It’s been almost a year since I posted on my five favorite ADHD books. I considered updating that list this fall, but as there is really only one additional book I would add to it, Smart but Stuck: Emotions in Teens and Adults with ADHD by Thomas E. Brown, PhD, I decided to write this review instead.
I’ve found this book to be a terrific addition to my ADHD library because it’s the first book to focus the spotlight on emotions as they relate to ADHD. Brown puts the importance of emotions into perspective in the second line of the first chapter when he states, “Emotions guide what we notice and what we ignore, what we focus on intently and what we carefully avoid.”
Emotions have long been a part of ADHD experts Russell Barkley and Thomas Brown’s models of executive function (EF). Barkley terms his executive function “Emotional Self Control”, while Brown calls his EF cluster, “Managing Frustration & Modulating Emotions.” The names used aren’t as important as understanding the idea that emotions are different for someone with ADHD. I’ve long been aware of the emotional differences that accompany ADHD. Even before I was diagnosed, I noticed my emotions and the emotions of some of my family members tended to be more intense and more frequently displayed. This book confirmed my observations in a way that the mere identification of emotions in the above mentioned EF models never could.
Brown tells us this book isn’t just about his specifically identified EF cluster related to emotion. Instead it’s about, “the multiple and subtle ways in which problems with emotion underlie chronic difficulties in the six clusters of EF.” Many years ago, my ADHD coach shared with me that “emotion is the on/off switch for activation.” Today I share this same information with my clients. This book demonstrates again and again through its many case studies/client stories that this is indeed the case.
The first chapter, “ADHD and the emotional brain” provides a great primer on ADHD and emotions, from both scientific and practical perspectives. The next 11 chapters highlight the stories of 11 of Dr Brown’s patients, who ranged in age from 14 to 50 – two high school students, six college students & three adults. Each of the individuals highlighted was someone with an exceptional IQ, whose struggles with achievement were not related to lack of brainpower, but to their ADHD challenges.
Smart but Stuck makes for very normalizing reading for both the individual struggling with ADHD and those who care about that individual. As an ADHD adult and ADHD coach, I was able to see glimpses of not only myself, but of every one of my clients in Brown’s case studies. This evidence that one is not alone in their challenges and more importantly that others have overcome those challenges can serve as a strong motivator.
I’ve long known emotions were different for people with ADHD. Now, thanks to this book, readers, like myself have a better understanding of why and how. Brown states, “We must recognize the critical role of emotions, both positive and negative, in initiating and prioritizing tasks, sustaining or shifting interest and effort, holding thoughts in active memory, and choosing to engage in or avoid a task or situation.” The impact of emotions is significant and those with ADHD need to understand this to be able to live the best lives they can.
I highly recommend this book for my readers with ADHD or my readers who share their lives with someone with ADHD. Have you read it? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!