The Wisdom of Compensating for Deficits

Brain-Change vs. Compensation
TIME is of the Essence

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Self-Help Series – Part I

Arguing with YouTube

I have been watching a lot of brain-based TED Talks of late – talks from notables like the following:

I added links to those videos above so you can click to watch them too.

Their Advice for Us

Each of them hopes to direct the focus of the world to healing the problem rather than working at the level of symptoms.

That makes A LOT of sense, right?
I LIKE these experts, and applaud their efforts.
I have known about the things they espouse for many years now,
and I think each is a great idea.

HOWEVER, something about each of their talks left me with a sense that something was off, or missing — or that, in the way they came up with their advised solutions, they devalued or overlooked a point of view that was important.

It took me a bit of noodling, but I finally figured out what was bugging me.

Three things:

  1. The advice was presented in an either/or, better/worse, black and white fashion that, in some subtle manner, left me with an uneasy feeling. I was left with an impression that they each believed that their way of working was the best way for ALL individuals to proceed — and that we would be somehow foolish to approach finding a solution to compensate for our challenges instead of “fixing” the root cause.
  2. They seemed oblivious to the reality that, for a great many of us, some of their solutions are absolutely out of reach financially (Do you have any idea how much it costs to get a brain scan for diagnostic purposes, for example?)
  3. They left out the TIME factor altogether – and didn’t quite explain who was going to support us while we set about changing our brains by getting more sleep, changing our diets for optimal brain health and healing, or working through exercises that will improve short term memory (for example).

Few of us can afford to take a year or more OFF while we take advantage of the miracle of neuroplasticity to give our brains a fighting chance at “normalizing.”

Don’t forget that you can always check out the sidebar
for a reminder of how links work on this site, they’re subtle ==>

HOVER before clicking – often a box will appear to tell you what to expect

Working AROUND vs. Working ON

If your leg were broken, would you wait until it was healed to get out of bed?

Of course not! 

You’d compensate – with a wheelchair, crutches, a walker – whatever it took to allow you to stay mobile while you mended.

None of those “quick fixes” would be working on the source of the problem, but they sure would get you up and out a heck of a lot faster than improving your diet so that you’d heal more rapidly.  And I doubt that anybody in the peanut gallery would be telling you to do otherwise.

WHY should it be any different when you have an invisible,
brain-based disability?

Working AROUND while you are working ON

Expanding on ABOUT Non-Medical Alternatives: some approaches take quite a while to “kick in,” others provide a more immediate amelioration of symptoms.

While medication won’t fix much all by itself, for example (“Pills don’t teach skills”), for medication-responders, it does significantly improve focus and activation, so that you are able to keep life or school on-track while you are working on more lasting changes bit by bit.

Keep reading.  After the next section of information, I’ll tell you a tiny bit about the thinking behind ADD Coaching and what it can do for you — whether you take medication or NOT.

In Part II, I’ll expand on why compensatory strategies are important and why you need to figure out which ones you need before you continue to struggle on.

Three Things to Think about before you Proceed

  • Are you in place where you can AFFORD to take a bit of time to explore?

Are you looking for more even functioning, or to compensate for a chronic feeling of under-functioning, even though your life is relatively on-track, if only as a the result of a great deal of “swimming upstream” on your part?

Or is your life just about to fall apart as you are perilously close to running out of the resolve to keep on keepin’ on?

  • Will your current situation allow you to take a chance on an unproven or controversial treatment approach?

Are you about to lose your job — or your marriage?

Is your child on the edge of giving up hope that he or she will ever be able to do well in school, perhaps in danger of dropping out (or flunking out)?

  • I also encourage you to examine all of the underlying reasons you are interested in exploring “alternative” treatment approaches.

Those who are not medication responders, who are just below the diagnostic line and looking for help with focus that they can’t get within the medical community — or those who have additional medical considerations that make pharmaceuticals a choice that is not wise to pursue — are actually a relatively small group among those who are taking a look at “alternatives.”

Make SURE you have looked at medication “objectively.”

Go back to explore again if you discover in your “fearless personal inventory” that misinformation in the popular media (or anywhere else!) has you afraid of pharmaceutical intervention.

I promise you that, with the exception of the content written by the experts in the field who have spent entire careers exploring ADD/EFD and related disorders, a LARGE PERCENTAGE of what I read is unsupported nonsense – because I have the information-base to be able to recognize it.

  • I beg you not to keep yourself from having the success you deserve (or inadvertently limiting the success of your children) simply because you don’t understand how medications work and why they are prescribed — before you decide they are not for you.
  • Don’t be afraid to investigate. Becoming informed about medications does not mean you then must take them. It’s your body and your CHOICE — I just want to encourage you MAKE one after taking an unbiased look at the pros and cons of ALL treatment modalities.
  • EVEN if you understand that meds might work well for you – perhaps even that they are the very best idea among all that you have researched – it is STILL your body and your choice to decide to go another way. I support personal choice 100%, even as I advocate for INFORMED choice!

