ADHD Brains–Internal Structure

by TGingras

in brain training

Disorganization is one of the hallmarks of the ADHD brain. We’ve already talked about the need for external structure to improve performance for ADHD’ers.

This is the first step in developing an internalized ability to organize. For a child with ADHD to learn to be a reasonably organized person, he or she must experience organization and observe organization. There must be an adult in the environment who is reasonably well-organized to serve as a model.

Knowing that the heritability of ADHD is about 80%, it is likely that there is also one disorganized adult in the environment. This adult must model attempts to be organized and, most importantly, place a positive value on being organized.

It’s really difficult for a child with ADHD to make efforts at being organized if one parent is extremely negative about organization or makes fun of it (look how obsessive-compulsive she is).

There is no one way to be organized. There are countless systems, organizers and strategies for keeping up. Some school systems even give out agendas. The problem is finding a match between the system and the ADHD’ers cognitive style.

There are two big differences in cognitive style which, in a gross oversimplification, we’ll call left brain and right brain.

The left brain organizational systems are typically linear, overwhelmingly logical and frankly boring. They consist of organizing by to do lists which are, in some cases, merely straight lists of assignments done without any prioritizing.

The right brain systems are more visual and emphasize visual systems for organization that are based on using visual cues to attain organization.These systems will tend to use color or other visually striking ways to organize information. Mind mapping is a new and highly effective strategy for using visual techniques to improve organization and planning. It’s available for computer use from a variety of free downloads including

For people who are highly visual, mind mapping or colorĀ  coding are likely to be more effective strategies for organization. These are also the kind of people who do not do well with file cabinets and other linear organization strategies. These people need to see things to be able to work with them. They need large desks with room for different piles of stuff. They are not happy nor are they effective with a bare desk and a full file cabinet. If they can’t see it, it doesn’t exist therefore they will forget about it and never get around to doing anything about it.

These people typically don’t like paper with lines, staying inside the box and other manifestations of organization. Give them a blank piece of paper and teach them mind mapping strategies and their performance will improve.

More left brained people are more comfortable with a linear language and logic-based systems, but if they have ADHD, they are going to need to make this system more interesting. There are lots of ways of doing this, but with kids now days using some electronic or digital organizer will likely be more effective.

Kids typically don’t like large clunky organizers like most of the agendas, schools issue. They want something small that will fit in a pocket and are cool or hot or whatever the current term is for something that’s fashionable. PDA’s (personal digital assistant) are an option as are most cell phones. Paper and pencil systems, like Day Timer, can also be helpful. They come with custom covers/holders that sometimes pass the cool test.

Once you’ve got the hardware, the trick is to use it regularly. You’re ahead of the game if you match cognitive style with the organization system. You still have to teach some of the basic techniques of organization such as taking big projects and breaking them down into smaller, easy-to-accomplish tasks and tracking them.

To get regular use from the system you have to check regularly and insure that your ADHD’er is using it. After 8 to 12 weeks of checking daily, you can likely back off some.

This combination of external organization, organizational strategies keyed to cognitive style and regular checking should cause your ADHD’er to internalize organization.

More information seeADHD brains — external structure.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

john glennon December 8, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Terry’s exactly correct.

As a former elementary school principal, I am quite aware that attention difficulties are just the tip of the iceberg. ADHD children can’t filter out distractions, finish tasks on-time, use their memory optimally, etc. A pill doesn’t teach these skills.

My wife and I opted to use cognitive training for our son, Alex. We used Play Attention ( and ADHD Nanny ( We’ve been very successful with these approaches. We also changed our parenting skills with great success.

It’s just important to know that medicine teaches nothing. Parents and teachers must actively participate to help change a child’s life.

Cathryn Woods February 9, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Hello. I have a 7 y/o son that was recently diagnosed with ADD and he is now on Adderall xr, but still having difficulties. I would love for you to comment on how important structure/routine in environment is for chilren with ADD. My exhusband and I have a parenting structure that I feel is not working for our son. Our son Mason goes back and forth between us almost daily, which I feel is a set up for failure. Can you site any research articles that might discuss this topic? Can you give me feedback about your expertise in this area?
I greatly appreciate your time and consideration to my request.
Cathy Woods

TGingras February 11, 2010 at 11:58 am

I am a clinical neuropsychologist with 30 years experience. I am also the father of an ADHD child who is now a gemnologist and jewelry designer. I have worked with ADHD for all of his 30 years. I am terribly sorry it took so long to reply to you. I’m trying to build up my knowledge, but sometimes this technology just gets past me. Today was literally the first time I saw your post. I’ll try not to let that happen again.


kliknij March 29, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Hi there are using Wordpress for your blog platform?

I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and set up my own.

Do you require any html coding expertise to make your own blog?
Any help would be really appreciated!
See this: kliknij,

TGingras February 3, 2014 at 11:12 am

I am an extremely low tech person. In general everybody uses word press. You don’t have to know how to code. Ed Dale’s free internet course formerly called the 30day challenge and now available at will give you a lot of information.

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