Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Shady hillside in Iława, Poland

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

What is AD(H)D?

AD(H)D stands for Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder. It is a condition in some people where the part of the brain controlling time sense and some other focus functions doesn't work as fast as the rest of the brain. This causes many life-disrupting symptoms such as absent-mindedness, inability to keep track of time, distractability, daydreaming, lack of focus and/or self-control, fidgeting, impulsiveness, unresponsiveness, etcetera.

But what does that mean?

It means that a person with ADD—whom I will call simply the sufferer—is almost constantly in one of two opposite modes: hyperfocus or hypofocus; that is to say, this person is almost always either completely distractable or completely oblivious to evereything other than the activity at hand. The dual nature of this disorder causes some people to be skeptical. Someone might say, "Don't tell me you can't concentrate. I see you in your room all the time so intent on your book (/computer/TV/art/toys) that World War Three could happen in the hallway without your noticing."

The sufferer is not merely undisciplined. He or she is literally incapable of focusing for long periods of time on something he or she doesn't find interesting without an intense amount of conscious effort. I must repeat, do not think that ADD can be easily overcome with a little self-discipline. It takes an extraordinary amount of discipline, and here's why:

Imagine for a moment that you are in a large classroom. You are taking a test. You want to do well on this test. You want to concentrate.

Simple? Not so fast. You must overcome some significant obstacles. In the front of the room, someone has a semiautomatic pistol filled with blanks, and once a second this person fires the pistol. The teacher (in this example, a man,) is sitting at the desk, unaware of the pistol being fired. He is moving a metal box back and forth on the desk, slamming it down loudly each time he moves it. Out on the street which passes the school, a streaker is running up and down the road. The police, fire trucks, and an ambulance are following him with their lights flashing. Not only all this, but one of the students in the back of the room is thinking to herself out loud, and she's not just whispering; she's shouting at the top of her voice while she thinks out the problems.

Would you be able to finish the test? Do you think you'd have a hard time concentrating?

This scenario is rather ridiculous, and I readily admit that, but let's take a look at it again. Instead of a person firing blanks every second, it's the ticking of an antiquated analog clock on the wall. The teacher isn't throwing around a metal box; he's grading papers. The streaker outside being chased by the police? Merely the normal passing of regular cars; there isn't a police officer or law-breaker in sight. And the girl in the back of the room? She's not shouting; she's barely mumbling.

Now could you finish the test? Not hard at all to concentrate, is it?

It is if you suffer with ADD.

If you have ADD, each of these inoccuous sights and sounds is as likely to catch your attention and pull you away from your concentration as the gunfire, police lights, and shouting.

That's what it's like.

The sufferer can, with an extreme conscious effort, concentrate on what he or she is supposed to be doing, but mastery of this ability takes years. It's not just a habit, or simple self-discipline. Most people have no conception of what it takes to form a habit when your mind is pulling against you every step of the way.

Until the years of practice enable the sufferer to manage distractions internally (and some people are never completely free of this), the sufferer needs help. Parents can give the child opportunities to practice concentrating and, if necessary, give the child caffeine to help the slow part of the brain catch up with the rest of the brain. I recommend avoiding prescription drugs, for reasons discussed below. Teachers can help by using creative teaching strategies to make the material more interesting.

Drugs, deception, and discipline.

One of the hardest things about living with ADHD is that many people don't believe I have a disorder. This is because of the growing number of normal kids who have been labelled AD(H)D incorrectly. There is a frightening trend among American parents to assume every child who doesn't sit still has Attention Deficit, and this is clearly not true! Unfortunately, as most doctors will probably tell you, ADHD is difficult to diagnose. Having lived with ADHD for more than 15 years, I have come to disagree with the popular wisdom on this. ADHD has some symptoms that are consistent with a lack of discipline, such as behaviors of not sitting still, making noises, and daydreaming, but people who are simply undisciplined do not have the hypo-hyper focus trait. If ome who is undisciplined does not respond, he or she may simply be choosing to ignore you, but this can be determined with relative ease.

It is so frustrating to hear people refer to "my ADD kicking in" or the like when referring to being easily distracted or not paying attention. People are often distracted; that's normal. Don't insult the sufferers by treating our condition as though it were trivial.

While I do believe a person who genuinely has ADD is most unlikely to become hooked on the drugs used in treatment, I also believe that drug therapy is entirely the wrong approach to treating this disorder.

I took a prescribed amphetamine for somewhere between six and eight years, and it calmed me, but I could have gotten the same effect, with less risk, by drinking a soda every morning. Also, while it did help me to concentrate, it did not help me in the long run. Not until I stopped taking it did I begin to develop the control I needed for long-term stability. I'm not suggesting that a person with ADD is simply undisciplined. Some very prominent people hold that opinion, but they haven't lived with the disorder for over 15 years, and they don't really know about the subject.

The sufferer is not merely undisciplined. A lack of self-control and discipline may aggravate the sufferer's daily situation, there is more than one cause involved, so treating ADD as a behavioral disorder only and simply applying greater amounts of discipline is not the solution. For the sufferer lives in a world where external rewards and punishments have less sway than on normal people. Therefore, the sufferer must develop an internal desire to do what is required to live harmoniously in society and to do what is pleasing to God.

Some time ago, I heard a radio host discussing ADD, and he suggested in miniature radio drama that all a child diagnosed with ADD needs is a smack in the head and orders to pay attention. While something more along the lines of discipline may be what many children who are diagnosed with this disorder need, it is not what the child who genuinely has ADD needs.

Parents, if your child does not have ADD, ride him or her hard until he or she starts pulling his or her weight. If, on the other hand, your child genuinely does have ADD, harshness won't help him or her, and may hamper their ability to function. Children who have ADD tend to be actually smarter than normal children, but they learn differently. If your child really does have this disorder, what he or she truly needs is challenging, creative, and flexible teaching. You should probably home school your child, but if you are unable to do that, please make sure he or she gets teachers who teach creatively with a focus on the child learning as much as possible, because if you give a person with ADD the tools he or she needs to pay attention, that person will accomplish more than you could dream. Don't fall prey to the propaganda put out by drug companies. A child with ADD usually does not need chemical intervention in order to learn. They need creative teaching styles that will keep them engaged. If you feel your child does need chemical help, a cup of coffee or tea is a much safer alternative to an amphetamine.

I am not for a moment suggesting, by the way, that you should not expect good behavior from a person with AD(H)D. Good, solid, reasonable discipline is essential for the sufferer, and a structured environment often helps the sufferer to function. But it is also important to realize that not all normal expectations are appropriate for all children. For example, is it really that important that a child sits perfectly still, if he or she is doing everything else that is required? Just a thought.

AD(H)D is a learning disability. It falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Legal mumbo-jumbo: (Don't sue me)

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This page was last updated on 2016.7.14b.