Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a funny thing when you think about it along with all the other “disorders” that science and psychology have “discovered” in the last 50 years. (Time magazine had a cover story on ADD in 1994, thus brining the disorder to America’s attention.) You can tell how progressive we are as a country (tongue in cheek) seeing that women only received the right to vote (19th amendment to the Constiution) in 1920. It wasn’t until 1946 that the U.S. Supreme Court bans segregation on interstate buses. Science has developed equally in the last few years. Little known facts such as Kellogg’s Cornflakes, the bland breakfast flakes that go almost instantly limp in milk were originally invented to bore you into such a deep coma that you would fall face down in the milk drenched flakes, drown, and thereby be spared the temptation and sin known as masturbation.” Well, it’s a good thing that we have such a reliable history to build upon when introducing new concepts such as ADD. Perhaps one day people will have a more complete understanding of the mind and laugh at our silly definitions and understandings of how things work. Until then we have the DSM-IV.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) is the holy bible of psychology. In the 4th edition it clearly lines out every known disorder from the scary yet innocuously named antisocial personality disorder (also known as “sociopath”) to the more commonly known and over diagnosed attention deficit disorder. The problem with the DSM-IV is not one of timing. I don’t blame the book for it’s view of psychology because I know it’s the best we can do now. What I blame are the people who diagnose ADD and the over prescription of drugs to address it. Let me explain the dilemma the doctors have. The DSM-IV is based on the idea of procrustean boxes. This comes from Greek mythology where all items must be classified as one thing or another without any shades of grey. Under this classification, you have ADD if you exhibit six or more of the nine descriptive attributes of ADD. If you have only five then you are disease free. If you have six or more, then you are duly diagnosed. The following is a list of the nine characteristics of ADD:

  1. often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities
  2. often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
  3. often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  4. often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions)
  5. often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  6. often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork or homework)
  7. often loses things necessary for tasks or activities (e.g., toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools)
  8. is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  9. is often forgetful in daily activities

One of my first experiences with recognizing ADD was when I began (and never finished) the book called Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with ADD From Childhood Through Adulthood. It’s the book on ADD (and also has an accompanying workbook if you’re interested). It’s written by Edward Hallowell and John Ratey, both of which are psychologists who have ADD. In the introduction to the book they describe their symptoms and talk about how they joked at first about how in the world two people with ADD would ever finish a book (on the same subject no doubt!)

It’s an interesting experience to have your mind constantly switching from one topic to another. I see it in conversations that I have with others. If someone is a good listener I’ll begin talking about any one topic, then tangent to another, and another, and on and on. When I’m talking with a friend I can get on a roll and not stop as things keep coming to my mind. It’s not like I have all these enlightening things to say, but thoughts and ideas just keep poping in.  I have a bookcase full of half finished books and several projects stated that never had enough time devoted for their completion.

These days I know that people are measured not by the things they start but by the things they complete. I have a short list of the projects I want to complete including school, work, and my involvement in professional organizations. It’s important to keep the list short and break down larger projects into smaller ones. Although I never finished reading my book on ADD, I know what it takes to get things done and will either make the effort or not.

A long time pet-peeve of mine is when people say, “I want to learn a foreign language” or “I would like to learn how to play the violin”. If people really wanted to do these things then they would do them instead of talking about them. It’s important to regularly examine your life and be introspective. What have you been telling yourself (or others) that you want to do? What have you always wanted to accomplish? Are your current activities/action reflective of those same goals? If not it’s time to create a new game plan.