I've considered writing about ADD before, but, for one reason or another, I haven't. But now I will, because there are a lot of weird ideas about ADD out there, and I would like to speak to that.
ADHD or ADD? Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Attention Deficit Disorder?
I'll take ADD for three hundred. What is fidgety and distracted, but not hyperactive?
Someone told me there was no difference between the two. I disagree. I am not hyper. My son is not hyper. Yet we both have attention deficit disorder.
That is, if you believe in ADD. Not everyone does. Some people think EVERYONE has ADD. Some people thing NO ONE has ADD.
Josh's kindergarten teachers first suggested he had ADD. The school psychologist got involved, testing was done....
I had my doubts. I thought the test was bogus. Josh's GP was not convinced, either.
But the school was adamant. Josh was a quiet kid and well behaved, but he could not listen, follow directions, or pay attention worth a damn. Everything had to be repeated over and over. As kids stood up from their seats and shuffled about their business, Josh couldn't remember what he was supposed to do, why he was supposed to stand, or where he was supposed to go.
The medicine helped. It let him wrangle his thoughts and express himself in a clear, linear way that he couldn't before.
When he went off the medication for a day or two, he suddenly became hyperactive in a way that he hadn't been before he started taking the medication. But as this went on for years, Josh came to believe that his non-medicated hyperactivity was ADHD. Whereas, I viewed it as a side effect of the medication.
The medication curbed his appetite. When he went off it, not only did he become hyper, he also became ravenously hungry.
Unable to feel full one summer when he was not medicated, he quickly gained weight to the point of becoming slightly obese. It happened so fast, he hardly knew what to make of the love-handles ballooning around his middle where there had been a slender waist only weeks before. All his clothes were too small, and I had to buy him "husky" pants two sizes larger.
Had we unintentionally broken his metabolic thermostat?
School started that fall, and by October his teachers reported that Josh was unable to focus...All of the usual complaints...We went back to his psychiatrist and resumed medication, which fixed everything at school and made Josh not eat his lunch.
At the same time that Josh went on medication for ADD, I went on medication for ADD. Sharpened me right up.
I had had the same complaints from my teachers in school. I was smart, but distracted, rarely able to follow the drone of a lecture. I perked up for teachers who made jokes and taught a lively class.
To this day, I believe that teachers should NOT be boring. Every subject is interesting, and to present it as otherwise is a crime. Most of my teachers didn't express much passion for their subject, which I believe is why everyone thinks history is boring until they get a good teacher or a good history book by a great author like Nathaniel Philbrick.
I feel so strongly about this, perhaps I should have been a teacher; but I was such a terrible student.
I agree that it is obnoxious when people claim to be self-taught. But much of what I know I learned on my own. As dull a student as I was, I was not entirely without curiosity.
I discovered Vincent Van Gogh and the Impressionists in the school library. I read mythology at a library in Lynn, up the street from where I lived while in grade school. It was the coziest, sweetest, most welcoming library you could imagine. I spent quite a lot of time there as a kid. (It's not open anymore, unfortunately.)
I perused my grandfather's book on Picasso, and found other books on Picasso. I seized my grandmother's first-edition of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, and read it in ninth grade. I read Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and Of Mice and Men, completely ignoring homework and assigned reading.
It was a haphazard education to be sure, but it kept my brain from atrophying.
In high school, I was considered a smart kid, but I never knew the answers to questions like, "What were we supposed to study for the test?" or, "When did he say we were going to have a test?"
By spring, my son's teachers generally have one or two stories about some insightful thing Josh said during class. They tell me he is a deep thinker.
Josh confessed to me recently that he didn't have a complete mastery of the months of the year. This did not surprise me. It's a bureaucratic thing, really, time. But not to know the months could be compromising, as time goes by, especially when one is considered smart and a deep thinker.
"Don't worry, Josh. It's very ADD not to know the months of the year. But you have a fine memory, and they're easy to learn." We were a mile from home. By the time we pulled into the driveway, Josh was all set with the months.
He came home from school recently and told me that a teacher had said that ADD was a learning disability, like autism and Down's Syndrome. Josh now believed that he was "retarded," (his word, not mine).
No, I said. That's totally wrong. First of all, the word retarded is retarded. Don't ever use that word.
Second, ADD, ADHD, autism, Down's Syndrome...These are all different things. There's no point in lumping them all together. That's just dumb.
What kind of fascist normative idiot lumps all these things together? What is the point, except to encourage misunderstanding and prejudice?
I chose to believe that Josh had misunderstood or misinterpreted what the teacher said. Because if I thought that a teacher had actually said this and meant it, I'd have to march into school and set a few things straight. And Josh really hates it when I do that.
I heard a TedTalk from a "scientist" who compared people with ADD (or ADHD, suit yourself) to rockets without fuel. We just sit there on the tarmac, all decked out and going nowhere. According to him, we were a pathetic and hopeless lot.
Hey! I know a professor at Queen's College, Cambridge who was once a kid with ADD. He's not doing too badly. He has invented useful biotechnological devices and underwater cameras for taking pictures of tiny little amazing creatures...He's got patents up the wazoo...He's designed and made his own boats...He's HAPPY and BRILLIANT, you small-minded, trash-talking little man, spouting hateful bogus theories that compress and marginalize people whom you clearly don't understand.
Most people think of ADD as a liability. Yes, we can't pay attention to stuff we don't care about--or that we could care about if it weren't being presented to us in a manner so aggressively boring.
However, when we are interested, we pay SUPER attention. We can focus and remember and learn to beat the band. We immerse ourselves to an almost obsessive degree. We surround the subject. We learn plenty.
People with ADD have two advantages over people who don't have ADD:
First, because we don't do our best work (understatement) on topics that don't interest us, through a process of elimination we discover the things that do interest us.
And the second advantage is that we do very well in those areas that interest us.
I've known a few people, star students in high school and college, who never discovered their true calling in life. They excelled at academia. They were well rounded. But they could never decide what they wanted to do in their career or in their life at that same level of achievement.
The trick for people with ADD (or ADHD) is not to fail out of school before we discover what interests us. We have to make it out of academia with our self-esteem and aura of being smart intact.
Academia is not our natural habitat. We are not well-rounded creatures.
Our executive functioning skills are extremely immature when we are children. We're disorganized, and frequently late. Even medicated, we lose track. So, we have to be forgiven for forgetting, and for spacing out from time to time. We need to be encouraged to go after class and ask about what we missed, and get the help that we need to understand what we didn't quite get the first time.
The important thing to remember is that this doesn't make us retarded.
If someone has to call ADD a learning disability, the question I would ask is why must it be framed negatively. What good does that do? Maybe it makes someone feel superior, someone who doesn't have ADD.
My son has occasionally said, "Autism is my super power." I don't know why he says that, because he's not autistic. But I think it is funny, because I believe that autism has a super-power side to it, just like ADD does (our ability to hyper focus on what interests us). I've written before about Temple Grandin, whose work I greatly admire. She uses her super-power, autism. It poses significant challenges, yes, but it also gives her amazing perspective and insight.
For all of these reasons, I had to write about ADD, finally. I had to answer to the TedTalk doc who said we were rockets going nowhere, and to the teacher who somehow made my son think that he was "retarded."
I had to answer to the friend who explained that she had fired an assistant because she had ADD, which rendered her untrainable and intellectually deaf. While I resemble that remark, I resent it, too.
People with ADD are trainable, educable, reachable space cadets. If we're medicated, we can excel even in the most barbarously boring regimen. But, if we are able to pursue our true calling, we really don't need to be medicated. We are tricked out rockets, man, with fuel to spare.
And don't you ever forget it, Josh.