Contextual Thinking and ADHD, Part 2

Georgia NeSmith
6 min readAug 24, 2018

A few years ago, as I began tutoring a 15-year-old boy from Verona High School whose primary problem — as I was told by his mother— was keeping track of his assignments and turning things in on time. He also needed help expressing himself in writing. Piece of cake, especially since he is disappointed in his frosh year GPA of 3.6. He wanted a 4.0. No worries about motivation there!

However, it quickly became apparent that the task in fact was far greater than it appeared on the surface — a challenge I willingly accepted because of the fascination it held for me, and specifically the personal applications of it.

His primary issue, really, was that he is ADHD. This is where my own ADHD comes in so very handy, because I totally get it, and I totally get why all the recommendations from organizing and study skills specialists just don’t work for us. It isn’t a matter of discipline or lack of motivation or being lazy.

It comes down to one thing and one thing only: our brains process information differently.

So, for instance, even when we have a lecturer who is fascinating, our brains will be popping with all the connections we are making between what the lecturer is saying and everything else we know or have ever wondered about. In the process we often lose track of what is being said. And goddess help us if the lecturer is boring, because our brains will definitely wander.

And if we make a list of to-do’s to get done at a certain time on a certain day, we may or may not be able to focus on those tasks. We need a context in which those tasks are meaningful to us — and having a punishment for not doing something won’t be sufficient to give us the meaning required to get us moving. Nor will a reward motivate us much.

We are at all times contextual thinkers. We process information and remember it IF we can create that meaningful context. Information standing out there alone, without a context for immediate application to something that holds our interest deeply, will get lost.

Having a context of punishment for non-completion in fact will create even bigger problems, because that context will make us feel anxious, and anxiety is the #1 focus killer for us.

Since he won’t get much help in this regard from the educational system, my job was to…

Georgia NeSmith

Retired professor, feminist, writer, photographer, activist, grandmother of 5, overall Wise Woman. Phd UIA School of Journalism & Mass Communication, 1994.