You and Me and ADD Makes Three

Chad and I have very strong feelings about ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). We’ve developed these over time, and I have been guided by Chad’s experiences as a student of clinical psychology/counseling, his work as a pre-school (aka daycare) teacher, and readings on the subject. With some guidance from the editorial stylings of Mark Morford (in “Let’s all get ADD”), I have come to a more formal thesis on the disorder recently: ADD is both a rare bio-psychological condition and a common social condition. Let me explain.

First, in diagnosing ADD via the DSM (huge encyclopedia of psychological disorders put out by the American Psychiatric Association – aka doctors not psychologists), the criteria are so broad (everything from lack of ability to concentrate to disliking work tasks) and the determining degree so vague (one has to display only “some” of the characteristics “some” of the time), that every single kindergartener in this country could be aptly diagnosed with ADD. Add to this the fact that many medical doctors with no psychological training are diagnosing the disorder and prescribing Ritalin and you have, in my opinion, a recipe for self-made epidemic.

My conclusion has caused me conflict, to be sure. For example, Chad and I have dear friends who assert that both father and son have ADD and the son is now on Ritalin and they are seeing a marked improvement in his ability to concentrate and succeed in school. I do not doubt their results nor their frustration with their son’s past behavior and difficulties. Who am I to second-guess what they need to do for their family?

Yet, I do have concerns. Chad has cited studies that show that therapy works for this type of disorder/situation. We both have more faith in therapists/counselors than medical doctors. And now I’ve found a way of seeing ADD that reduces my conflicts and eases my mind. As Morford puts it, we are an ADD culture.

With the demands for and pleasures of constant multitasking (like right now I’m on yahoo messenger chatting with a friend, talking now and then to my son about a videogame he’s playing with his dad, writing this blog entry, and finishing breakfast), ADD is a treasured commodity. An ability to concentrate on one thing too long would be excessive, a waste of valuable time that might always be stuffed far more full if we just try a little harder. I remember an NPR editorial a few years back that talked about our being a culture more invested in seeming busy than in actually doing work (or doing pleasure). His ultimate example was people on cell phones in public bathrooms, wanting others to hear them as they make important business decisions while they piss. From the critical vantage point of this moment, the commentator’s description is positively naïve. Everybody not only has a cell phone and uses it constantly, but increasingly few people aren’t willing to talk while on the pot.

If we are, indeed, an ADD-inspiring culture, then when numerous adults and their numerous children tell me they have ADD, I have a new lens through which to see it that keeps me from being at odds with their definitions and even their cures. After all, as Joshua Foer in “The Adderall Me: my romance with ADD meds” makes plain, ADD drugs can help everyone to better deal with a culture that increasingly insists on ADD personalities to meet the needs of our ADD culture.

Nothing like a political/sociological perspective to shed light on the medical/psychological, eh?


kate said...

I'm a freak of nature, or maybe just the times we live in. I do not have ADD. I can't do two things at once, let alone multiple tasks. I am afflicted with the opposite, tunnel-vision. One thing at a time.
I realized this at a young age when I attempted to make cookies and read a book at the same time. I always burned the cookies. I can't write and listen to music at the same time.
So I leave it to the busy people of the world to get things done.

Grace said...

I wonder if our schools taught to the energy level of children (especially our males), if TV was abolished, if we played more (have you come across those neighborhoods where there are NO kids outside), valued the home maker caregiver (regardless of gender or bio relation), eliminated processed foods.....etc
Would we see the numbers of ADD diagnosis diminish?Can we flip the perception and learn not to EVER name a child Deficient or Disordered? For goodness sake, so many successful adults in EVERY feild could have been given that label...

I worked with a housemates son who was completely out of control and lableled ADHD.
His parents given 2 options:
1) special school an hour bus ride away
2) institutionalization (boarding School for Troubled boys)

He's a teen doing rather well now, gifted, A student, has won numerous science awards, plays sports, is a sweet young gentleman...

He required a year of vigiliant behaviour mod. at home, Dairy elimination (he drank gallons of milk), Art therapy, music and movement (Capoierra), etc...begining with a flip in the perception.

irreme seshat said...

these thoughts and stories inspire me that not everyone in our "Add culture" is blind, even if the vast majority of us are becoming increasingly unable to concentrate. and i think there is a vital political dimension here, also, that i would be tempted to take in a "conspiratorial" direction. i don't think it's one conspiracy, i know there are many and i have no doubt that these drugs are part of a very very very big one. it is too convenient...
i love your thoughts. (by the by, i don't have a cell phone and i love and cherish its absence!)

Elyce Rae Helford said...

from my cousin Lisa:

hi elyce, no doubt we live in a hyper add society. but i would venture to guess that many people are not diagnosed with add that could really use the help. think back to when we were in grade school - the misfits - i wonder what a little therapy and medication could have done for them. there are several boys i think back about and wish that they would have had available some type of help. and where are they now?? i talk to many adults that had less than successful school experiences as children that wonder how they would have faired in the academic world with some medication. i confess i am one of those people - i don't remember anything from my education but boredom, scolding and poor performance. i know i am smart and i wonder how well i could have done in school if i had help!
having a daughter that has very clear add - there are tools to properly diagnose this brain condition and we have made use of those. add is a brain condition and a society condition. we need to seperate these and recognize the distinct differences. don't make this a witch hunt. children and adults with add are truly helped with medication. i can go on and on with lovely success stories but i will stop for now. that being said; i know elyce and chad have complete sympathy and understanding for this condition and the human experience!! lisa helford

Elyce Rae Helford said...

I've thought a lot about what you've written. I certainly believe that whatever helps needs to be considered. But as I think about those misfit kids (I spent half of kindergarten sitting under a table (!) for talking out of turn, for example), I wonder if the school system isn't the problem -- so sad to drug kids because teachers have too many students and rigid rules about what should be expected and taught as if children do/should not differ from one another.

Anonymous said...

Okay, now we're talking controversy.
As you know, Elyce, I and my son have both been diagnosed and treated via ritalin for ADD. Actually the medical condition that he and I suffer from is not even a medical condition, but Asperger's syndrome and OCD, which is a medical condition.
However with the prevalence of ADD and Ritalin it became frightening real to us.
The major difficulty, call it side effect or whatever, was the emotional separation. Ritalin took emotions out of our daily existence. That is positive emotion. We could get angry to beat the band, but we could also just turn it off. We determined that the side effects were too much, when we found over $50.00 in our son's bedroom when he wasn't getting an allowance at all. Remarkably it was all in change.
When confronted he said that while the other kids were in recess he went thru the classroom and took any and all money he could find. When asked he simply said he wanted it and knew how to get it, so he did.
There are other problems with Ritalin and they are extremely long lasting side effects, due to the medical conditions Ritalin affects. So, yes, therapy is and would have been much better treatment, if the counselor could get us to slow down long enough to do it. LOL
the Green Dragon thingie again.