What You Need to Know Before Going to the 2019 International Conference on ADHD

ADHD Resources    November 1, 2019
adhd conference

Group of diverse people in a conference

The annual 2019 International ADHD Conference kicks off next Thursday, November 7th in Philadelphia.  Per tradition, it will be jam-packed with pre-conference workshops, general conference sessions, an exhibit hall plus a talent show.

Although the conference is focused around the sharing of information, research and resources on all things ADHD, I find that my favorite part of this conference is being with my ADHD tribe, seeing old friends and colleagues, meeting and making new friends in the ADHD community and basically basking in the unexpected fun that happens when over a thousand people with ADHD are gathered all in one place!

And sadly… this will be the first time in over 15 years that I won’t be attending.  The good news is my nephew is getting married and I will be celebrating with him and my family at this once-in-a-lifetime event.

In my stead, representing Coaching for ADHD and the International ADHD Coach Training Center (iACTcenter) at the ADHD conference is my VP of Everything, Meg Gehan.  I have complete confidence in her!  She has attended nearly as many of these events as I have and will be tending our booth in the Exhibit Hall, so make sure you stop by and say hello!

With the excitement of the conference growing, I’ve received many questions from clients and students about how to prepare and make the most of the conference.  So I thought I would share with you some things I’ve learned over the past 15 years attending these conferences in case it might help you as well.

Here are a few tips you might want to consider before arriving in Philadelphia to make this ADHD conference a success:

1. Know what you want to take away from the conference experience even before you arrive. For some it might be to hear a particular session, or to hopefully meet one of their ADHD crushes (mine is definitely Rick Greene J ), discover a particular ADHD resource or meet others with ADHD.  So, ask yourself right now, “What do I want to take away from this conference that will make it worth my time, energy and investment?”  Do this even before you pack your bags.

2. Browse conference, preconference and keynote sessions online at home. Take the time to review the title of the talk, the speaker’s bio and the objectives for each session.  Make a plan for those you want to attend.  During the conference there can be so much going on that you can get swept up in the crowd and find yourself in a session that wasn’t what you wanted.

3. Don’t hesitate to leave a session if it is not serving your needs. Your time is precious, and despite your best preparation, you may find yourself in a session or topic that isn’t what you expected.  It is perfectly OK to excuse yourself quietly, slip into another session, take the time to re-evaluate your plan or simply relax.

4. Check the schedule for sessions that might repeat. Occasionally conference planners realize that some talks or speakers are so popular they scheduled the speaker twice during the conference.  If this is the case it might help you when choosing what sessions to attend and when.

5. Bring a notebook and pen. Sometimes these are provided in the conference registration goodie bag, but having your own will assure you have room for the notes you want to remember.

6. Bring business cards if you have one. Although not necessary it sure is a simple way to exchange contact information with new friends.

7. Get two keys for each person in your room. I always lose it if I have one…with two…I always end the conference with both…go figure.

8. Take a black permanent marker and write the room number on your room key card. No more walking the halls or waiting at the check-in desk…again.

9. It’s Ok not to do, see, hear, or attend everything. Write down your “must do’s” and a few alternatives.  Pick the sessions and activities that fit for you.  Everyone is different and you want to get what you need from the conference.  Yoga or morning nature walks are not everyone’s way of starting the day.

10. Print out the handouts for the sessions before you leave. Pack these in your suitcase. Check to see if the session you want to attend has handouts by going to the conference site before you leave.  Typically there is a conference guide, but handouts for each session are not included.

11. Bring a smartphone and an extra personal charger. Smartphones are great for capturing those selfies and taking a photo of an information-packed slide during a session. Charging outlets are few and far between so be prepared with your own charger in case your phone starts to die.

12. Bring your own shoulder tote or backpack. A conference tote is usually given away as part of your registration, but it is rarely sturdy enough for carrying all the essentials handouts, giveaways, water bottles, snacks, extra layers of clothes and brochures you will collect.

13. Plan to smile and introduce yourself to people you don’t know. Remember most people attending the conference are newbies too. Worried you won’t know what to talk about?  Remember you always have the topic of ADHD in common!  One of my favorite conversation starters is to ask people is “What brings you to this conference?”

