ADHD, Dopamine & Women

Many women with ADHD are mis-diagnosed as having anxiety, depression or a mood / personality disorder rather than ADHD. One of the reasons for these mis-diagnoses is the hormonal fluctuations that complicate a woman’s ADHD presentation. 

Studies suggest that people with ADHD have an imbalance of chemicals in their brain. One of these chemicals is dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, (a chemical that sends signals between nerves in the body) Research shows that the brains of individuals with ADHD do not release dopamine in adequate amounts, resulting in the typical ADHD difficulties with emotional regulation, self-control, organisation, motivation, time management, memory and attention. 

The menstrual cycle and ADHD

Levels of dopamine in the female brain are regulated by oestrogen and progesterone hormones. During the first half of the menstrual cycle, the average woman’s level of oestrogen is high, progesterone is low and dopamine is high. During the second half of the cycle, the average woman’s level of oestrogen is low, progesterone is high and dopamine levels drop. This drop in dopamine will have a bigger impact on women with ADHD because of their already low levels of the chemical.  This drop will affect each individual differently, but can exacerbate such symptoms as: –

  • Emotional regulation. The woman may become irritated by apparently minor issues, and lose her temper quickly.
  • Self-control and impulsivity. The individual may indulge in risky behaviours or find it impossible to, for example, keep to a diet plan.
  • Anxiety. Daily life becomes more problematic. The woman finds it harder to concentrate, doesn’t sleep well, and has difficulty focusing on work or motivating herself. 

Additional fluctuations in hormone levels during puberty, adolescence, pregnancy and the menopause, will mean that this will be an ongoing problem for some women from their teenage years to late middle age.

How to help yourelf.

  1. Identify your own areas of difficulty. Do your research around your own specific problems. Find out how other women cope. Knowledge is power.
  2. When speaking to medical professionals, bear in mind that you have the  comprehensive understanding of your own symptoms, both previous and current. Be proactive and prepared to question professionals about your diagnoses and any treatment they suggest.
  3. Investigate ADHD medication. Medication is used to improve the balance of neuro-transmitters such as dopamine in the brain. Stimulants like Ritalin, help to balance dopamine release and ensure a steady supply to the individual’s nervous system.
  4. Be open about difficulties with your partner, family, friends and work colleagues to enable them to be supportive and to anticipate and understand any mood swings.
  5. Time spent in activity that the individual finds relaxing and enjoyable is known to increase dopamine levels: yoga, gardening, painting, walking, meditation, listening to music, sewing, doing jig-saws, spending time outdoors or reading. 
  6. Organise yourself during those times when you are at your most efficient to prepare for those times when you find things more challenging. Use IT to create systems to help you with organisation, planning, time keeping and routine.
  7. When you are feeling irritable, use email rather than the phone or speaking face to face. Communicating by email will give you time to reply in a measured, reasonable manner, as well as acting as a backup for your memory. 
  8. Studies show that physical activity increases the release of dopamine, so take regular movement breaks. Walk round the block at lunchtime, walk up the stairs rather than use the lift, walk to the second bus stop rather than use the closest one.
  9. Exercise regularly: play badminton or tennis, swim, go for a walk or a bike ride, join a fitness, Pilates, dance or yoga class, jog around the block.
  10. Try to ensure you get adequate amounts of sleep. 
  11. Maintain a healthy diet. Protein rich foods like fish, eggs, nuts and lean meat are used by the body to make neuro-transmitters such as dopamine. 
  12. Become an advocate for women. Promote a greater appreciation of women’s issues in schools, the work place and society generally.

Winners of the ‘Happiness is…’ competition

I had such an amazing reaction to my ‘Happiness is…’ competition – over 50 amazing entries! A huge thank you to all who took the time to enter. I have so enjoyed looking through these colourful and hugely artistic entries, and it was extremely hard to pick the winners, so hard in fact that I added 3 more winner prizes.

I am excited to share the winners with you all, so you can enjoy the sheer happiness of the entries too.

Congratulations to all who won, I will be contacting you all to arrange sending your hoody prizes.

