Paying Attention

For some people with attention-deficit disorder, knowing that a coach will be checking in helps them keep on track.

February 23, 2003|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Sun Staff

Diagnosed with attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder two years ago and worried that the condition was interfering with his work, Kirk Hadsell decided to try something new.

He called in a coach.

Neither a doctor nor a therapist, Hadsell's coach was more like a personal trainer -- only instead of encouraging him to exercise, she focused mostly on ways to boost his career and, to a lesser extent, improve his personal relationships. They devised a structured plan for him to follow.

One year after first meeting his coach, the 52-year-old home inspector says he's doubled the size of his business and has made progress in his personal life.

"The coaching has been a stellar player in this," says Hadsell, a father of three living in Millersville. "It's been the most beneficial."

ADHD coaching has become a booming field in the past five years as a growing number of adults with attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder look for ways to better cope with their condition. A decade ago, ADHD was thought to be a problem only in childhood, but today, researchers believe the mental disorder persists in 2 to 3 percent of the adult population, too.

People with ADHD have an inability to stay focused on a task. They are often impulsive or hyperactive, and find it difficult to sustain interest.

"They often can't match the amount of time available with the amount of things they have to do," says Dr. Joel L. Young, a Rochester Hills, Michigan psychiatrist who treats people with ADHD.

"You or I might have problems with that, too, but for people with ADHD, it's ... much more severe. They often can't get through a day effectively."

They need consistency

The growth of coaching has not been without controversy. Health professionals have mixed feelings about whether its benefits are worth the cost -- potentially hundreds of dollars per month and none of it covered by health insurance -- and whether coaches are adequately trained for the task.

Coaches "may be well-intended," but much of what they do can be handled by a parent or spouse at a far lower cost and perhaps more reliably, says Lutherville psychiatrist Dr. David Goodman of the Adult Attention Deficit Center of Maryland.

"People with ADHD are by their nature inconsistent, and they may need someone in their life to inject that consistency," he says.

Hadsell had always felt like he was a bit different but could never understand why. It was not until one of his sons was diagnosed with the condition eight years ago that he began to suspect that he had it, too.

Once the diagnosis was made, he was prescribed a mild amphetamine -- very similar to the well-known Ritalin -- and that proved helpful. He also started seeing a psychologist and explored the ways ADHD had caused him problems -- how it hurt his school performance.

That was helpful, too, he says but it only went so far. He wanted to find specific strategies to help him cope -- and therapy wasn't geared to that.

Then came Kerch McConlogue, 50, a Baltimore ADHD coach whom he met at a conference. After an initial "discovery" session where they discussed his goals, they set up a system of regular contact -- either by phone or in person to supervise his progress.

Hadsell remembers their first encounter: She asked him what he wanted for his business. He said he needed to get more referrals from real estate brokers. How could he get that done? He said he needed to contact at least six each week.

"Fine," he remembers her saying. "Why don't I call you on Friday when that's done."

With that modest goal made clear -- and realizing he'd be held accountable by week's end -- Hadsell made the calls. This seemingly simple thing had been just what he needed -- a structure and discipline imposed on his life.

"I might have been thinking about books or tools or all the other stuff. I knew Kerch would be calling -- and be thrilled when I told her what I'd accomplished," he says.

'It's about performance'

McConlogue, who has been coaching for four years, received her training through a coaching program in California that involved five weekends of classes, six months of follow-up correspondence and practice, and then passing a final certification test.

She says her clients often are people who own their own businesses and simply need help staying on task. She charges them about $200 a month for about two hours of consultation.

"We don't look at the whys of the situation. Often it's a matter of picking out the next thing they should be doing," she says.

Nancy Ratey, a Boston ADHD coach and a pioneer in the field, says the concept of "coaching" people with attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder started six years ago as an outgrowth of the life coaching movement. She estimates that there are about 1,000 ADHD coaches, helping clients age 13 and older, at a cost of $50 to $300 an hour.

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