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Finding ADD

Posted on Sat, 01 February, 2014

Do you often feel or say, “I think I have ADD”.  I hear it a lot from clients in my therapy room, from friends and acquaintances.  I used to brush it off as something people said that linked them to trending topics or to get a chuckle out of a dinner party.  The diagnosis has become so common place that the moment our attention deviates from something or we feel bored, God forbid,  we assume we have a diagnosable mental health condition.  For some this is quite true, and for those people you cannot mistake their ADD.  Now that I’ve read Driven to Distraction by Edward Hallowell, I have a completely different understanding of ADD and more importantly, something called Quasi-ADD.


Here’s a basic understanding of what people with ADD are like and what they’re struggling with.  I stripped away the official vernacular to make it more approachable and recognizable, one of Dr. Hallowell’s talents in his book.

  • Highly challenged in sustaining attention or effort – easily tune out
  • Impulsive, silly
  • Have problems regulating levels of arousal
  • Tendency to feel they are underachieving
  • Frequently search for high stimulation – always fidgeting, seeking to be physically active, new stimulation, extreme physical activity or adventure
  • Tend to have addictive behaviors: Substance problems usually with caffeine, cocaine, alcohol, pot, gambling, shopping, overworking
  • Inaccurate self-observers, therefore don’t represent their feelings or recount their behaviors well
  • Family history of ADD or misdiagnosed Bipolar
  • Need immediate reinforcement
  • Cannot tolerate boredom
  • Tend to be incredibly creative, entreprenuerial
  • Tend to be driven and dedicated when motivated
  • Tend to worry needlessly
  • Often poor sleepers
  • Often left-handed
  • Can have mood swings – not pronounced like Bipolar
  • Tend to be higher in males than females by 3:1
  • Tend to be higher rates in adopted populations (but unclear why)
  • Blamed for chaos in family (mealtimes, vacations, etc)

You will notice that hyperactivity is not on this list.  ADD with hyperactivity is a mine field in my opinion.  You do not have to have hyperactivity to have ADD, but if you are hyper then you most likely have ADD.  Let me address hyperactivity for a moment, before you lose focus or get bored or something.  Hyperactivity is exaggerated beyond the normal capacity for activity and energy by peers of the same age and ability.  Just because someone is excited or likes to work out everyday does not mean they are hyper.  And here’s my real issue with this topic: not all boys are hyperactive.  I do believe many teachers are so overworked and undervalued that they see hyperactivity where it doesn’t always exist.  Natural boy energy is just that, natural.  As a rule, boys metabolism is faster due to biological need for males to be protective, later boosted with the addition of testosterone in adolescence.  Faster metabolism means more energy.  More energy means better protection of the tribe.  In contemporary society, more energy means more frustration since the industrial age brought on expectations of civilization that go quite against our natural inclinations as communal animals.  In other words, sit still for hours on end.

Another fascinating point in Dr. Hallowell’s book was the mention of Quasi-ADD.  This refers to the fast-paced nature of our culture with the acceleration of social media and all things tech, and how ADD is mimicked in this lifestyle and even encouraged where it does not naturally exist.  You may think they really are ADD because everything is vying for your attention, as the marketers among you will no doubt testify, before you get bored and move on to the next shiny thing grabbing your…….squirrel!  Seriously, I can attest to the craziness I feel in trying to keep up with expectations of running a business, supporting a family and having a life.  I do feel pulled in a million directions and find it hard to focus on one thing at a time, but I know I don’t have ADD, just a lifestyle that promotes it.

It’s also important to note that medication is not required to deal with most ADD.  Good news I would say.  According to Dr. Hallowell, medication works in 85% o the cases (mostly child subjects, not enough research in adult subjects yet).  The nest interventions for ADD incorporate one-on-one tutoring, high motivation and novelty.  Did I lose you….Is there another squirrel? Basically, ADD is naturally treated when you feel highly motivated around something and in new situations like physical activity.  Interestingly, when people take the cognitive tests to assess for ADD their symptoms often disappear because the test itself is novel and people are highly motivated to perform.  Successful treatment of ADD requires that the person with ADD not be made to feel inadequate for having a neurological disorder they cannot help.  It also means expectations of remembering things be adjusted and external structure be put into place to help them succeed: calendars, filing systems, to do lists, even a coach to encourage and case manage.  For young kids this would be a parent, or for an adult it could be a spouse or to borrow from the 12-step program, a sponsor-like coach to check in with each week.

You may think you have ADD, but you may also be enabling a lifestyle that mimics this syndrome.  Whatever the cause, look at your expectations both o yourself and those around you (your kids perhaps).  I bet they need to be adjusted.  At the very least that will help nurture your relationships.  And now go watch Up by Pixar – that scene with Doug the Dog seeing a squirrel is damn funny.



One Response to Finding ADD

  1. prom girl says:

    Thanks, I’ve been seeking for info about this subject for ages and yours is the best I have discovered so far.

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A blog written by a hip, sometimes irreverent shrink who’s been around the block and calls it like it is

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