CWords Of Wisdom: ADD/ADHD (November 18, 2011)

When your ability to focus on multiple things irritates people, it’s called ADD/ADHD.

When your ability to focus on multiple things is an asset to people, it’s called multi-tasking.

Guess, what? We all have ADD! Don’t believe me? Pick one thing in life that bores you to tears. I mean serious boredom where you’d rather watch paint dry underwater than hear about it. Now go sign up for an 8 week class in that subject and try to come out with an A-. Oh and while you’re in the class, don’t text anyone, don’t check your email, no playing Angry Birds, no doodling on a piece of paper, no fantasizing about you and the attractive person 2 seats over sitting at a candlelit dinner, no thinking about what to have for dinner, no wondering what’s going to happen on your favorite tv show, no thinking about the food crumbs in the professor’s beard, no thinking about the traffic you’re going to hit on the way home, no thinking “Man it’s hot in here, I wish I had worn shorts”, no thinking about how many minutes are left until you can leave, and definitely no thinking about how reading the CWord got you into this horrible predicament in the first place.

Wow, you really can’t pay attention or focus. Sounds like you have ADD. We’d better do something about that so you can concentrate.

You, a full-grown adult are having a lot of trouble focusing on something that you don’t care about. That trouble is very apparent to the teacher who is looking right at your twitching body and 1000 yard stare. The nice part for you is you can get up and walk out at the end of class and never have to worry about the repercussions of your mental driftage. Maybe you’ll get a C instead of an A- but at least you won’t get a diagnosis out of your time in class. After all, you just didn’t give a damn about what was being taught.

Woe to the poor child who gets slapped with the ADD label in school because they don’t pay attention in certain classes. Because kids are human too and therefore have likes and dislikes, adults have to consider the fact that maybe they don’t give a damn about social studies, or math, or gym. Maybe they like science or literature or home economics instead. Or maybe their mind is elsewhere, since as you just read, it’s very easy to get distracted when immersed in things you don’t care about.

I know, teachers and doctors will cry sacrilege, that every child has to learn these subjects and their failure to do so is what’s putting China, or Japan, or Madagascar or whoever we’re annoyed with at the moment ahead in the unofficial global GDP competition. While that may be true, it does not mean that every child has to fall in love with those subjects. And since it’s apparently illegal to ask youth what they are really interested in, their lack of attention is seen as a problem. It’s not that they can’t pay attention, they just don’t want to pay it to you.

This remains a huge problem until the students graduate and enter the real world where employers demand more from a smaller workforce. It doesn’t matter if you are driving a bus, working at a department store or flying a commercial airliner, if you can’t divide your attention, things become difficult very quickly. We’ve all seen the two people at the same job who react completely opposite to the same situation. The first person (the “uni-tasker”) demands to be given one thing at a time, and eventually freaks out and locks up. The other person (the “multi-tasker”)begins to delegate tasks and prioritize based on various factors. They may even hop from one thing to another until everything is done.

Neither way is right or wrong. Zen-like focus and computer-like scanning are both important in life. But there needs to be a very clear distinction and understanding as to what the person is exhibiting instead of just diagnosing them as ADD because it’s easier:

  1. Lack of attention due to not liking something (and looking for whatever they can to distract them from the topic at hand).
  2. Lack of attention due to different learning styles (those with photographic memories and speed-readers may finish faster than other people and thus have more free time to “not pay attention”).
  3. The seriously non-functional (where the person cannot take care of themselves due to their inability to focus long enough on any task and truly requires treatment).

Instead of diagnosing and medicating people who can functionally think differently, perhaps we should start teaching them how to use that difference in a way that can help themselves and society. Imagine if Einstein, Goddard or The Wright Brothers grew up in our times. Would we have relativity theory? Would we have been able to go to the moon? Would we be able to fly on Jet Blue (who’s CEO has untreated ADHD)? Different doesn’t always mean bad.

I know that some will take issue with what I’ve said. That’s fine. Probably the most common argument I hear when this is brought up in conversation is “Just because a kid has ADD doesn’t mean they’re a genius.” Quite true. I guess we should extend that to “Just because a kid puts on a jersey, pads and cleats doesn’t mean they’re going to play in the NFL.”

About Christopher Williams

Co-Founder of Whelan & Williams Industries Inc. Sole proprietor of Liftlazy. Photographer, musician, writer, pilot and all around good guy to know.
This entry was posted in CWords Of Wisdom, Self Help, Sociology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to CWords Of Wisdom: ADD/ADHD (November 18, 2011)

  1. Jonathan Taylor says:


    ADD and ADHD are spectrum disorders, not either/or, so its a matter of interpretation when diagnosing a person I agree that AD(H)D should not be a casual diagnosis; it should be based on a comprehensive evaluation. And it should not be just a “compliance” evaluation. But the fact that everyone gets distracted sometimes when they’re bored is different from having AD(H)D, sort of like the difference between social drinkers and alcoholics.