About those skills that pills don’t teach

EVEN if I had a magic coaching wand that could immediately remove the traces of problematic attentional issues from your life – you’d still be missing many of the life skills that fall under the category of executive functions.

More to the point, what you can do and what you find challenging is a function of each of the missing skills as well as the way in which they combine and overlap.

I’m speaking of cognitive abilities that most adults take for granted as “natural” products of intelligence, education and maturity — items like planning, prioritizing, problem solving, reasoning, time and transition management, moving between concentration and mental flexibility, and controlling short-term behavior to achieve long-term goals.

Healing your brain isn’t going to magically allow you
to know what you haven’t already learned and assimilated.

The ability to identify and predict the combined impact of a great many functional elements on the likelihood of accomplishment will help you realign your expectations realistically – as it helps you to realign the expectations of others.

That’s where learning how to compensate becomes a miracle in your life, and that’s what ADD Coaching can help you learn to do.

What I Learned and what I coach


I began by looking at an area where winning and losing were more than mere concepts: sports. Whether football, baseball, tennis or golf, winners don’t win simply because they want to win or expect to win, or even because they decide to win!

Preparation and effort are vital – but even that isn’t enough to turn the average Joe into a winner.

  • Professional athletes train differently to play the same sport,
    no matter what sport they play.
  • Individual athletes must start from where they are:
    they must train with the bodies they were born with
    until they acquire the strength, stamina and skills to do more.

Professional sports coaches have to understand the strengths and limitations of each athlete’s body to be able to turn them into winners. Individual differences mandate different approaches. They need to build on strengths, overcome bad habits, and strengthen only those areas that are holding them back.

Yet, just as wanting to do so won’t necessarily make it so . . .

  • Effort and action do not guarantee success.
  • Effort and action only contribute to success
    if they are designed specifically for the task at hand.

Not by Accident

Sports enthusiasts never become successful professional athletes by chance.

  • They need to know what they need to do to build on strengths,
    overcome bad habits, and strengthen task-appropriate weaknesses.
  • They need to understand what they are doing well already, where
    they are missing the mark, and where they are wasting their efforts.
  • They need repetition and practice to replace old habits with new ones.
  • They need feedback to keep them on track just as surely as dancers need
    mirrors when they are working on placement.

Playing to WIN after practicing failure?

success-and-failure-signIf their coaches fail to consider each athletes’ current level of performance, they will design drills that take more than their players have to give.

The result? More evidence of failure;
more movement in the wrong direction.

When athletes leave practice feeling like failures, that is exactly what they will demonstrate on the field.

Each workout needs to push the limits, but each needs to have within it the possibility of success – to challenge each athlete without breaking them.

BUT, there is more to it than practice alone.

Many objectives can be obtained through strengthening performance in areas that CAN be improved with practice.

Some things, however, must be accepted, worked with, and worked around.

  • Strategy wins as many games as player talent
  • Effective strategy always takes the players into account – as they are,
    not as they would be if everybody believed hard enough.

Why wouldn’t that be just as valid for success in any endeavor?

And why wouldn’t differences in the brain be as important as any other physical difference?

FROM: Sherlocking ADD Challenges: Investigating Winners

STAY TUNED for Part II (and a special announcement about a Challenges-targeted Group Coaching opportunity that will be perfect for many of you).

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Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

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For links in context: run your cursor over the article above and the dark grey links will turn dark red;
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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

37 Responses to The Wisdom of Compensating for Deficits

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  9. This post is so good. I read it when it was first posted and I just read it again 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. bsa blog says:

    Thank you so much for writing this! I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to explain to people why I cannot just “get over” my ADD or why I take medicine or, really, what my ADD means for me in general. People don’t seem to take into account that, even as you train your brain to better focus, life still goes on and you still have to live it.

    I’ve heard so many “health experts” say that ADD symptoms are just “personality quirks” and with “just a little bit of food, exercise, and will power, you will conquer your weaknesses and gain control of your life!” I’ve heard similar comments about clinical depression. It always leaves me speechless and fuming.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. yes, though we ADHDers have a lot in common-after all, we all fit the diagnostic criteria – we are each still unique. we respond differently to medicines, need to work on different problems, will need different strategies..
    thanks for your good blog

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Christy B says:

    I like watching TED talks too. As you say though we have to be careful not to have black and white thinking; our way may work for us but isn’t necessarily the best for everyone. Such a good read xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Christy. The reason I began with TED talks (which I enjoy a bunch) was NOT to pick on them, but to point out the human tendency to paint information with the “expected” brush – good OR bad.