14. These conferences start early and go late. And if you are traveling across time zones, it is even more important that you honor your body’s need for sleep to synthesize all the learning you will be doing.

15. Take a break. If you feel you need it, step away from the noise. Excuse yourself and find a corner to gather your thoughts.  If you feel overwhelmed, go back to your room or sit in the lobby for a session rather than trying to cram more into your head.  When you are ready to dive in again, your brain will thank you for it.

16. Where to hang out to meet people. Past experience has shown that the lounge, bar or lobby are the best places.

17. Move your body if you need to. If you find yourself in a session where you need to move, this is the conference where no one is going to have any problem with you doing so. Simply move to the back of the room where you can stretch and wiggle without interrupting others.

18. Prepare for the next day. Each evening leaves a bit of time to review the following day’s events so you can be prepared with the conference guide, handouts, etc.

19. Know when, where and what meals will be served. This conference tends to be very good at providing nutritious options. However, it will be helpful for you to know which of these meals is included with the conference registration, which you can purchase on site at the conference and which you will need to plan on your own.

20. Pack snacks. Hangries are the worst buzz kill during a conference. Along with the handouts for the breakouts sessions you want to attend, add in some long burning fuel snacks like nuts, dried fruit and protein bars.

21. If you are a coffee drinker… plan extra time in any hotel coffee shop to get your caffeine.  These are some of the longest lines during the conference.

22. Attire is business casual. However, I would suggest wearing what you are comfortable wearing. Never in 15 years have I seen the fashion police at this conference.  However, you may want to add in an extra scarf, sweater or jacket.  The presentation rooms tend to be cool.

23. Be flexible. Things will not always go as planned.  Have fun going with the flow and enjoy being with a group of people who completely understand the fun and amusement of spontaneity.

24. Smile and smile more! You are almost sure to share lots of laughs with people you meet. Others who REALLY understand you attend this conference.  Enjoy their company.

25. Feeling overwhelmed and in need of a smiling face?  Visit the iACTcenter Booth in the Exhibit Hall and tell Meg you read this blog.  She will be there with some words of reassurance and can be your touchstone during the weekend.

Remember, that along with the information and resources, there are so many other ways to benefit and grow from attending this conference.  Be prepared to meet, shake hands or even get a hug from people you have only heard about or read about.  The professionals and experts that work with ADHD are very friendly and you just might get the opportunity to thank them personally for making such a difference in your life.

And, finally, don’t be surprised if a smile, hello or shared ADHD story from you makes a difference in someone else’s life…I know it happens to me all the time.

Enjoy the conference, I’ll be thinking of you all!

Stay amazing.


Want to know more about the iACTcenter so you know what booth to look for at the Exhibit Hall? Click here!

7 Quick Steps to Fall Asleep Faster with ADHD

ADHD Strategies    October 1, 2019

Fall asleep with ADHDLast week I had my first sleep study.  Considering that almost every living thing on the planet sleeps, it seems that sleep shouldn’t be that hard.  And yet, I’ve been struggling with it for most of my adult life.

The American Sleep Association (ASA) says that 50 million to 70 million U.S. adults have a sleep disorder.  If you have ADHD, the research estimates that you are among 60% of others with a similar brain style who have insomnia or trouble falling to sleep.

Personally my sleep challenges go beyond simply falling asleep to what’s considered a REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep disorder.  Most people are naturally in a paralyzed state when they dream, so they don’t move around.  Not me, I basically act out my dreams.  I talk at times, thrash about, and sometimes even crawl out of bed.  This interferes with my ability to get quality deep restorative sleep.  And let’s just say I’m not a very popular sleeping partner.  How they can know all this from one night of my trying to sleep in a hospital bed with more than a dozen electrodes attached to my body and two nasal cannulas up my nose is beyond me!  But there it is.

Considering that getting enough sleep is critical to our mental health, functioning, and well being (I highly recommend the book Why We Sleep by Mathew Walker), and well, we’ve got a problem, Houston.

Why we sleep

I joke that if sleep weren’t necessary, humans would have evolved out of it hundreds of thousands of years ago.  Sleep research is now showing the importance of quality sleep and how your brain is still working on important stuff while you snooze.