All the best,

Pat Guy

Picture 1. Ethan Guo – 7 years. Happiness is creating my own board games.

Picture 2. Christian Swinn – 5 years. Happiness is lots of things.

Picture 3. Rachel Zhao – 5 years. Happiness is flying.

Picture 3. Rachel Zhao – 5 years. Happiness is flying.

Picture 4. Yiyi Zhong – 6 years. Happiness is making  breakfast for Mum.

Picture 4. Yiyi Zhong – 6 years. Happiness is making  breakfast for Mum.

Picture 5. Yishi Zhong – 8 years. Happiness is redesigning iPad games.

Picture 6. Emma Lau – 7 years. Happiness is drawing pictures.

Picture 7. Isabella Amatsari – 11 years. Happiness is the colour of a morning sunrise.

Picture 8. Rosie Zhang – 7 years. Happiness is being with my family.

Aren’t they just WONDERFUL?

Pupils should not be defined by their secretarial skills

Children learn to read and write at primary school. All Key Stage One and Two lessons will have some element that is designed to develop the pupils’ literacy skills. 

  • Primary teacher training courses have a strong literacy component. Primary teachers become literacy specialists because of this training and their subsequent classroom experience. 
  • Primary teachers teach the same class for a year and get to know the children well. They will understand that different children learn in different ways and will vary their approaches to teaching literacy accordingly.
  • Primary schools have an extensive range of literacy resources, games and computer programmes, in addition to reading material to suit every pupil: the competent reader needing to be challenged, as well as the struggling or reluctant reader.
  • Most primary classrooms have timetabled support from Teaching Assistants, who are available to help individuals and small groups with literacy. These Teaching Assistants tend to be linked to the same class or year group, and will know individual children well.

In secondary schools, pupils use literacy to access curriculum subjects. Secondary teachers are not literacy specialists, they are subject specialists. Secondary subject teachers in mainstream schools will not have time to focus on a pupil’s literacy needs during lessons, as the curriculum content of their subject, be it Design, History, Drama, Biology, etc, will take priority.  

Pupils in secondary school with weak literacy skills may be withdrawn for ‘catch-up’ lessons, perhaps being taught reading and writing in ways that haven’t worked for them previously. These catch-up lessons may take place after school when pupils are tired, or at lunch time when they need to take a break from studies. They may have to drop subjects, or be withdrawn from subjects they enjoy to attend support lessons. This may be in spite of the pupils having an average or above average IQ.

If children continue to experience difficulties with literacy when they transfer to secondary school, the focus should be on finding ways around such problems. There is a balance to be struck between the child reaching a level of functional literacy, achieving the qualifications they are capable of, and maintaining reasonable levels of self-esteem. The support focus is misdirected if a pupil attends a Nurture Group to boost their confidence, when their low self-esteem is due to inadequate literacy levels.

There is no need for pupils to be held back by weak secretarial skills in a technological age. Extra lessons in basic literacy should be dropped in favour of assistive technology used in mainstream classes: speech recognition software, text to speech software, mind mapping apps, note taking apps, electronic calendars, smart phones apps and so forth. A.T. will allow pupils the opportunity to work at a level close to their potential rather than bang their head against the same brick wall.

‘The Times They Are a–Changing’ – Bob Dylan.

It’s only words…

Current research confirms that lockdown had a significant impact on children’s language development. A survey of schools across England revealed an increased number of four- and five-year-olds needing support with language. Of the 58 primary schools surveyed, 76% of headteachers said that children starting school in September 2020 needed more assistance with their verbal communication than had been necessary in previous years.

The acquisition of an adequate vocabulary is an essential part of language development. There is already known to be a wide variation of language experience between different groups of children. For example, some eight-year-olds will have a vocabulary of 7,000 words, while others will have a vocabulary of 3,000 words. Such a discrepancy disadvantages some children from an early age. By the time these eight-year-olds are eleven and starting secondary school, they will need a vocabulary of 9,000 words to access the secondary curriculum. When pupils can understand the words they read in formal texts or hear in classroom discussions, they are free to focus on the overall meaning of what is being read or discussed. 

