ADHD and Trouble With Transitions

Sunflowers, with a yellow butterfly one one side of a stick and a yellow and black caterpillar on the other side. The words read ADHD Transition and Trouble

Trouble with Transitions – A common problem for ADHD folks.


I have trouble with transitions. Shifting my attention from one task to another is one of areas I have struggles with.  I might have trouble when I get interrupted when I’m concentrating. I might struggle when I need to turn my attention from work time to family time. Those are small examples, and then there are bigger transitions like a child moving out, a death in the family, a new job, a new addition to the family and more.


For some people with ADHD, like me, shifting gears from one task to another or shifting focus from one problem to another can take an extraordinarily large amount of energy. Asking us to switch tasks abruptly can leave us feeling agitated, forgetful, maybe even irritable.  And that’s the adults! Children have trouble with transitions even more, and have less understanding of why. These feelings lead to difficulty with peers and friends because we can be perceived as being difficult to work with, never satisfied, or inflexible.

Why are they so tough for ADHD folks?

There are a few reasons (at least) why folks with ADHD may have trouble with transitions. The first is that we are chronic dopamine miners. This means that if our brains find the activity that we are currently doing more effective at giving us dopamine, it’s a real struggle to stop doing that to turn to do something else.


This also shows up in that we tend to hyper focus on things that our brains find interesting or urgent. So if our brain feels that the first task is more urgent than the new activity, it balks at making the change. Our brain believes that we must finish the thing we are working on now, because it’s clearly more urgent. This problem can be added to by our constant knowledge that if we don’t do it NOW, we will forget.


Other common problems leading to trouble with transitions are found in the executive function difficulties many of us have. To move from one task to another requires a shift in what we are physically or mentally doing to another thing. Depending on the task being requested, it may call on us to use working memory, time management, prioritization, and self motivation. All skills that may be impaired in people with ADHD.


So what do we do? We all deal with transitions every day. How do we make them easier for ourselves? How do we help our children with these struggles. Below are a few tips that *might* be of help.

A faded image of a large sunflower being held by two hands and arms, one arm has sunflower tattoos on it.

Plan The Day

Planning for the day-to-day transitions can be helpful in reducing resistance. Routines are helpful for both children and adults as they condition the brain to those transitions. Looking ahead at the day and noticing when you (or your child) will have transitions so that they aren’t a surprise can help a lot. Breaking a day or chore into smaller sections can help transitions not seem overwhelming.

Alarms & Reminders

For helping younger people with transitions, reminders as transition time is getting closer is helpful. Sometimes using a timer, a count down device, or an alarm is useful. For adults,  setting reminders can help you begin to shift your mindset when you know you have a transition coming. Give yourself a buffer when possible of time in case of a rough transition. Remind yourself that you can come back to the first thing another time.

Be Compassionate

If you struggle with transitions, try to be compassionate with yourself. Understanding that you need extra time for a transition is a way to take care of yourself. If you love someone who struggles with transitions, validate their struggle and ask if you can be supportive in some way. Be kind to yourself or loved one. Understanding all the reasons it might be a struggle may help you go easier on yourself while also helping you develop skills to make transitions a little bit easier.



Ask For Help

If you have ADHD and you struggle with transitions, reach out for help. Ask your support system for help. Tell your boss what you need. Advocate for your loved one.

ADHD Coaching is one option for helping. There are many options out there.

If you’d like to hear more about how coaching might be able to help, fill out the form below for more information or a free consultation. 

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