Not surprisingly, our ADHD brains are intensely busy while we sleep.  During sleep, our brains take care of things like memory consolidation, thought maintenance and neurochemical cleansing… like an overnight cleaning crew.  While we sleep, our brains are swept clean of the garbage that’s accumulated during the day.  Brain garbage is made up of free radicals and toxic proteins.  And when they build up, this brain waste is associated with things like Alzheimer’s disease.

When you sleep, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a night owl or early bird.  What matters is that you get to get 7–9 hours of sleep a night, to let your brain cleaning crew do its job.  This means being able to fall asleep in the first place.

Falling asleep in two minutes or less

In my quest to fall asleep easier I stumbled upon the following technique used by the U.S. Army.  This technique was first described in a book from 1981 called Relax and Win: Championship Performance by Lloyd Bud Winter.  Not surprisingly, the military wants to avoid mistakes from a soldier’s lack of sleep.

Having a couple of veterans in my family I thought I would give it a try.  If it worked to help our country’s heroes fall asleep in everything from a foxhole to a cargo plane, it might work for a middle-aged ADHD woman in the comfort of her own bed.

The method is supposed to have a 96% success rate of putting you to sleep within two minutes if you practice it for six weeks.  If it worked for me, that would shave off about 58+ minutes of my typical falling to sleep time.

Briefly, the technique involves muscle relaxation, breathing, and visualization.  At the end of the simple steps you drift off to sleep within a few minutes.

Here’s the quick sleep technique:

  1. Sit on the edge of your bed.  Make sure only your bedside light is on, your phone is silenced, and your alarm is set for the morning.
  2. Now relax your facial muscles.  First tighten them up in a wincing motion, and then slowly let your muscles naturally loosen.  Focus on relaxing the facial muscles on one side of your face and then the other.  Let your tongue fall loosely in your mouth.
  3. Once your face feels like deflated putty, let gravity pull both your shoulders naturally toward the ground, relaxing your neck and shoulder muscles.  Let your arms dangle, one side at a time.  Relax your hands.
  4. While doing this, breathe in and out, listening to the sound of your breath. With each breath, let your chest and shoulders relax further and then let gravity relax your waist, thighs and lower legs.
  5. Once your body feels like nothing more than a loosely formed lump of clay, try to clear your mind for 10 seconds.  If thoughts come naturally, let them pass – just keep your body loose and limp.  After a few more seconds your mind should feel clearer.
  6. Now picture one of the following two scenarios: lying in a canoe in a calm lake with clear blue skies above you or in a velvet hammock, gently swaying in a pitch-black room.  If you happen to be a person who isn’t great at visualization, you can instead chant the mantra, “Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think” for 10 seconds instead.
  7. And that’s it.  At the end of going through these steps, which take about two minutes, turn off the bedside light and lie down.  Ideally, you’ll drift off to sleep within two minutes.

How it worked for me…and a few tweaks to the technique

Knowing I was already resistant to falling asleep, it reassured me that this technique worked for 96% of people who practiced it for six weeks.  I let myself be ok with it not having instant success the first few nights and made a few changes that seemed to work better for me.

For instance, I really liked the visualizations but found my creative mind playing with other relaxing scenarios to not get bored.  It helped to give myself permission to imagine other relaxing places.  I also practiced the technique with the lights already off, lying down comfortably and ready for sleep.

I also found it helpful to slow the relaxation process down.  Doing this helped my mind to relax.  I also allowed more time to visualize in detail the relaxing of my body from head to toe.  For instance, I focused on relaxing my forehead, my eyes, and eyelids, then my cheeks, jaw and neck.  I imagined the relaxing of my thighs, calves, feet, and toes.

And something did start changing.  On the fourth night I woke up at 3a.m. and realized the last thing I remembered was relaxing my shoulders.  I also tried using the technique to help me fall asleep for a quick pick me up Sunday afternoon nap… and it worked!

After several initial weeks, I can honestly say this technique does seem to help me fall asleep faster.  Maybe not every night, but amazingly more often than not, I didn’t lay awake for hours.  I also realize that I am more of a canoe on the water kind of gal than a velvety hammock.

So go ahead and give it a try.  From my experience there is no reason not to. Then sleep on it.  You might be surprised by the results.  And let me know below how it works and if you are you a canoe or hammock sleeper!


