  00:44:32  Right, right. How about balance as a sensory input?

Merriam:  00:44:35  Again, I do know that there are some children that have balance issues, are have fine motor problems or gross motor problems. You know, it's not, it's definitely not across the board. There have been some, you're probably familiar with, some treatment facilities that open up that work on those kinds of balancing issues. Yeah. I'm not aware of any particular studies that show that, that, that will be any kind of a cure all, but there are a lot of parents that feel for their children with balance issues that it's very helpful.

Phil:  00:45:10  Right. I know as a, as a martial artist, one of the tricks that we do, as a fighting trick is that we learned to absolutely control another person's balance and it actually shuts off their brain. They can't do anything because you've gone into a system one brain function, you know, and there's, there's so much cognitive processing needed to maintain balance. And so on the other side of that. We develop our own balance and I've seen a lot of kids with different learning disabilities just by developing balance and learning proprioception seems to have a pretty big effect. I know that there's one researcher who talks about vestibular input as a cause for like dyslexia and things. I, I don't know that that's 100% true, but I think that there's some, some lines of thought there.

Merriam:  00:46:03  Yeah. And, in addition to martial arts, I personally, my daughter was a horseback rider, my daughter with Adhd and you know, similar, it's a similar type of balancing side to side, on the body, you know, so there are a lot of people that also believe that something like that can be super helpful. So again, yeah, if that's something that is challenging for your child, we, we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of our understanding between, you know, what we do with our bodies and how that impacts are the areas of our brain.

Phil:  00:46:43  That was actually somewhere I was going to go with that with her. Because I noticed you have a horse on your website.

Merriam:  00:46:48  Oh yeah, yes. Yeah.

Phil:  00:46:49  Okay. So, so in, in martial arts of the, our primary stance is called the horse stance or horse riding stance. And it feels exactly like riding a horse. I grew up riding horses, western style. Okay. No clue if it's when it comes to English. But I did ride western style every day, of my life from age like seven on. So, the feeling of the stance in martial arts is exactly the same in our martial art. We're pushing the heels out or pushing the heels down. and of course you're posting, you know, there's a huge crossover. So on your website you did mention different types of mind body exercises and I was going to mention that I would actually consider horseback riding one of those.

Merriam:  00:47:35  Yeah!

Phil:  00:47:39  So going back to balance, most people consider, you know, the vestibular input as as your primary source of balance and maybe a secondary, the secondary source as your vision, your sense of the horizon. And I would argue that the fear feeling in your feet, actually should be your primary source of balance. And, of course that's what horseback is going to train. Horseback riding is going to train that and, and really develop that. And since I, you know, I think that that if there is a little bit of balance off that it can so quickly override the brain and lose attention that maybe there's something to look at there. Maybe you were inadvertently helping your daughter out by the horseback riding.

Merriam:  00:48:27  Right, right. I know it was, we lucked out with that one. we tried martial arts with her. She didn't,

Phil:  00:48:36  Yeah. That, that's a deep subject. There are a lot of different martial arts out there and, and, I don't see all of them as having the same benefits as, as that. So, it's that the very unfortunate thing is martial arts has become a sport in the United States and it's not a sport, it's a discipline and that changes just everything in the way it's taught. So anyway, so tell me about mind, body in general and how that plays a role in focus and learning.

Merriam:  00:49:07  Well, you know, back to your point about balancing, you know, whether, strengthening a person's ability to balance is what ultimately overcomes their learning issue or not.

Phil:  00:49:23  I think it's one component. I wasn't trying to claim that it was everything,

Merriam:  00:49:27  yeah, no, no, I mean it, I am saying it could, we just don't, you know, I don't really know. But when I do know is that the type of training, that type of, you know, whether it's a martial art or Yoga, Or, horseback riding, those, allow these children an opportunity to really feel their body in space when they might not otherwise even be thinking about it. oh, a lot of these children do have visual spatial processing issues and yes, a lot of difficulty controlling their bodies. You know, my, my oldest daughter would sometimes fall down from simple standing position just out of nowhere. You know, we wonder how on earth you would do that. and, and so it rings on mindfulness to sense it sensations in their own body and an awareness of like, oh, well when my tummy starts to feel this way, that that means I'm about to get really nervous. Or when my neck feels this way, it means I'm, I'm probably going to get mad. and well, it's so difficult for young children in particular to control their impulses. having that greater sense of the body anyway, at least starts to move them in that direction.

Phil:  00:50:53  Yeah. We've seen a lot of progress with, with proprioception, and you know, my wife and I have taught martial arts for 20 years and not just a normal Martial arts school, one that was completely full of kids with autism and Adhd and, and everything that we could actually look at a person's body motion, the way they move the body when they learned. And I mean, we weren't diagnosing, but we were dead on when we said, hey, this one's got this and this one's got that. and I think I mentioned in an email to you that yesterday we attended a UC Berkeley for graduation.

Merriam:  00:51:33  Right? Congrats.