To help children extend their vocabulary: –

  1. Talk with the children. All children learn words through discussion, especially when listening to and participating in conversations with adults. Even if they are only hearing conversational words, this will provide them with a solid foundation to build on.
  2. The easiest way for any child to develop their vocabulary is through reading. Reading enables the child’s personal word bank to expand gradually with regular reinforcement and repetition. This creates a virtuous circle. The more the child reads, the better their vocabulary becomes. The better their vocabulary, the more complex the texts they can tackle, which in turn exposes them to additional complex words. 
  3. If children find age-appropriate texts difficult to read, encourage them to listen to material on CDs or the internet. Use text-to-speech facilities on devices to read the texts aloud. Encourage the child to click on any unknown words for dictionary definitions.
  4. Play word games: crosswords, anagrams and word quizzes. Think of as many animals, countries, place names, pieces of scientific apparatus, vegetables, musical instruments, etc, beginning with a letter of the alphabet in two minutes. It is always useful to link any new vocabulary to groups of known words, for example, names of countries beginning with ‘I’: add the new country ‘Indonesia’ to the already known countries of Ireland, India, Israel and Italy.
  5. Watch television with sub-titles. Children often mishear words and mispronounce them, which may lead to embarrassing errors. If they have the opportunity to see the word as it is spoken, they will be more likely to recognise it and pronounce it correctly when they see it again.
  6. Point out the more obvious suffixes and prefixes to help work out the meanings of unknown words. Aqua meaning water links with: aquarium, aqueduct, aquatic and Aqua-park, so sub-aqua will be something to do with being under water. The ‘tri’ in triceratops, triangle and tricycle relates to the number three: three horns, three sides and three wheels, so tripod will mean three legs.
  7. Read material to them that would be too difficult for them to read by themselves, perhaps articles from the newspaper that you think might interest them. Explain some of the more complex words as you read.
  8. Read non-fiction books, and children’s newspapers and magazines to expose the child to technical and topic specific words. It will seem more natural to discuss unfamiliar vocabulary when reading information and subject specific books aloud.
  9. Raise awareness of proverbs. An understanding of common proverbs helps children understand the concept of ‘reading between the lines’. For example, the proverb, ‘Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill’, isn’t telling you to go digging, but to not exaggerate the size of a problem you are facing.  
  10. Share puns and jokes, nonsense poems and limericks. Puns that humorously interchange the meanings of words, (such as those found in Christmas crackers), are particularly useful.

The Power of Introverts

While extroverts are stimulated by the company of others, introverts are content to be by themselves. Introverts can be sociable, but find it draining rather than fulfilling; social interaction being pleasant for a while, but then the individual will need time alone to recharge their batteries. 

Some people assume from an introvert’s behaviour that they are arrogant, shy, aloof, rude, unfriendly, antisocial or scary. Introverts will be confused by such misconceptions, as they don’t dislike other people, they are just busy doing their own thing: observing their surroundings, absorbed in their own thoughts and generally enjoying life.  

Misconceptions about introverts may occur because: –

  • The introvert’s lack of outward enthusiasm is misconstrued. Others may think the introvert doesn’t like them or disapproves of what they are saying; whereas in actual fact the introvert is considering the information given and has no strong opinion.
  • Social events can leave the introvert feeling tired and irritable. They would prefer to do something else, preferably something useful or of personal interest. Social chit-chat can seem boring and many introverts would prefer to be alone with their thoughts
  • At job interviews, the individual may be judged to be too reserved and quiet to be considered for the post. The introvert meanwhile, feels that they are being polite and responding thoughtfully to what the interviewer is saying. 
  • Introverts are masters of the RBF, (Resting Bitch Face). As far as they are concerned, their face is expressionless. Unfortunately, others interpret their blank expression as sadness, arrogance or unfriendliness when, in actual fact, the individual is feeling anything but.
  • Introverts have opinions and are happy to participate if they have something to say. They are content to know what they know, and do not feel the need to prove it to everyone else. Others surprise them by seeming to want to always participate, always say something even when what they say isn’t particularly relevant. 