Want to learn more about ADHD and sleep? Consider these blog articles:

Minimizing Your Symptoms of ADD: Which Comes First…Exercise, Diet or Sleep?

Sleep Problems and the ADHD Child

Learn the Skill of “Pulling Over” with ADHD Overwhelm

ADHD Strategies    September 3, 2019

ADHD OverwhelmAs many of you know, I moved back to Washington State several years ago and I noticed something different. On Washington State freeways, there are a lot more cars pulled over on the side of the roads.

Having lived in California for 13 years, a car on the side of the freeway usually meant one of two things. The car was having some sort of “trouble” – out of gas, flat tire, minor fender bender, etc. Or it humbly sat with the dreaded red, blue and white lights flashing. In general, Californians and California freeways are designed to get you somewhere fast and directly as possible. Taking a break on the side of the road didn’t factor in.

On the freeways of Washington State, it’s different. There is an undeniable number of cars pulled over on the right margin of the road, stopped and safe. No flashing lights, no raised hoods. Instead, the driver is typically parked on the side of the road on their phone talking or texting. It seems safety and taking a break when needed is more important than getting there.

I experienced this phenomenon on one of my many freeway trips during my move. The hood of my car wasn’t latched securely and I started to panic, looking frantically for an off-ramp. Yup, I was convinced the hood was going to suddenly flip off and block my view like a bad road trip movie.

Thankfully, I was traveling with my sister (a long-time resident of Washington state) who just kept saying, “Pull over…pull over…Laurie, just PULL OVER!”

It took me a minute to actually comprehend what she was saying since experience taught me that stopping on the freeway was rare and forbidden. Even so, I crossed to the far right lane, safely pulled over onto the shoulder, latched the hood (took a deep breath), merged back into the traffic and we were on our way.

This all reminds me of an analogy Dr. Hallowell used during his 2018 Succeed with ADHD Telesummit interview: “People with ADHD have a Ferrari brain and bicycle brakes.”

Yup, our ADHD brains can be like the California freeway – with its many revved up sports cars swerving in and out of lanes, racing along at a frantic pace, working so hard to get somewhere.

But the California way isn’t always the best way for an ADHD brain. It can lead to feeling overwhelmed, lost or in crisis. You don’t want to go fast and only stop when something breaks down or you get in trouble.

Instead, what if we add in a bit of the Washington mentality? What if we give ourselves permission to “pull over?” Time to take stock of our situation and determine what we need to do to avoid a crash? Maybe even “phone a friend” or ask “Siri for directions” and then when we are ready, pull out into life again.

So how can you develop the skill of “pulling over” when it feels like your brain is meant to go at high speed and wants to ignore the flashing warning lights?

Here are a few suggestions:


Notice how your body feels when overwhelmed. It may be a tight stomach, fuzzy or spinning feeling in your head or some other sensation. This is your cue that the overwhelm is beginning.


When you notice your overwhelm signals beginning to start, change your response and plan for how you can “pull over” to regain your calm. For most, this might include removing yourself from the current chaos. (Learn more about the feelings of ADHD here.)


Because you may not be able to figure out what to do next in the moment, the next step is to pull over and take a break. It will depend on the context as to what type of break you’re able to take, of course.

For example, if you’re working and overwhelmed, you may decide to stop working. If you are in a meeting or class, perhaps you can excuse yourself to go to the washroom. And, if you are having a one-to-one conversation and start to notice the overwhelm, you might ask to reconvene at another time entirely.

You might even decide to engage in an activity you enjoy so you can have some time away from whatever is causing you the overwhelm. It might just be the best thing to do in the moment. (See if you can answer this question – How Good of a Relaxer Are You?)


In some cases, it might be enough to take the above 3 steps to reduce your feelings of overwhelm and get back at it. However, once you feel more in control, you might decide what plan you would like to take if it happened again.


With your Ferrari brain, becoming overwhelmed at times is common for persons with ADHD. Following the steps above, allowing yourself the opportunity to pull over when you become overwhelmed can help you get back to calm more quickly and have you on the road again in no time.


Want to learn more about ADHD and strategies you can use?

Why “HOW” is Not Enough for People with ADHD

Goals that Work for People with ADHD