ADD Awareness Day: An Oxymoron?

Anti_Stigmatization.jpgThe U.S. Senate declared September 19th to be ADD Awareness Day. To celebrate, I’m going to lose my car keys.

What a Shame About Me

Perhaps the biggest problem with attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD or AD/HD or ADD/ADHD), is that superstitious and stereotyped social attitudes keep people from focusing on results and cultivating gifts in order to make a positive difference in people’s lives. As with many “invisible” problems, people with ADD are vulnerable to mistreatment by their parents, teachers, peers, justice system, and so forth. Of course, if the person with ADD doesn’t understand their ADD well enough, they can be pretty nettlesome, too.

Maybe it shouldn’t be called attention deficit, since that makes people think ADD folks can’t pay attention. They often have trouble paying consistent attention to certain things, but are able to “lock on” to other things for countless hours with mystifying stamina, and I’m not just talking about entertainment or easy stuff.

ADD is a very individual thing. The key to understanding a person’s ADD is to know their real strengths and weaknesses, and that includes any mild or not-so-mild learning disabilities or processing disorders that might be along for the ride.

For many folks with ADD, listening to multi-step instructions and remembering all the steps is a real challenge. It’s like making a tape recording, snipping out pieces here and there, and playing the tape for the person. Good accommodations for this problem include providing written instructions, or recording the instructions so they can listen several times. Unfortunately, it looks to me like most employers consider the such accommodations a hardship (I have spent a good number of years in employee assistance). But then, if a corporation can get away with not accommodating a disability, I guess that automatically makes the requested accommodation a hardship.

Am I too cynical? Then consider the amount of advocacy, legal wrangling, and legislation needed to secure basic rights for disabilities–rights that are hard enough to protect for people who have “socially acceptable” disabilities.

I’m not saying that every job can be made ADD-compatible any more than I’m saying I’d make a good pole dancer or Hooters waitress. But many people with ADD could contribute much more if only there were some basic accommodations and understanding. Employment is a huge issue for ADD.

Are People with ADD Lazy?

Many people with ADD work very hard to fill in the gaps that ADD creates. The feeling they describe, of fighting for motivation to do certain tasks, happens to match brainwave changes, as the brain sort of looses its footing, not making enough fast waves.

Actually, the person with ADD, in most cases, would do just about anything to be able to snap to as needed. That’s why some ADDer’s go out of their way to get more excited, even if they don’t know why they do it. They are trying to boost their performance. Unfortunately, they may be coming off as dramatic, eccentric, cocky, irreverent, or just plain irritating when they do that. If they’re lucky, they are perceived as innovative, sexy, compelling, passionate, saintly or enthusiastic. Some of their favorite methods are music, self-imposed deadlines, and coffee.

Society doesn’t give an A for effort, though. If you focus on what you’re excited about and poop out too much on other things, it looks like you’re just being difficult or irresponsible. One fellow who tried to get some consideration for missing his tax deadlines on the basis of ADD didn’t get anywhere with the judge.

With ADD, the amount of will power needed to carry out tedious tasks can be such a contrast with the elation of doing what makes you feel with it and in control, that many people with ADD need a lot more than a to do list to master this problem. This is hard for most people who don’t have ADD to understand.

Sometimes, the tedium will cause a zone-out effect called microfocus. You know this has happened when you’ve lost track of time while grouting your tile, and suddenly it’s time for your kid’s birthday party. Quick! Somebody get a cake! Oh, and presents!

Are They Bad?

On top of that, the symptoms come and go, and the limits ADD imposes are not always triggered. This means the person’s performance can go up or down a great deal. This causes people to tell ADDer’s that they don’t have ADD, that they’re making excuses, that ADD doesn’t exist, and so forth. This also explains why ADDer’s who haven’t looked deeply enough at their own patterns keep being taken by surprise when they botch something or miss a deadline. It’s like not understanding that you’re blind, and wondering why you keep walking in to walls. How come other people don’t walk into walls? It must be because I’m a bad person! I know, I’ll try harder!!!

ADD just isn’t as easy to see as dandruff. It isn’t even easy to imagine as a germ. But it’s really hard to see germ dandruff.

Ooopsie, my mind was wandering again. I smell something burning. It’s the rent check. I must have given the landlady the pizza!

Robert A. Yourell, MA

Robert A. Yourell, MA, has extensive experience in the mental health and social services dating back to 1975. His training includes Ericksonian communication and hypnosis with John Grinder, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing with Francine Shapiro, PhD, Body Integrative Psychotherapy with Jack Rosenberg, PhD, and solution-focused psychotherapy. He provides free audio experiences on his site that include bilateral sound and Shimmering.
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