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  • Writer's pictureemma beckett

The Power of Tiny Breaks: Navigating Learning, ADHD, and Autism with the Pomodoro Technique

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

Hey guys! It's Emma here, and today, we're embarking on a deep dive into our personal journey of learning, managing ADHD and Autism and the transformative power of tiny breaks. So, grab a cup of tea, get comfortable, and join us on this adventure filled with insights, personal experiences, and a dash of humour!

Our story begins on a day like any other. River and I were nestled in our cozy home office at the end of the garden working on a practice podcast recording. Actually not even a podcast - it was a practise intro for the podcast and we were literally just seeing how the hardware and software works...

We were on our sixth attempt in one session, a whirlwind of just a few words, laughter and learning. To me, it felt like a fun experience, a shared adventure in the world of podcasting. But then, something happened that made me pause.

River, my vibrant 12-year-old son, got totally overwhelmed. Hit a wall. Tears welled up in his eyes, a silent testament to the pressure he was feeling. It was a heart-wrenching moment and a stark reminder that I was asking too much of him. He's a young autistic child who had already been intensely learning new things for the podcast for weeks, on top of his regular home education.

River's learning process is unique, as is the case for many home-educated children. His capacity for hyper-focus, a common trait among autistic individuals, leads to periods of intense learning. He dives deep into subjects, absorbing information like a sponge, for weeks on end. This is followed by a few weeks of rest and recovery, a necessary downtime to process all the new knowledge.

Common symptoms of hyper-focus can strangely look like inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. This can manifest as being restless or fidgety or on the other more predictable end of the spectrum it could be a loss of attention to real time. For children in school or regular settings this can be mistaken for a lack of interest, an inability to focus or being labelled as being badly behaved. Hyper focus in ADHD could also be closer to hyper fixation in autism. We really don't have all the answers.

On the other hand I grapple with ADHD - a condition that presents its own set of challenges, including executive dysfunction. I also have a brain injury from a snowboarding accident almost 12 years ago. This means that my ability to plan, focus, remember instructions and juggle multiple tasks can be impaired. As a result our capacities for workload vary and change daily, and we have to navigate this complex dance together.

This is where the Pomodoro Technique comes into play. Developed by Francesco Cirillo, this time management method involves breaking work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These intervals are known as "pomodoros" named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.

The Pomodoro Technique has been a game-changer for us. It provides a structure that helps manage distractions and maintain focus. But more importantly, it ensures that we take regular breaks to avoid burnout and overwhelm. I am terrible at starting work and then realising 4 hours has gone by and I haven't even moved let alone taken a break or had a drink. Setting alarms to use the Pomodoro technique is like a rhythm that guides our work and rest, ensuring that we respect our individual capacities and needs or at least giving us a reason to check in with each other.

Implementing the Pomodoro Technique is quite straightforward. You choose a task, set a timer for 25 minutes (one "pomodoro"), work on the task until the timer goes off, then take a short break for about 5 minutes. Every four "pomodoros", you take a longer break, around 15-30 minutes.

I found this image on here;

A fun chart to illustrate the pomodoro method, it has a pale yellow background and a handwritten feel to the font that says the pomodor technique a simple method to balance focus with deliberate breaks. There is a graphic of a red tomatoe kitchen timer and written steps for plan your tasks (how many pomodors do you need?) and for do 1 pomodoro timer for 25 minutes then take 5 minute break. a graph line shows the sections for the 25 minutes working and 5 minutes break. It then says repeat x 4 pomodors with another graph line showing 4 tomatoes before a section saying long break.
Pomodoro technique illustration

This method has been a lifeline for us. It respects River's need for cyclical learning and my need to manage my ADHD. It's a reminder that it's okay to take breaks, to rest, and to respect our individual rhythms.

But the Pomodoro Technique is more than just a time management tool. It's a philosophy that embraces the idea that balance is key to productivity. It's not about working harder, but working smarter. It's about understanding our limits and working within them, not against them.

Home education is its own unique journey for everyone and thats the beauty of it. For us thats something to embrace and working out how to make our adventures work within our capacities is the best part of the journey!

How many children in school learn this kind of self regulation and get to follow their passions in such a free way?!

Learning to manage ADHD and using the pomodoro technique is just one way that we have found useful. We would love to hear back from you with any other time management ti[ps you've found that work for you whether neurodiverse or home educating or living a more conventional life and workflow! Send us a message with any other ideas we could try.

Learning and working are journeys filled with ups and downs at the best of times with the most regular of set ups let alone when working with two people with their own quirks and their own version of working outside of the system. Processes like this require patience, understanding and a healthy dose of self-care. So, whether you're learning something new or working on a familiar routine remember to take care of yourselves and each other.

Love always,

Emma and River.

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