Phil:  00:51:35  Yeah. That young man came to us. He had Asperger's. He was violent. He was antisocial. He would throw chairs at his teachers in school.

Merriam:  00:51:49  That's a common one.

Phil:  00:51:50  Is that? Okay. But he did bring himself into our classes. He did it on his own. He wanted to change. and you know, he had the same thing we saw with all Asperger's that they had no, you know, we tell them to move the right hand and their left foot would move. And there was, and there's this Jerky, just that it's just a jerky motion that they have. And you know, it's, it's really strange that you correlate as, as his motion developed, his aspergers symptoms seem to fade away and this was a kid that was going to be put in a group home and yesterday graduated UC Berkeley.

Merriam:  00:52:34  That's phenomenal!

Phil:  00:52:37  Yeah. So, it's, it's just really amazing to see. It's fulfilling to see.

Phil:  00:52:41  You mentioned that the visual spatial, so the visual spatial happens, in the hippocampus and of course that is where, you know, the logical thinking. It starts and sends it to the PFC too. So there, there, there seems to be some relationship there.

Merriam:  00:52:59  I'm sure there is.

Merriam:  00:53:01  As I mentioned, you know, the first step towards inhibiting a behavior is even being aware that you are about to do it in the first. And that's the biggest challenge is most of the time this behavior occurs before the child even is aware that it's about to occur and then yelled at for something and they don't even remember doing it or why they did it. So I'm talking to the child about, well, what was going on for you? Wait, before you did that, you know, how did you feel in that moment?

Phil:  00:53:35  Okay,

Phil:  00:53:39  I'm sorry. I had those, a lot of those talks with, with this young man through his development because he would claim "Oh, I'm Asperger's, I don't have emotions." And I go, yes you do. Lets find them, you know, and, and so yeah, all of those things. That's, that's fantastic. So it's, but it roots in the, in the mind, body awareness, and then that allows them to find how those emotions feel. Is that what we're talking about?

Merriam:  00:54:05  Right, exactly. So always, you know, not just talking about emotions, but talking about how did, how did the body feel when you had that emotion? One thing I like to suggest for parents that have children that get emotionally dysregulated a lot. Because that's a very big one with ADHD and autism as well, is to create what we call a sensory box. And so it's a box filled with objects that relate to all of the senses. So it might be, you know, something that feels really nice, something that's joyful to look at, something that smells nice, has a nice sound to it if you move it, but that the child picks themselves. So they're helping to create the sensory box. And whenever they experience or really big emotion you, it's something they can go to. Hey, you know, I see that you're really upset right now. Maybe it's time to pull up the sensory box and have a little chill out of time. and so it's an opportunity for the child to learn how to, how to regulate themselves without, just, you know, being told to go to your room for a time out.

Phil:  00:55:21  Right. I see lots of examples of sensory boxes on Pinterest. So if you search for that, you get thousands and thousands of results.

Phil:  00:55:32  So the prefrontal Cortex, which we talked about in the beginning, now I know that us poor guys, we don't get ours developed fully until we're like 27 is that right?

Merriam:  00:55:45  You know, humans are humans really.

Phil:  00:55:50  So all humans, the PFC is not fully developed until later. It's not just in the teens,

Merriam:  00:55:56  Right? It's sometime after age 25. You know it's going to be different for everyone. And yes, it may mature faster and in some women and some men, but, but it's generally after,

Phil:  00:56:11  So that's a fallacy? That it's just men, Huh?

Merriam:  00:56:16  Yeah. Oh yeah.

Phil:  00:56:17  Really, really. Okay. I feel better then.

Phil:  00:56:19  There you go.

Phil:  00:56:21  So if that's so then can ADHD fade as away as the PFC develops?

Merriam:  00:56:30  So what we see fading is the hyperactive piece as children enter their teen years. That child that just could never sit still and was constantly making noises and, and had a whirling twirling motor inside them, that motor will start to settle a little bit and then write that energy might come out in other less large ways. Like maybe that's the person that's constantly bouncing their knee or drives a little too fast. So we do see that piece waning. what having a fully consolidated prefrontal cortex will do is allow you to have the fullest access to what you are capable of, but it's not going to be the same or as functional as, someone who's neurotypical, at that age. So, you know, we don't all come together as one in the right prefrontal cortex skills. You know, so you'll still have those struggles, but oftentimes, especially in someone that was diagnosed. By the time, they're 25, they've figured things out. They understand, well, you know, I have trouble with this and I need to do the following things so that I can be equalized.

Phil:  00:57:59  Okay. Good. Let's talk a little bit about routine is it a good tool for parents?

Merriam:  00:58:04  Yes.

Phil:  00:58:05O  kay. So yeah, tell how that helps.

