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Testimonials

A little help can make a big difference

Adults suffering from ADD need assistance with life's daily tasks
By CHRISTINE FACCIOLO, Special to The News Journal
Posted Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Liz Dyer's parents had become increasingly frustrated over her academic performance at the University of Delaware. Their daughter, who had always brought home As and Bs in high school, was pulling a string of Cs in her freshman-year classes. Socially she was doing well, but school didn't seem to be a priority.
Enter Patricia Regina Wood, owner of PACE Coaching in Newark. Wood is one of a growing number of personal coaches trained to help adults with attention deficit disorder make sense of their lives.
Thirty-four sessions and $2,100 later, Dyer and her parents are seeing results: an improved grade point average and better time-management and organization skills that have allowed the 19-year-old sophomore to assume officer positions in a couple of campus clubs.
Patricia Regina Wood (right), owner of PACE Coaching in Newark, walks last week with client Liz Dyer, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Delaware, near Morris Library on UD's Newark campus. Special to The News Journal/EMILY VARISCO
Although ADD is primarily thought to be a childhood disorder, 4 percent of adults in the United States live with it, according to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association. Moreover, the negative consequences of ADD are greater for adults than children. While "acting up" in the classroom might get a child sent to the principal's office, adults with the disorder are more likely to have traffic accidents, be impulsive, have trouble getting and keeping a job and maintaining interpersonal relationships.
The usual treatment for adults consists of a combination of medication and psychotherapy. But these approaches by themselves are seldom effective in mitigating the impact ADD has on someone's personal and professional life. Drugs can improve focus and reduce the symptoms of ADD, but they can't teach life skills that were never learned in childhood. Similarly, psychotherapy can give a client insight into the painful emotional problems and destructive behaviors that often accompany the disorder, but it can't help the person organize his closet.

Bridging the gap

ADD coaching complements these therapies by bridging the gap between the client's ability to perform and his actual performance.
Unlike a psychotherapist, an ADD coach is action- and goal-oriented, providing pragmatic approaches to problem-solving. The main objective is to identify what is preventing the client from achieving a specific goal and to work with the client to draw up a plan for reaching that goal.
If, for example, a client takes more than an hour to get out of the house because he keeps losing his keys, Wood suggests setting up a "go box" near the door the client most often uses. Into the box go keys, wallet and anything the person needs to leave the house.
If clients have trouble with time management, Wood helps them set up a weekly planner.
"It's all about creating awareness," Wood said. "When you're in the thick of it, you can't see the forest for the trees. I'm not emotionally attached to my clients like a parent or a spouse, so I can see their difficulties in a different light and address anything they might want to work on."
This individualized approach is what distinguishes ADD from traditional life coaching, said Wood, who charges $75 an hour for her coaching services.
"Life coaching is a one-size-fits-all," she said. "My training allows me to come up with a system that works for a particular client. I don't care if it doesn't work for anyone else, it needs to work for that one client, because if it doesn't they're not going to use it."
Setting up priorities, defining goals and allocating time on a weekly planner for each goal is a strategy most ADD clients benefit from. Adhering to the schedule until it becomes an established routine takes time and effort, especially for people with ADD. So being able to keep in contact with the coach between sessions is crucial for clients like Dyer.
"Every week she would check my progress on reading, papers, projects, that sort of thing," Dyer said. "She was really good for reinforcement, and she would help me if I had trouble in a certain area."
Despite its advantages, coaching isn't necessarily right for everyone. For example, it isn't appropriate for individuals with other conditions that sometimes accompany ADD, such as depression, addictions or anxiety disorders. These people are better served by traditional psychotherapy, Wood said.
Getting involved
Wood became interested in ADD when her two children were diagnosed with the disorder. As a result, she became a founding member of the Newark chapter of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder.
A photographer by profession, Wood decided to become an ADD coach after reading "Driven to Distraction," a book she says was the first work to discuss the disorder in easy-to-understand language, not clinical jargon. Wood received her training in ADD coaching from the Optimal Functioning Institute and joined the International Coach Federation. Although she is well versed in the bioneurological aspects of ADD, she has no formal background in psychology, something she sees as an advantage because it allows her to bring a fresh perspective to her work.
As awareness grows about the impact ADD has on a person's life, more therapists and coaches are collaborating with the goal of helping clients lead more productive lives. Wood said she has received a number of referrals from therapists.
A therapist might refer a client to a coach for a number of reasons, said Newark psychologist Dr. Priscilla Putnam. If a client has trouble following through on the goals set in therapy, a coach can help that individual be more productive. A coach also can teach basic skills such as time management and organization, freeing up more time for the therapist to work on deeper emotional problems.
Shifting some of the nuts-and-bolts issues to a coach also helps keep the boundaries clear.
"I'm not going to call them up and check on them like a coach does, because if I do that, that changes the nature of the relationship," Putnam said. "That makes me more of a policeman and as a therapist you don't want to get into that authority role -- it brings up so many messages clients have dealt with over their lives. Having the roles separate is really important."
Wood said she likes to make her clients aware of the positive aspects of ADD rather than focusing on the problems it causes.
"They're bright, they think outside the box, have a wicked sense of humor and are inquisitive," she said. "It's just a matter of harnessing these qualities in a constructive way. My goal is to put myself out of business."

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