1 You Mean There's Actually a Name for It? Toward a Definition of ADD Q: Can you tell me in brief what I need to know about ADD? A: I can try. ADD is a neurological syndrome that is usually genetically transmitted. It is characterized by distractibility, impulsivity, and restlessness. In ADD these symptoms are present from childhood on, and with a much greater intensity than in the average person, so that they interfere with everyday functioning. Diagnosis is made primarily by reviewing one's history; there is no foolproof "test" for ADD. Great care must be taken to make an accurate diagnosis and to look for other problems that may occur along with ADD, such as low self-esteem, depression, substance abuse, or family turmoil. Treatment includes education, structure, coaching, and medication. With treatment, the prognosis is usually good. Both diagnosis and treatment should always be done under medical supervision. ADD is a tricky diagnosis and the treatment is not always simple. You should never diagnose or treat yourself. Q: Are there any advantages to having ADD? A: Yes. There are many. To the extent that there is such a thing as the ADD personality--and I believe that there is--it has its pluses and its minuses. The pluses are not usually discussed much because books and articles about ADD naturally tend to focus on problems and solutions rather than advantages. But the advantages deserve prominent mention. They include: • High energy • Creativity • Intuitiveness • Resourcefulness • Tenacity • Hardworking, never-say-die approach • Warmheartedness • Trusting attitude (sometimes too much so) • Forgiving attitude (sometimes too much so) • Sensitivity (often can hurt as well as serve the person) • Ability to take risks (again, a double-edged sword) • Flexibility • Good sense of humor • Loyalty Lest the skeptic think this sounds more like the Boy Scouts' oath than a legitimate list of traits, let me hasten to add that not all people with ADD have all these qualities, nor can I prove the scientific validity of the list itself. However, based upon my experience with thousands of individuals with ADD, and based upon my conversations with many other authorities in the field, this list of positive qualities does fairly describe the advantageous side of the ADD personality. People with ADD do tend to be warm, creative, flexible, loyal, innovative, hardworking, and the rest of the qualities on that list. However, the problems their ADD causes can be so severe that these positive qualities never gain full expression or recognition. The negative qualities can be so toxic and self-defeating that the strengths are wasted. Once the person gets proper treatment, the negative aspects of ADD recede, and the positive can flourish. People with ADD remind me of the bumblebee. The bumblebee should not be able to fly. Its body is too big and its wings are too short. Scientists say it should not be able to fly. Aerodynamically, it should be impossible. The physicists agree--the design of the bumblebee is incompatible with flight. Its balance should be all off. So how does the bumblebee fly? We don't know. But it does fly. That much we do know. Q: Is there a hallmark of ADD, a single core trait that defines it best? A: In our opinion, yes there is. It is a relative lack of inhibition. People with ADD tend to be more spontaneous than the average person. They speak freely, at times too much so. They think freely, at times creatively, at other times chaotically. They act unpredictably: often even they do not know what they're going to do next. They do not inhibit their responses as stringently as most people do. They often lack the intermediate reflec Excerpted from Answers to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell, John J. Ratey All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.