ADHD coach improves focus

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      Growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, Pete Quily always did well in school, even though he found it hard to finish some assignments. He procrastinated, was easily distracted, and had trouble managing his time. It wasn’t until he was in his early 30s and living in B.C. that he happened to notice a poster in a library that had a list of signs of attention deficit disorder on it.

      “I read that checklist and just went, ”˜Oh, my God’—check, check, check,” Quily tells the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “That was me. If you have ADD and you don’t know what it is, life can be very frustrating. I wish I would have found out a lot earlier.”

      Part of the reason Quily, who’s now 45, was never suspected of having the neurobehavioural condition—which is marked by sustained patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity—was that he succeeded scholastically. Although he did some of his projects at the last minute, he threw himself into others with all his energy and attention. He says that if he found something interesting, he could spend hours concentrating on it.

      “It’s a myth that if you have ADD you’re on the verge of dropping out of school,” Quily explains. Although some people with ADD—which is also known as ADHD, for “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder”—have learning disabilities, many others have high intelligence. For proof, Quily points to the MENSA special-interest group for people with ADD that has more than 500 members and successes like that of David Neeleman, who founded JetBlue Airways.

      After he learned he had the disorder, Quily researched approaches to managing it and found many that worked for him, including exercise, personal coaching, talk therapy, support groups, and spiritual exploration. He’s come a long way since the early ’90s, when he was diagnosed.

      “Back then, it was, ”˜Here’s your Ritalin; here’s your Dexedrine; you’re on your own.’ ”

      Quily was lucky just to get a diagnosis. The condition is still widely misunderstood and often either misdiagnosed or missed altogether by doctors.

      According to a February 2009 British Columbia Medical Association policy paper, it takes an average of 18 months for a person to be treated for ADD following his initial contact with a doctor, and as few as 11 percent of adults with the condition actually receive treatment. Part of the problem is that few family physicians are qualified to diagnose ADD.

      Psychiatrist Derryck Smith explains that the disorder is genetic in about 80 percent of cases. “Twenty-five years ago, the belief was that children grow out of ADHD by age 12,” Smith says on the line from his office. “What started happening was child psychologists would make a diagnosis in a child, then give the family all this information to take home to read. Then the dad would come in and say, ”˜Hey, doc, I think I’ve got this too.’

      “Now we know that symptoms persist into adulthood”¦and if you’re born with it, you’ll have it all the way through life.

      “With adults, it’s mostly inattention; the hyperactivity and impulsivity tend to reduce.”

      In adults, ADD can take a serious toll on multiple aspects of people’s lives. Some have trouble with substance use and abuse, while others get involved in crime. Then there’s the way many handle motor vehicles.

      “These people make terrible drivers,” Smith says. “They’re more prone to accidents and are more inclined to speed.”

      Furthermore, ADD is linked to an average of 35 missed workdays per year as well as poorer job performance, lower occupational status, and less job stability than those without the condition, according to the BCMA paper.

      People with the condition experience other problems when it comes to treatment, which can include behaviour modification and neurofeedback. Simply writing a prescription, however, is “woefully insufficient care”, the BCMA report states. Making matters worse is that ADD often takes a back seat to other mental-health disorders, like anxiety, depression, and psychosis. Many mental-health teams don’t even consider ADD part of their mandate.

      When people do take medication, the drug they’re often prescribed needs to be taken several times a day. That’s because B.C. PharmaCare doesn’t fund a long-lasting drug that only needs to be taken once a day. Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Quebec cover or provide restricted access to this pill.

      “You’re getting people who are distractible, forgetful, to take meds three times a day? Isn’t that sadistic?” Quily says. “We’re pretty backward here in B.C.

      “And what about people who need more than meds, who can’t afford coaching or don’t have extended benefits for psychologists?”¦It’s a condition that the government, the health-care system, doesn’t take seriously.”

      What helped Quily the most was personal coaching. He got so much out of the one-on-one sessions, in fact, that he became a coach himself. Now he specializes in helping adults with ADD who, like him, have a natural curiosity but who might be overwhelmed by paper clutter or unable to finish tasks, or find it hard to handle stress.