Strategies for introverts to follow: –

  • Use the written word: this will give time to communicate a considered response.
  • Use your strengths of observation to help you understand the behaviour of others. 
  • Build regular downtime into your diary. 
  • There is no need to defend yourself or justify your behaviour. Introverts simply prefer their own company, so don’t force yourself to be something you are not merely to please others.
  • Accept that being introvert does not make you incompetent, any more than being extrovert makes you competent. 
  • Remember that being alone allows time to be spent on reflection, problem solving, lateral thinking or considering a variety of approaches and solutions to challenges.
  • Play to your strengths. Find friends, hobbies, school subjects or employment that enable you to utilise your skills. 
  • Surround yourself with people who energise rather than drain you.  Better to be energised by an interesting conversation with a close friend, rather than left brain dead by banal chit-chat with work colleagues.

Creative Competition “Happiness is…” Under 12’s

WIN a hoody featuring an ‘Olivia and the Proverbs’ image and proverb – available in a variety of sizes, colours and designs.

TO ENTER: Just draw / make a picture to show what happiness is to you. This could be anything from being on holiday, going swimming, taking your dog for a walk, reading, building with Lego, riding your bike, watching tv – whatever makes you happy!

Entrants must be 12 years or under. Please ensure to give the child’s name and age on the entry.

Please send your entries to: by 28th February 2023. Winners will be announced shortly after, here on the blog and contacted via email. There will be five lucky winners in total and age will be taken into consideration.

Best of luck and I can’t wait to see all of your cheery entries!

Pat Guy

Early Experience and Brain Development

All animals adapt in order to survive, fine tuning their brains according to the input they receive from their environment. The more sophisticated the animal, the more adaptable their brain. 

At birth the human brain already has the majority of the information messengers that it will ever have. The young child’s brain has twice as many connections between the information messengers as an adult’s brain. These extra connections make their brains exceptionally responsive to input. For example, hearing speech stimulates connections in language-related areas of the brain, reinforcing and strengthening that specific area. Every time the child hears more speech, the connections will be further strengthened and reinforced. 

The brain will judge connections that are not used regularly to be unnecessary and delete them. This process of consolidating and pruning enables the brain to achieve development that is perfectly in tune with the individual child’s personal situation.

There are key periods in early childhood when the brain is most affected by experience, be it positive or negative, and this receptiveness can put the brain development of young children living in stressful situations at risk. Positive experiences throughout childhood help to build healthy brains, but negative experiences will have the reverse effect. If a young child is in a constant state of high alert, ready for aggressive or unpredictable behaviour from their familiar adults, they will exist in a constant state of anxiety and fear. Fear will change the way the child’s brain works. For example, when in a state of fear, the child can only use the primitive parts of their brain; they will react to situations instinctively and without thought: fighting or hitting out, absconding or simply freezing with terror. Such defensive mechanisms will help to keep them safe in stressful environments, but will be counterproductive in safer situations, such as school. 

Supporting children who have experienced early stress is difficult, but the situation is not hopeless.

  • It is important that parents and carers are attuned and responsive to their baby’s needs and provide appropriate care: recognising and responding when their baby is hungry, unwell or in need of physical affection and comfort.
  • Teachers should ask what has happened to the child, rather than what is wrong with the child. 
  • Human brains have the potential to change and grow: caring relationships and sympathetic support can reduce the effects of early negative experiences, helping a child’s brain develop in a healthy way. 
  • Resilience can be taught at any age.
  • Frightened children react without thought, so talking may not always help. To reduce panic and anxiety, try to be predictable and reliable in your response, involve the child in physical activity and increase their favourite sensory input, for example, listening to music, playing on a swing or walking round the playground.

Old Habits Die Hard

Neurodiverse pupils often develop their own strategies for coping at school. However, such defence mechanisms are not always useful in the long term.