      What we need to do is “read with our brains engaged” and evaluate how well it fits, regardless of source, comparing it to what else we know and believe – rather than accepting or rejecting wholesale. In my experience, I believe it is especially important when evaluating the neurotypical advice, which rarely fits the neurodiverse community without some tweaking.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Madelyn – so many good points. I think our brains can be helped but not “healed.” meanwhile we learn strategies to use as crutches so we can get around better. nothing wrong with crutches when they are needed.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I work as an Educational Assistant in a High School and was a parent of a child who had bi-polar disorder. Your article makes so much sense. I especially like the section about medication. I’m trained in pharmacology but have been learning more and more about alternative methods of treatment. Researching this takes years so there is no quick fix. Each person must get out of bed each day and find what’s right for them. It’s very difficult but worthwhile. Thanks for thinking this through.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Cathy (or do you go by Cathy Lynn?) I knew from your blog about your work, btw, but good to repeat it for readers here who haven’t visited you over there – yet!

      I have been taking medication for ADD for 25 years now – and it breaks my heart to read so much fear-mongering and misinformation about pharmaceuticals. For some of us it is a godsend.

      I also continue to investigate non-pharms, and (obviously) am HUGE on the value of compensation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No one has actually asked about my name up to now. My name is Cathy Lynn but my mother never intended for me to be called anything but Cathy. She deliberately didn’t call me Catherine to simplify things. This has confused everyone. The reason my blog and pen name is Cathy Lynn is because there are already many authors named Cathy Brooks. Brooks is my husband’s name. I maybe could have gone with my maiden name.

        Liked by 1 person

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  16. Jo says:

    This is a great article, Madelyn. What you pointed out about the black and white approach makes a lot of sense. I seem to come across that attitude very often. Very informative. Thanks for sharing it with us

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jo. The tough thing about black and white thinking is that it is so insidious – none of us mean to view life that way (and few us us think we do unless it is pointed out). I’m sure the experts I linked to would be stunned to read that anyone did not fully agree, since their info DOES make so much sense.

      We do love our own expertise! But we all have to keep reminding ourselves that most of life lives in the middle way – not on the far ends of all this or all that. (Me too – confirmation bias can only be overcome if we remain aware of the high likelihood that it is operating.)

      Liked by 2 people

      • ericb85 says:

        Another essential article, Madelyn – so important, and I will be reading and re-reading it carefully.

        I’m curious if you’ve heard about a treatment modality called Audio Visual Entrainment – apparently the research data are pretty strong that enhances functioning at the brain wave level. CP had David Siever, the main innovator and producer of the technology, on his Core Psych podcast a week or so ago. Sounds like this could be the major game-changer for Alphabet City we’ve been waiting for! What do you think about THAT?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, Eric. It’s been around for a while – this is a new format/presentation – maybe an improvement.

          I’m all for anything and everything that helps, even a little bit, but I listen to ALL marketing attempts with a shaker of salt, regardless of “sponsor” (even CP). Great to stay informed, however.

          Neurofeedback works too – albeit slowly (and expensively) – and frequently needs to be “refreshed” from time to time. My guess is that AVE will turn out to be similar – but it would be great if it turned out to really be a game changer.


          Liked by 1 person

  17. joliesattic says:

    Where were you 20 years ago? i sure needed to know someone like you. Thanks for this blog and I’m so glad we found each other. I sent you and email btw. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Believe it or not, I was coaching & training ADD Coaches – dedicating my life to trying to make a difference and spread accurate info designed to help – 30 years ago, even. I was one of the earliest ADD info sites on the web (before blogs, at

      It’s SO discouraging that so MUCH is still the same inaccurate scare-tactic BS,, despite hours and hours and HOURS of ADDvocacy, with very little payment in return.

      Naively, I was hoping to funnel profits into marketing and bootstrap – hoping to reach thousands – but there WERE no profits for many years, so I practically bankrupted myself trying to keep it all afloat with the revenue from my private practice. (Yes, I PAID all OFI expenses not covered by tuition fees to train others to do what I did – the need was SO great nobody could do it alone.)

      I counted on my students to spread the word about where they had trained, thinking that the best marketing for OFI was students doing well in the field. Didn’t count on their reticence to invite “competition” — and that breaks my heart for more than my own self-interest. Totally wrong come-from in the coaching field.

      Five years ago I began “brain-dumping” much of my material here on, but the funds to market the site are still not in my meager budget. I do what I can to let people know what’s here for them, but it all takes a great deal of time, and I still have to make a living and somewhat of a life. It’s building – people who need what I supply ARE finding me, but oh so slowly.

      So now that YOU know what’s here, I’m counting on you to help spread the word to others who are floundering. I’ll go check my email now – good you told me, I don’t check every day. No TIME, and too much spam.

      Liked by 3 people

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