Transitioning between activities requires energy and planning. We need to justify to ourselves why it is necessary to adapt our current behaviour to the requirements of the new behaviour. People with ADHD can struggle to make even the most routine transitions, transitions that most people would not consider to be difficult because these transitions are part of our everyday lives.
The symptoms of ADHD make it difficult to regulate both attention and emotions. It is therefore necessary to be aware of the barriers that ADHD brings to the transitional process.
If the person with ADHD is hyper focused on an activity they find rewarding, it will be difficult for them to turn their attention to something they find less rewarding, no matter how necessary that activity may appear to be to those around them. They would resist switching off the TV to come eat dinner even though they know they are hungry.
If a person with ADHD is engaged in an activity and they are comfortable, the idea of disengaging from the activity can cause a sense of discomfort as the new activity demands some adaptation of their behaviour and this will result in a sense of dysregulation. They may experience a sense of immediate vulnerability and unpredictability, bringing with it an intensity of emotion which is overwhelming. This sudden surge of emotion is difficult to regulate and navigate and makes the transition traumatic.
In addition, the inability to be flexible and to adapt or plan for the requirements of the new activity can cause anxiety in a person who is living with the symptoms of ADHD. Anxiety can become a trigger for bad behaviour. In the school environment, coming in from play time or changing classes could result in a lengthy negotiation or even a full-blown tantrum.
The transitions mentioned above are small daily transitions that should be easily managed as part of our daily routine. As we mature the transitions become more complex, we need to successfully transition out of school and into the workplace, transition out of our childhood home, transition between different relationships. ADHD makes it particularly difficult for us to have the ability to organise and regulate ourselves and it makes coping with these changes particularly difficult. If the ability to transition is not managed correctly, it can become detrimental to health, education, occupation, and social outcomes.
Skills to manage transitions are available but must be individualised to be successful