Doodles from Inside: “ADHD Class”

April 2, 2015 in Blog, Doodles from Inside, Stories From Inside by Robin Stramp

Hello, ADHD Community!

This week, I’d like to stray a bit from our usual “Stories from Inside” series. Instead of highlighting a written story, I want to share a picture that one of our participants doodled during our ADHD group coaching sessions at Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington, Delaware.

As you may know, there is a wide body of research demonstrating that doodling is a form of “fidgeting” that can increase any individual’s attention span and memory recall. There are a few theories that attempt to explain why this happens. According to Dr. Jackie Andrade of the University of Plymouth, doodling helps people focus and recall information because it demands just enough cognitive load to make daydreaming difficult, but not enough to prevent us from absorbing the information around us.

Dr. Andrade provides a potential explanation for the link among doodling, focus, and recall in individuals without ADHD, but the story gets even more interesting when we’re talking about individuals with the disorder. According to the dopamine theory of ADHD, individuals with ADHD have sub-optimal levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine circulating in brain pathways. This means that individuals with ADHD require higher levels of stimulation than individuals without it in order to achieve “normal” levels of dopamine. Since, among many other things, dopamine acts on receptors in the prefrontal cortex to regulate attention and activate executive functioning,  you can see how low levels of dopamine would play significant role in the presentation of ADHD! (Sidenote: The dopamine theory also explains why individuals with ADHD thrive in high-energy careers such as emergency response, medicine, and public safety.)

Stimulant ADHD medications such as Adderall and Ritalin help individuals focus by increasing activity of dopamine and another neurotransmitter, norepinephrine in the brain. Similar to these stimulant medications, doodling and other forms of fidgeting allow individuals with ADHD to self-regulate their dopamine levels. Doodling stimulates the normally under-aroused ADHD brain, and can bring dopamine circulation up to a level that allows for optimal functioning. In other words, doodling allows individuals with ADHD to give their brains an extra boost of activity that helps them maintain focus on external stimuli. With increased focus and attention, of course, comes the increased potential for the ADHD brain to absorb that information and recall it later.

Hopefully I haven’t talked your ear off with research! Without further ado, here is the first “Doodle from Inside,” doodled by an ADHD Corrections Project participant during our coaching sessions!

CM doodle

The artist chose not to explain the thought process behind his doodle. To me, though, the doodle is full of symbolism. I see the central figure as a sand timer. The anchor is weighing the timer down, much like negative thoughts could weigh down anyone’s mood while counting down the days until release from a correctional facility. The eye, though, represents the fresh perspective that our ADHD sessions (or class) bring to his attitude.

These observations, of course, only represent my own interpretation of the artist’s work. If you have any other ideas of what this doodle could mean, I’d love to hear them! Feel free to email your thoughts to rstramp@dcjustice.org, and I will check in with the artist to see if you’re on the right track!

Have a great week, and keep on doodling!

For more information about doodling and ADHD:

Andrade, J. (2009). What does doodling do? Applied Cognitive Psychology. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/acp.1561

Rotz, R. & Wright, S. D. (2005). Fidget to focus: Outwit your boredom: Sensory strategies for living with ADD. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, Inc.

Kercood, Suneeta & Banda, D.R. (2012). The effects of added physical activity on performance during a listening performance during a listening comprehension task for students with and without attention problems. International Journal of Applied Educational Studies, 13(1). Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/77851825/effects-added-physical-activity-performance-during-listening-comprehension-task-students-without-attention-problems

 Schott, G.D. (2011). Doodling and the default network of the brain. The Lancet, 378(9797). doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61496-7