      Quily helps others focus on the positive aspects of ADD. “People with ADD are creative; they think out of the box,” he says. “The thing that bothers me is that ADD is a mixed bag. It can really drag people down if you don’t know how to manage it, but it can propel you to great heights if you do manage it.”¦Coaching helps with the practical, day-to-day challenges: work, relationships, social things”¦time management, underemployment, job-hopping.”¦But there has to be an openness to change.”

      Smith applauds the BCMA paper’s call for more services for adults with ADD. “In the medical profession, many people have the mindset of 25 years ago, that it isn’t a problem that affects adults,” he notes. “There’s a big education process we need to undertake.”



      Alison Toms

      Apr 16, 2009 at 9:52am

      Thank you for covering this story--coaching has many benefits in all aspects of people's lives. Just one small correction I'd like to make to your statement "Although some people with ADD—which is also known as ADHD, for “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder”—have learning disabilities, many others have high intelligence." The way this is written, it could be perceived that those with learning disabilities have lower intelligence. Lower intelligence is not a hallmark of learning disabilities...those with learning disabilities must have average or above average intelligence. And there are those with double exceptionalities--both gifted and learning disabled. The weblink points to the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada's definition of learning disabilities

      Pete Quily

      Apr 16, 2009 at 12:21pm

      Thanks Gail for this great article and helping to cover a condition that is often ignored, shamed or stigmatized. Many adults with ADHD don't get diagnosed because of the stigma, ignorance and hate around the condition. And it's one of the most treatable mental health conditions out there.

      I hope more BC media outlets will start to cover Adult ADHD, it's a well researched serious condition with many negatives AND many positives, and there is currently NO strategy on ADHD in the province, & NONE of the BC political parties are mentioning ADHD during this election, despite the BC Medical Assn policy paper on it.

      Just some minor clarifications.

      * I didn’t always do well in school, but overall did reasonably well

      * ADHD is not a neurobehavioural condition, it’s a neurobiological condition.

      * Many ADDers do drop out of school, though not all, and some do very well in it, there are PHd’s with ADHD

      * You can have learning disabilities and high intelligence. They’re not mutually exclusive at all. LD has nothing to do with IQ. Some people with LD, like ADDers have very high IQ’s.

      * Dr. Derryck Smith is correct that people with ADHD are statistically prone to accidents and speeding, and some are terrible drivers, but not all. Some make their living as professional drivers, and are quite good at it, they hyperfocus when driving. I know adults with ADHD that are bus drivers, limo drivers, stunt drivers, etc and are quite good at it. It’s like there’s statistically much higher rates of alcohol and drug addiction for people with ADHD and society should wake up & deal with this, but we’re not all drug addicts.

      Again thanks for covering this issue, I wish more BC media outlets would follow The Georgia Straight's lead on this.

      There's more info on Adult ADD at ADDA's website

      Pete Quily
      Adult ADHD Coach

      The Attention Doctor

      Apr 16, 2009 at 1:47pm

      Great article. While ADD is usually associated with children, more and more it is recognized as a widespread problem among adults. People with ADD are not uniformly unable to pay attention in all situations. It is more accurate to think of ADD as a problem of attention regulation rather than an absolute deficit. Those with ADD have variable focus that may seem erratic to a stranger but is not random. It has noticeable patterns, and once they are observed and understood, they can be mastered and regulated.


      Apr 16, 2009 at 1:57pm

      Thank you both for your comments.
      I stand corrected on the poor wording regarding ADD, learning disabilities, and intelligence. My mistake.
      Re: ADD being a "neurobehavioural" condition; I got that from, although I should have attributed it as such.

      The Attention Doctor

      Apr 16, 2009 at 2:16pm

      Great article. While ADD is usually associated with children, more and more it is recognized as a widespread problem among adults. People with ADD are not uniformly unable to pay attention in all situations. It is more accurate to think of ADD as a problem of attention regulation rather than an absolute deficit. Those with ADD have variable focus that may seem erratic to a stranger but is not random. It has noticeable patterns, and once they are observed and understood, they can be mastered and regulated.

