September-October 2012 | Follow the Leader

Pay Attention

How a local therapist successfully manages her son's ADHD-and her own

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While studying to become a psychotherapist about four years ago, Cindy Crane made a surprising discovery.

The Bethesda resident was reviewing an assessment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and realized that she and her 13-year-old son exhibited several symptoms—including problems with focus, paying attention, hyperactivity and, in her son’s case, impulse control. 

Crane found that even though she worked hard to stay on top of things, she often would make mistakes, double-book appointments, run late or ding her car. “Basically I was spinning my wheels a lot,” she says. “I was not fully attending to the one thing at hand.”  

And her son, whom Crane describes as highly intelligent, saw his grades slip in seventh grade, particularly in classes that bored him. 

Soon after her realization, Crane and her son visited a psychiatrist who confirmed that they had the disorder. Thanks to several strategies for ADHD management since then—including medication, exercise and techniques for keeping things organized—their lives have improved significantly. 

Now 17, her son earns mostly A’s and B’s at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda instead of C’s and D’s. 

Previously a freelance journalist who decided to switch careers after witnessing the devastation from the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, Crane now works as a clinical psychotherapist helping patients with ADHD and other
issues in Bethesda and at the Chesapeake ADHD Center in Silver Spring. At 48, she finds her days run smoothly and her household is much happier since her and her son’s diagnosis and treatment.

“I don’t feel like a cat with its tail on fire anymore,” she says.

What They Do:

Maintain Order

  • Crane uses two types of planners for scheduling. She reviews a paper planner, stashed next to her toothbrush, when she brushes. She also keeps a backup schedule on her iPhone.
  • Household bills, other documents and her son’s class assignments are organized in color-coded folders.
  • Some of the bill paying has been delegated to her husband, and Crane has enlisted her son to do his own laundry.
  • Her son used to keep his schedule on a whiteboard above his desk at home, but now uses his iPhone.

The Payoff

Organizational tools, including planners, free the mind to focus on the current task, eliminating the “torture” that Crane says she and her son used to experience.

Fewer mistakes and greater efficiency save Crane up to three hours per day. Her son’s organizational tools help him focus on one school assignment at a time until it’s complete, saving him at least an hour daily. And he practices organizational skills by doing chores, where the cost of making a mistake is low. 

Target Brain Chemistry

  • Crane takes Lexapro, a mild antidepressant that calms anxiety.
  • Her son takes Focalin, an ADHD medication.

The Payoff

Lexapro reduces Crane’s anxiety, which can worsen her ADHD symptoms. Her son’s medication “quiets the white noise so he can focus,” she says. It also reduces his impulsivity and hyperactivity and has eliminated his fidgeting and interrupting.

Steady The Mind

  • Crane works out daily for an hour.
  • When feeling overwhelmed, she uses a cognitive behavioral therapy technique: She stops what she’s doing, takes three deep breaths and then reviews her options before moving forward. 
  • Her son alternates 30 minutes of homework with 10 minutes of activity, such as running.
  • He meditates before studying for a big exam.

The Payoff

Physical activity expels excess energy, and together with the other techniques, helps induce a sense of calm and improves focus. 

Watch What They Eat

  • Crane and her son eat a high-protein, low-sugar diet.
  • She takes 2,000 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids daily.

The Payoff

Protein and omega-3s aid brain function, Crane says. Eating fewer sweets helps stabilize blood sugar, which alleviateshyperactivity, improves focus and maintains alertness. 

Work Around Weaknesses in School

  • Crane hired a tutor to meet weekly with her son.
  • He types his schoolwork.

The Payoff

Students with ADHD often require more processing time because they can get distracted by competing information or by thinking ahead of the teacher, Crane says. Working with a tutor gives Crane’s son extra time to process schoolwork and reinforces learning.

And ADHD students often have poor penmanship because their thoughts move faster than their hands write, so “typing is much easier,” she says.

Leah Ariniello is a Bethesda-based writer who frequently writes about health.