  • The pupil may prefer to be seen as the class clown rather than class dunce. 
    • The older child may choose to save face by becoming the school comic or rebel. This can make life difficult for other pupils as well as their teachers, as the child may ridicule their peers for working hard or joining in.
  • The pupil may develop a ‘chip on their shoulder’.
    • If the child receives regular criticism, they may become hypersensitive to what they feel to be negative comments. They may be aggressively defensive, ready to argue rather than listen to feedback that could support their progress.
  • They manage by becoming perfectionists.
    • The pupil may work themselves into a state of exhaustion in order to keep up with their peers. 
  • They may cultivate a ‘take me or leave me’ persona.
    • The pupil may have what appears to be a relaxed attitude, showing no desire to adapt their behaviour or increase their effort. ‘This is what I’m like: take me or leave me.’ 
  • The child may develop helplessness.
    • This is a strategy more more commonly seen amongst girls. The pupil will acquiesce by saying: ‘Oh, I can’t do this’, or ‘I’ve always been pathetic at this sort of thing’, hoping that someone else will step forward and seize the opportunity offered.
  • They may take a domineering stance.
    • Domination tends to be a tactic used by boys. If the pupil feels that they are in control, they can set the agenda, play to their strengths and avoid anyone uncovering any perceived weaknesses.
  • The pupil may blame others.
    • The pupil may blame others for their errors; shifting the blame in the hope that their shortcoming will be less obvious.
  • Or they simply give up.
    • Some of the children may get so used to failure, they give up and settle for a lifetime of underachievement.

Unfortunately, strategies developed in childhood can easily become lifetime habits, whether useful or not. Few of these strategies are helpful in adult life: being dismissive of others, arguing for argument’s sake, point scoring, appearing disinterested or overly critical are not endearing personal characteristics.

Proverbs to support resilience

(Resilience refers to an individual’s ability to recover quickly from setbacks)

  1. However long the night, the dawn will break – African proverb. 

Remember that uncomfortable times do not last for ever. Every day brings a fresh start and new opportunities.

2. Only those who do nothing, never make a mistake – African proverb.

Everyone makes mistakes. Making mistakes is an essential part of learning. Reflect on what went right, and learn from what went wrong, then start again. 

3. Enough is as good as a feast. 

Keep things in perspective: remember that others will be facing circumstances more challenging than your own and be grateful for what you have. 

4. A man is known by the company he keeps.

Spend time with positive, supportive people who are optimistic and will encourage you to keep going through difficult times.

5. The longest journey begins with a single step.

Take a small steps approach to challenges. 

6. Healthy body, healthy mind. 

When you are fit and healthy, it will be easier to cope with difficulties: exercise regularly, follow a sensible diet, spend time outdoors and keep to a good sleep routine.

7. All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy. 

Take time to relax and recharge your batteries in order to persist with an activity. 

8. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. 

See difficult situations as challenges, and always look for the silver lining in any problem. 

9. Variety is the spice of life. 

The more varied your skill set, the more the options you will have for moving forward.

10. Time flies when you’re enjoying yourself. 

When you enjoy what you do, you will be more motivated to persist in the face of challenge. 

11. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. 

Be flexible in your thinking: there will always be several different ways to tackle problems. 

12. Laughter is the best medicine.  

A sense of humour will help you to deal with every situation. 

Olivia and the Proverbs – Illustrations

The ‘Olivia and the Proverbs’ books comprise of short stories designed to teach children the meanings of English proverbs in a fun way. Each story focuses on one proverb. The stories are beautifully illustrated by Alessandra Covino. 

I wanted to share some of these illustrations with you, along with their matching proverb…

Birds of a feather, flock together.
Patience is a virtue.
Silence is golden


Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Let sleeping dogs lie.
Never judge a book by its cover.

I never tire of seeing the beautiful way Alessandra brings my stories to life through her illustrations.

All of my ‘Olivia and the Proverbs’ books are available on Amazon, click on their names below:

Olivia and the Proverbs

Olivia and the Proverbs 2

Olivia the Architect

– Pat