Attention Deficit Disorder
For centuries children have been grounded, beaten, or even killed for ignoring the rules or not listening to what they're told. In the past it was thought these "bad" kids were the products of bad parenting, bad environment, or simply being stubborn, however it is now known that many of these children may have had Attention Deficit Disorder, or A. D. D., and could've been helped. A. D. D. is a syndrome that affects millions of children and adults in the United States and is a very frustrating and confusing syndrome that often goes undiagnosed.
While there is no clear-cut definition of A. D. D., it's known that it's a genetic disorder that affects males more often than females, in a 3:1 ratio, and is marked by a classic triad of symptoms, which are impulsivity, distractibility, and hyperactivity (Hallowell 6). There are two general types of A. D. D., the stereotypical, high-energy, hyperactive group, and the less known underactive ones that often daydream and are never mentally present anywhere. Typically, people with A. D. D. are very likable and are usually very emphatic, intuitive, and compassionate, however they have very unstable moods that can range from an extreme high to an extreme low instantly, for no apparent reason. Usually, they procrastinate often and have trouble finishing projects, while conversely, they can hyperfocus at times and accomplish tasks more quickly and efficiently than a normal person could. Often they have short tempers and lack the impulse to stop themselves from blowing up over minor details (Hallowell 10).
Although A. D. D. has just recently been discovered and there is still relatively little known about it, it has an interesting history. In 1902, George Frederic Still first thought that the dilemma of problem children was a biological defect inherited from an injury at birth and not the result of bad parenting. In the 1930's and '40's stimulant drugs were first used to successfully treat many behavior problems due partly to Still's hypothesis. In 1960, Stella Chess further boosted research in the field by writing about the "hyperactive child syndrome." She stated that the behavior problems weren't a product of injury at birth, but instead were inherited genetically. Finally, in 1980, the syndrome was named A. D. D., due in large part to Virginia Douglas' work to find accurate ways to diagnose it (Hallowell 12).
Formally, A. D. D. comes in two types: A. D. D. with hyperactivity and A. D. D. without hyperactivity (Hallowell 9). However there are several other subtypes that are used to diagnose the syndrome and aren't formally recognized. The six most interesting, though not necessarily most prevalent, are A. D. D. without hyperactivity, A. D. D. with agitation or mania, A. D. D. with substance abuse, A. D. D. in the creative person, "high-stim" A. D. D., and pseudo-A. D. D.
The first subtype, A. D. D. without hyperactivity, is the most frequently seen subtype. A common misconception about A. D. D. is that it's only present in hyperactive people, while in this subtype the people are underactive, even languid. These people are the daydreamers that drift off to their own world during class or during conversations. This type is most common in females and the core symptom is distractibility. This, while being the most frequent, is also the hardest to diagnose because it seems that the people simply "need to apply themselves" or "get their act together (Hallowell 153)."
The second type, A. D. D. with mania or agitation, can often be mistaken for manic-depression due to the high energy levels involved in both and the rapid changes in mood. However, on can distinguish between the two by their response to medication. People without a favorable response to lithium, the drug prescribed to manic-depressives, quite likely have A. D. D. A difficult twist to diagnosis is that the two may coexist. This occurs when the person cycles between mania and A. D. D. (Hallowell 169).
The third subtype is A. D. D. with substance abuse. Substance abuse is one of A. D. D.'s hardest "masks" to see through because the abuse itself can produce A. D. D.-like symptoms. Often when a person with A. D. D. has substance abuse problems they unknowingly are self-medicating themselves with the drugs. They do this when they choose to use the drug continually simply because it clears the static from their mind (Hallowell 174). The three substances used most by A. D. D. sufferers are cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana. With cocaine, the person feels focused and alert as opposed to the average state of being high and out of control, because the cocaine acts as a stimulant, much like Ritalin, to the part of the brain that's dysfunctional in A. D. D. (MacLean 11).
The fourth subtype of A. D. D. is A. D. D. in the creative person. At first, one might think A. D. D. would hinder creativity but, in fact, many elements of A. D. D. favor creativity. One of these is the disarrangement of thought the A. D. D. sufferer lives with and, in order to be creative, one must get comfortable with disarrangement. Also, a cardinal symptom of A. D. D. is impulsivity, and what is creativity other than an impulse gone right (Hallowell 177)? A. D. D.'s ability to hyperfocus at times also can contribute to creativity because a person can fiercely attach to an idea and work it to the end. The only real disadvantage to creativity in A. D. D. is harnessing these elements to carry through with the brilliant ideas.
"High-stim" A. D. D. is the fifth and most interesting type of A. D. D. "High-stim" A. D. D. occurs when a person seeks out highly stimulating, and often dangerous, situations to avoid boredom. In the person with A. D. D., a high-risk situation provides extra motivation which has been proven to help the person focus. Often a child with this type of A. D. D. will pick fights with others to spice up a situation without necessarily being angry (Hallowell 179).
The sixth and final subtype of A. D. D., pseudo-A. D. D., isn't actually A. D. D. at all. Instead, it's just the mistaken impression that A. D. D. is just the way life is for everyone. The reason for this false feeling is that life itself is much like A. D. D. with its fast pace, high stimulation, violence, anxiety, etc. The way one can tell between pseudo-A. D. D. and genuine A. D. D. is the duration and intensity of the symptoms (Hallowell 193).
There are five basic steps to treating A. D. D. The fist is diagnosis which, in itself, can provide great relief. The second is education because the more one understands A. D. D., the better one can understand how to solve the problems it creates. The third step is providing structure, which is important in reducing the inner chaos and providing a sense of control. The fourth step is having someone to provide encouragement, instructions, and reminders to the person with A. D. D. The fifth, and final, step is medication, which helps by correcting a chemical imbalance in the brain. Unfortunately, this doesn't work for everyone and it should not be used as the only treatment (Hallowell 14).
Some common medications for A. D. D. are Ritalin, Dexedrine, Cylert, Tofranil, Norpramin, and Catapres which all have their own, individual positive and negative aspects (MacLean 11). Also, one must beware of controversial treatments that have overstated or exaggerated claims, that claim to treat many ailments, and/or claim that they have been unfairly attacked by the "Medical Establishment (CH. A. D. D. 1)."
With increased knowledge and acceptance of A. D. D., society can help itself in at least two major ways. One, it could lessen the prison population because a large number of inmates have undiagnosed A. D. D. and, given proper treatment can overcome their problems to live a productivelife. Second it could tap into a large, unused base of intelligent people with undiagnosed A. D. D. to help further mankind. Overall, A. D. D. isn't something to be overlooked and pushed aside due to the many benefits understanding it would give.
CH. A. D. D. "Controversial Treatments for Children with Attention Deficit Disorder." Online. Internet. 1995
Hallowell, Edward M. and John J. Ratley. Driven to Distraction. Simon and Schuster. New York: 1994.
MacLean, Marvin E. "Medications and A. D. D." The Journal of Bio/Behavioral Dynamics. September, 1995: pg. 11.