Book Excerpt: Problems With Motivation: What’s the Source?

If you are working with a young person with ADHD who seems to lack motivation, consider each of the following areas: degree of brain activation, sufficiency of skill set, and quality of thoughts and beliefs in regard to the young person’s ability to generate success from his or her efforts. These three areas work together to help a young person with ADHD experience the motivation needed to put forth effort and work toward goals. Questions to ask include the following:

1.  Is there underactivity in the brain that needs addressing? If lack of motivation seems apparent in the young person, take some time to make sure the brain is properly activated. Work with the young person’s multimodal support team to examine and address any relevant neurobiological issues. If you don’t help the young person become more attentive in thought and initiation, it will be next to impossible for him or her to be motivated to do something.

2.  Are sufficient skills in place? Next, look at the current skill level of the young person. What skills does the young person need to build to initiate tasks and sustain motivation? Request a self-report of areas of difficulty and frustration in addition to areas of strength and skill. Then partner with the young person and his or her support team to create a plan for effective skill building in all life areas.

3.  Do negative thoughts or beliefs from a history of failure need to be addressed? As a result of a past record of letdowns and failures, the young person may be caught in a trap of viewing the glass as half empty rather than half full. Negative or pessimistic thinking can undermine attempts to build skills; self-defeating thoughts can interfere with motivation and effort. What will it take for the young person to look at the future with a new perspective and a more positive outlook? Help the client become aware of common negative thought patterns and work together to create an affirmation, such as “I will be successful” or “I can do it.”