Thoughts on Being an ADHD Computer Programmer
I recently answered a question on Quora about having Attention Deficit Disorder while being a computer science student. There are parts I’ve written about already to help other programmers with ADHD, and a ton more. Check it out.
The initial question was, “Is there any advice you can give to a CS student with ADHD?” Below is an adapted version of my answer.
CS-Specific advice for ADHD students
- For learning, seek out short tutorials (the shorter they are, the more likely you’ll complete them. Look for ones with lots of code examples, and less text. If you’re like me, the reading is more boring than trying stuff and seeing how it works.
- Use Code Academy, it makes learning to code a lot of fun. (http://codeacademy.com)
- Consider jumping jacks (or other simple, cardio exercise) before you start doing tutorials, and while you’re doing them (at 15 or 20 minute intervals…play with the duration). Get your heart pumping a little, and get blood to your brain, and you’ll learn better.
- Get a toy like a rubber ball. When something isn’t making sense, think about the problem while throwing the ball up and down. This is like taking a ‘play’ break; I believe it decreases the mental frustration of not understanding something and helps your brain process it in the background.
Strategies for Compensation
- Get noise cancelling headphones immediately – Sony makes an awesome pair for $20 (MDR-NC7 is the model number).
- Binaural beats / white noise audio can REALLY help you concentrate. My blog below has an article on these, but you can find them for free online.
- Pandora and Songza also have some good instrumental playlists – I find vocals very distracting.
- If you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, and it’s bad, consider medication in the short term. But it can have long-term health effects, which is why I recommend looking at long-term strategies (below).
- Above all, keep learning – not just about CS, but about your brain, and how to improve it. Your attention, motivation, memory and so on can all be improved with the right training, but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. I’ve had to do a lot of experimentation in this area. I’ve tried at least a half dozen things from brain training software, to reflex integration exercises and more. I’m still experimenting and far from the results I want, but I’ve definitely seen great results over time. So I believe that you can improve your brain drastically – it’s a matter of persistence and continual learning.
- Vipassana meditation is very powerful, and has helped my attention noticeably. It is quite challenging – to learn it, you have to commit to a 10-day retreat in which you don’t talk for 10 days. But it’s entirely free, and their centers are around the country. You can find out more about this at Vipassana Meditation; I also have a good article on my experience with Vipassana on my blog.
I have lots more responses to questions like these on in my Quora profile, check them out.
If you’re a ADHD programmer, also check out these articles:
- Thoughts on Being an ADHD Computer Programmer
- 10 Productivity Tips for Programmers with ADHD