Merriam:  00:58:12  Structure can be beneficial for all children really because it, when you know what's expected of you, then it's much easier to perform if the target isn't always moving. And so for a child with Adhd in particular, who's more likely to forget or you know, they don't have the ability to listen to multi-step directions, if they know that the same everything is the same every day and maybe there are visuals that have been set up, you know, it's a picture of a child brushing a tooth, brushing their teeth and you know, that can be, they can go check that and see what's next on their list. then it, it will just help everyone succeed and also takes the pressure off the parent for constantly yelling what the next step is for the child because it's predetermined. It's the same next step every day. So it just can help consolidate the learning and take the pressure off.

Phil:  00:59:21  Fantastic. Okay, good. So it helps them focus on what they need to focus then rather than constant changes?

Merriam:  00:59:29  Yeah.

Phil:  00:59:30  How important is a diagnosis? Should all parents who suspect ADD look for a diagnosis?

Merriam:  00:59:39  I know there is a lot of fear about getting a diagnosis because people are afraid their child will be labeled for the rest of their life, you know, by school or, and to a certain degree, oh sure. You know, we can't help what other people are going to think or how they're going to judge. But I think that a diagnosis helps people to understand what's feeding the behavior and in a way takes a little bit of the pressure off. Because now we have an understanding and now we know how we can treat. It's really hard to devise a treatment if you don't understand what's causing the symptoms.

Phil:  01:00:21  Uh Huh. I see. Okay. Okay. Very good. Now, tell us a little bit about your books.

Merriam:  01:00:27  Alright. Thank you for asking.

Merriam:  01:00:30  So, the first book is a picture book and it's generally for children three to eight years old. And to be read, you know, with the parent typically. and it's about Charlie who has a whirling twirling motor. He's has hyperactive Adhd, although we never come right out and say that in the story. And it takes him through his day where his, ADHD is causing him to, mess up essentially and he feels badly and you could tell that he feels badly, and at the end of the day. His mother tucks him in and tells him that she needs to talk to him and he thinks he's about to get into trouble and instead she reads him his wonderful list so that, you know, it has a nice little twist of an ending, and is a little lesson.

Phil:  01:01:19  The next book coming out is my wandering dreaming mind and it's a girl with inattentive ADHD whose daydreaming gets her into trouble all day long as well. Until her mom has a nice surprise for her at the end. It's not the same as the wonderful list, but it's, you know, something that's feel good.

Phil:  01:01:41  Very good, very good. Okay. And one more very important question here. Why do you love dragonflies, sunflowers, and flying pigs?

Merriam:  01:01:50  Oh, those are testaments to my childhood. Having sunflowers in our yard. I grew up in on the east coast in Massachusetts and we just had these massive dragon flies all over the yard. And and we had tall, tall sunflowers growing at the end of the driveway. and the flying pigs, that's way too long of a story to tell here. Its a reminder of my dad who passed away 10 years ago.

Phil:  01:02:18  Okay. Well I share your love of dragonflies and sunflowers. I'm growing sunflowers now and dragon flies are just amazing. I love to watch them. I can't imagine the speed of processing that they have to catch things in midair. They are the ultimate Predator is why I like them.

Merriam:  01:02:41  Our students could use a little bit of that processing. I bet.

Phil:  01:02:44  Yes. Yes. So is there anything else that I have not asked that, our listeners should know

Merriam:  01:02:53  Only that I am happy to be of help to anybody that thinks that they could benefit. I work with a lot of people all over the country by phone or for, online and I'm happy to even have a short call to see if I might be of assistance to anyone

Phil:  01:03:16  So that they don't have to be in your area? You can reach them through technology anywhere.

Merriam:  01:03:20  That's right.

Phil:  01:03:21  That's a wonderful thing.

Merriam:  01:03:23  It truly is.

Phil:  01:03:24  I actually teach Kung Fu online. People call me crazy for doing that and say it's impossible, but I can guarantee its not. I have some amazing students online.

Merriam:  01:03:35  So cool!

Phil:  01:03:38  It is, we actually started that when Google hangouts on air, which is what we're using right now, came out, we started the next week. It was just like, this is, this is the technology we need. We want.

Merriam:  01:03:51  That's fabulous

Phil:  01:03:55  So where can listeners find you? Your website?

Merriam:  01:03:58

Phil:  01:03:59  Okay.

Merriam:  01:04:01  And my contact information is there.

Phil:  01:04:05  Okay, great. And we'll link that below. Very good. Well, thank you very much. This has been a, a very, very informative interview. Okay. I learned a lot.

Merriam:  01:04:14  Thanks for having me.


Do You Need help with a Learning Difficulty?

Our simple online analysis will help you get to the core of the problem and find the right solution for you.

Understanding how to help someone with a learning difficulty starts with understanding which micro-skills are affected. When you learn which of the micro-skills is the problem, you will then be on your way to solving it.

You'll also learn how to:

  • Build confidence
  • Enhance Learning ability
  • Eliminate avoidance
  • Build grit

You can get this analysis for free by filling out this simple form. This will help you get to the bottom of a learning difficulty and provide you with a solution. If you are ready to put this problem behind you click the button below and fill out the form.