Sunday, March 04, 2001

Alive and well

ADD part of son's daily life

        About 10 years ago, I was covering a conference on learning disabilities when I happened to catch the presentation given by Dr. Edward Hallowell. Dr. Hallowell's presentation opened with the story of Max, a little boy who was loved and cherished by his parents and who grew to be brilliant, unable to concentrate, constantly fidgeting and struggling to control his own impulsivity.

        The details were many, and my immediate recognition of my own son in the telling was by turns electric and terrifying.

A real disability

        While media and public opinion tend to be divided on Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, anyone who has lived with it knows it is no phantom disability. Whatever your neighbor or fourth-grade teacher have to say, the reality is that ADD and ADHD have been recognized as a disability by the U.S. Education Department, the Office for Civil Rights and the National Institutes of Health.

        An estimated 4 to 6 percent of Americans have ADD or ADHD, and once you have become familiar with its manifestations by being diagnosed yourself or being the parent of an affected child, the symptoms are fairly apparent.

        Obsessive physical restlessness, difficulty concentrating, appearing not to listen when spoken to, and inability to attend to detail are common manifestations. The disorder runs in families and has been identified as a syndrome, with varying labels, for almost 100 years in medical and scientific literature.

        Dr. Hallowell's book, Driven to Distraction, remains a classic on the subject, and its title an apt description of the experience of ADD or ADHD. If you have it, it doesn't go away because you grow up.

It can be treated

        It can be treated with medication, therapy and coaching. It can be harnessed as an attribute rather than a disadvantage, but it is always with you.

        My son has grown up and is a successful programmer for a computer software company. Still, he struggles daily with balancing the ability to “hyperfocus” with the inability to concentrate.

        I like to think that his little sister will have an easier time because I am more aware, but I see her frustration when she honestly didn't hear instructions, her quick comprehension and love of learning, and her inability to stop wiggling and give closer scrutiny to detail.

        We understand any disability better when we can climb into the skin of one who has it for a minute.

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A mother's poem about ADD

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