    I also agree that the fit between individual and environment can cause problems that might seem like AD(H)D. For instance, there’s a strong debate about the overlap between gifted and AD(H)D (or lack thereof).

    But please reconsider your implication that because some people have been misdiagnosed and that some people who have AD(H)D are successful means that no one has it or that it shouldn’t be treated.


  2. I completely agree with you. In fact the 3rd type of person listed towards the end was the non-functioning person who requires treatment, be it medication, therapy, etc.

    The issue is in how to diagnose the cases which are borderline. A social drinker who gets carried away is not automatically an alcoholic. But what is the threshold for them to become one? Obviously when alcohol begins to take over their life in regards to work, relationships, etc is one marker. But what if a spouse who doesn’t drink at all thinks that 3 beers at the bar twice a week is too much? Will any issue that comes up be automatically pinned on alcohol? Will this sway the diagnosis of a therapist or a doctor?

    I’m in no way doubting the existance of people who actually suffer from ADD/ADHD. I’m just concerned that the threshold has been lowered simply to deal with kids or people who do not fit in the exact center of the box that society says they should be in.
    Thanks for writing!

    • Jonathan Taylor says:

      Cool. I agree with everything you said there. I’m just getting tired of the “everyone has a little ADD” argument. I see you were exaggerating to make a point. Thanks for replying to my reply. 🙂

  3. Talking about the threshold being lowered, you put me in mind of a situation that happened when I was a preschool teacher. This was almost 20 years ago, and (in my memory, anyway) ADD (there was no H then) was beginning to be a really popular reason – read, excuse – for every parent who didn’t know how to handle their child.

    We had at least one older child in our school who probably really had it, and you could tell if he hadn’t taken his medication. On the other hand, we had a pair of parents who asked us to complete an evaluation form to help determine if their 3 yr old had ADD. He absolutely did NOT. He was a normal, rambunctious, just-like-them-all three year old kid. The parents actually got MAD when we didn’t validate their opinion. In other words, they had the problem, not the kid. But they pushed to diagnose ADD and medicate. What they really needed was parenting classes. I never forgot that.

    • That was 20 years ago, imagine how bad it is now! Only 3 years old and apparently he should be sitting in an armchair with a pipe and a novel, nearly catatonic. Look how good my kid is, he doesn’t move…makes it so much easier for me not to have to deal with him!

      It’s a shame that society thinks it’s okay to take a legit condition and apply it to anything and anyone that doesn’t do exactly what they want. Kids are supposed to push your buttons. By all intents and purposes, Dennis The Menace, The Little Rascals and half the Bad News Bears had ADD/Hyperactive Disorder. But back then we called it being energetic, or acting up (depending on how much you liked said kid).

      When a definition is too broad, it ceases to define. By definition (punintentional), most behavioral and psychological disorders are not determined by a “what” but by a “how often” or “how intense”. We all hear voices in our head at times. It tells us to not run the red light and when we slam on brakes, we suddenly notice the police cruiser sitting at the intersection. Thanks inside voice! If that same voice never lets us think our own thoughts, or somehow convinces us that punching the person in front of you at Kroger’s for no reason is a good idea, that’s where it would be more responsible to classify it as a dissociative disorder.

      By not having any hard guidelines for diagnosing people with ADD or ADHD, we fall into a trap of the condition being like an old toy box. In order to grow up and be a member of society, you have to lock away parts of your personality. Slap a name on being energetic, or easily distractable, or even worse, not caring about things that others think are important and ta-da, you’ve got a designer disease that anyone can have.

      I’m not a parent but I have been a super active kid (still am!) so I have every right in the world to say this: Parents need to stop with the faux-maturity act. I’ve seen grown adults at football stadiums, in bars, at concerts, etc and they definitely were not quiet and still. So what give them the right to make your offspring act like Stepford Children? Stop trying to make 5 year olds act like 45 year olds. Let your kids run around outside to burn up that extra energy. Give them stacks of books and magazines on their favorite non-school subjects. Face it, your kids are not going to grow up and work at Math House or Social Studies International. Getting straight A’s does not help as much as having actual interests and passions that they can turn into something productive later in life (how many HR interviews have asked what grades you got in high school?). If you want them to get good grades because it makes you look like a better parent, well fine but just admit it. You’re a good parent if your kids grow up and not only make a difference in the world, but can at least on some level appreciate that you cared enough about them in their youth not to shove them into a box to make life easier.

      Everyone is different and we need to be aware of that. Being intimidated, annoyed or lazy is not an excuse for going online and looking up “5 Signs That You Have _______ Disorder”.

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