My take on “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (or ADHD or ADD) aside from the controversy about its possible over diagnosis etc, is in my opinion not well named.  I don’t think those who suffer from this suffer from an attentional deficit, it is more of an attentional regulation problem.  It seems that for people with ADD, there are two stops on their attention dial—off and on, whereas those of us who don’t have ADD tend to be able to regulate our attention better.

If I had to name it, I would call it: Intolerance of Boredom Syndrome, because I think that more accurately describes this condition.

For all of us, it is easier to pay attention to something that interests us, versus something we find boring.  Those of us who do not have ADD, may find our attention wandering, and may have to force ourselves to pay attention in a boring class, but we can do it.  For the person with ADD it can be almost impossible to pay attention to something they find boring.  (As with many things there are degrees of ADD and some are more able to compensate with intelligence, or a good memory.)  Those with severe ADD would almost do anything to avoid being in a situation where they are bored.  This explains a number of things that people with ADD do.

For example, let’s talk about procrastination.  Procrastination serves at least two purposes for those with ADD.  It delays a noxious task and it makes the task more inherently interesting (will I be able to get the paper done before 8 am on Tuesday?)

Similarly people with ADD tend to be disorganized.  It is clearly boring to spend time organizing things, so the person with ADD doesn’t do it, or at the very least procrastinates organizing.

Also people with ADD often do not go through a long process in a step by step fashion following established procedures, they often try to find short cuts because they find the process tedious.

Living with someone who has ADD can be very frustrating because what seems so easy to the rest of us, is not for them.  It is hard to watch someone you care about, who can’t seem to get out of his or her own way, does not seem to learn from his or her mistakes and is constantly causing him or herself to get into trouble, not complete tasks and frustrate those around him or her.

Living with ADD can cause life-long self-esteem problems because of the very thing described above.  In their frustration people sometimes say things like, “What is wrong with you?” “You are smarter than that!” or “You are so lazy!” Long term self esteem issues often lead to depression.

Unfortunately school environments are designed in such a way that is especially challenging for the person with ADD/ADHD.  People with ADD do not do well in situations when they are forced to pay attention to something they don’t want to at a time they don’t want to.  This is especially hard for those who also have the hyperactivity component (not all do, there is a primarily inattentive type and a hyperactive type).   The student with ADD may function better if they do not have to sit in a chair and listen to a lecture about math or engineering.  They tend to learn better if they can learn by doing or learn something that interests them that incorporates what they need to learn (for example learning about statistics by calculating the batting average of their favorite baseball player versus by doing a worksheet that is meaningless etc). Students with ADD function better if they can learn the same material at a different time, a time when they find it easier to pay attention or are more interested in learning that particular topic (which may not be the time the class is held).

People with ADD tend to have obsessive interests.  Whatever seems to capture their interest at any particular time becomes all-consuming.  The trouble is, that at some point they become bored and find something else, which leads to unfinished projects and lots of supplies for different interests that eventually go unused (not to mention the effect this has on the organizational challenges for the person with ADD who now has more stuff to add to the chaos).

People with ADD also tend to lose things.  This is because they aren’t paying attention to where they put things (because that is boring), they are forgetful and/or they are distracted by something else which draws their attention away and because they don’t tend to have an internal structure (for example “I always put my keys on this hook.”)

Thankfully with medication, some strategies, some support, and a lot of understanding many people with ADD can function quite well.  Often those with ADD find careers that suit their style and in which they use their symptoms to their advantage.

Many of us have symptoms of ADD some times and I firmly believe that the internet is making us more and more that way!!

The internet seems to feed distractible behavior-how many times have you sat down at the computer to check something and walked away 20 minutes later not having gotten to it?

What do you think? What strategies have you found to deal with ADD or live with someone with ADD?

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