      Pete Quily

      Apr 16, 2009 at 5:44pm

      That's OK Gail,

      we've all made a few of them, myself definitely included.

      Again thanks for helping to bring some much needed awareness to people with adult ADHD, and thanks for showing both sides of the having ADHD.

      Some people especially men, stay in denial for long periods of time because some people portray adult ADHD as a 98% negative condition, nearly all pathology so they don't want another "negative label" on them.

      But labels are neutral, depends on how you use them, as a weapon to stigmatize, judge, criticize, self righteously condemn, project hate so you hope people don't recognize you probably have ADHD. (many of the hard core ADHD haters/deniers/minimizers often seem to have ADHD).

      OR a label that allows you to explain a lot of things that previously seemed unexplainable, and that allows you to access different methods to manage the condition so you and your family have a better quality of life. Basically you can learn from the methods that others used that went before you.

      You're definitely right Alison. Many ADHD and LD people are also gifted.

      I agree the Attention Doctor, I don't have a deficit of attention, I have a surplus of it, we notice everything. Except of course paperwork and boring things. When I do something I find interesting like ADHD coaching, tech, politics etc I can hyperfocus like a laser. It is more accurate to call it a problem of regulating attention.

      Pete Quily
      Adult ADD Coach

      Top 10 Ways to Manage Adult ADHD

      Jag Gill

      Apr 18, 2009 at 12:07pm

      I was happy to read this. I have been going through 'diagnosis' for the last few months and I'd like for it to be sped up so that I can not have to start each semester in chaos. I wish there was something I can do to get diagnosed faster and not have to pay so much. I've paid the price all my life with the school system turning a blind eye to it and I went back to school and want to be set.

      I'm 30 also:)

      Dave Lloyd

      Apr 21, 2009 at 8:33am

      I've known Pete for years and have had the privilege of being coached by him - he is gifted at what he does and helped me immensely. I'm one who never displayed the hyper-active aspects of ADHD as a child and never struggled with school or substance abuse - but in college got a rude awakening that I wasn't able to focus, complete tasks, be on time - and would get over-absorbed in projects and completely flake on others, and my grades reflected it. I'd somehow masked the impact of these earlier in life. In my late twenties it became apparent it again wasn't just my environment or circumstances, and that's when I was formally diagnosed. Though I'd always worked in high tech computer jobs that by nature tend toward an ADD-like environment, I never identified the issue as a biological or genetic one.
      Bottom line, I have mild symptoms of ADD, do not take medication, have to practice rigorous and daily self-care, and have found coaching with Pete to be invaluable in my self-growth, awareness, and ability to turn this characteristic into a useful asset - but I no longer stigmatize or see ADD as a weakness and am clear that it's genetic in nature.


      Apr 21, 2009 at 12:59pm

      I met Pete less than a year ago when I was hitting the wall on my ADD issues. While I have two university degrees, I also have a lifetime of under performance, procrastination, incompletion of tasks that I only began to identify as ADD after beginning my work with Pete. The biggest challenge for me was that I took my attention behaviors to mean that I was incompetent and this had a huge impact on my self worth. Only after working through new strategies and tactics around how to organize and approach my work, did I come to understand that I have choices as to how I let ADD run my life.

      Pete was able to help me appreciate the gifts of my ADD as well as how I can work best around the challenges to accomplish my goals. Pete has a lot skills to help anyone affected by ADD be more successful and less victimized .
      Mark Watts


      Apr 23, 2009 at 7:41am

      Great article. It's amazing to me how, after so long, the medical profession still refuses to understand this very common disorder. It's the same here in the US.

      When I switched doctors recently I told him I had ADD. His first question was if I had been having thoughts of suicide.

      As one of Pete's coaching clients, I too can attest to his skill. Not only did he help me get past the negatives of ADD, he helped me recognize and capitalize on the beneficial traits that go along with ADD.