Air Traffic Controllers & Your Brain

Air Traffic Controllers & Your Brain

adhd executive function focus organization Feb 16, 2021

by: Roxanne Turner

I had the opportunity this past weekend to tour the air traffic control tower at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport located just outside Denver, Colorado, RMMA. RMMA is a general aviation airport, servicing everything from student pilots in small propeller planes to sophisticated business jets. Even huge tanker planes that fight wildfires throughout the Rocky Mountains fly out of there. The view from the tower is incredible.  High in the air with a backdrop of snow capped peaks to the west and downtown Denver to the east, I thought to myself this had to be the best “office” in town. I quickly realized, however, that this was serious business, where highly trained professionals worked tirelessly with no room for error.

I sat in awe as the controllers guided a variety of planes through their airspace to safe take offs and landings. It was like a finely choreographed ballet, with aircrafts all over radar screens, being given detailed instructions constantly, one right after another.  Their job is in the top-five most stressful, responsible for remembering and recalling vast amounts of information, maintaining constant focus, and managing multiple tasks at once.  On a busy day, the work is so physically and mentally exhausting that the controllers switch off every hour to stay sharp and even nap on break to recharge.

Why am I talking about Air traffic controllers?  

 It got me thinking about the students and adults I work with that have ADHD and Learning Differences.  The National Center for Learning Disabilities released a report that shows 1 out of every 5 students has Dyslexia or attention issues.  For them, it is like being an air traffic controller, without a radar to help make sense of all the chaos in the air. Does this describe you? More and more adults are getting diagnosed with ADHD later in life, often after their child is diagnosed. 

Your Brain | Embracing it’s Processing Style

The ADHD brain does not see the world as everyone else. To maximize the gifts and strengths you have been given, you must understand how you process information and navigate day to day tasks. Once you understand how you learn and interpret the world around you, you can develop systems to gain skills and build self-confidence. A key ingredient to this is self-forgiveness. Over the years, you have been building your own radar to process and manage all the information that is coming your way and finding a community, like MorningCoach, to support you on that journey. 

Recharging the Brain

For adults with attention and learning deficits, going to work and sorting through information is like being an air traffic controller on a super busy day.  You will have worked hard to focus and complete tasks all day long and will be tired, frustrated, and even cranky when you come home. Just keeping up can be exhausting, as you are likely putting in two to three times the effort of your peers.  You, too, will need lots of breaks to recharge. Take the time to discover the best way for you to recharge.  Is it going for a walk around the block, exploring your creative side by drawing, or simply kicking back and daydreaming?  Be careful with screen time, however, as the constant stimulation can drain the brain further.  This could be a fun experiment to do with your family and to find healthy options that work for everyone.

When I met the controllers at RMMA, it was clear they are passionate about what they do and take great pride in keeping pilots, passengers, and their planes safe. They are given the training, community, and rest necessary to stay at the top of their game.  Are you supported in the same way; with compassion and space to achieve success at your own pace?  You, too, can marvel as you keep the dots on your radar screen from colliding!

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