add: gift or curse?

In the past few days, I have been drawn into several different discussions on the topic of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). The individual subjects have ranged from “what is ADD, really?” to “I took an online test; should I go see a doctor?”

I have found that discussion of ADD — and its sibling, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) — can be quite sensitive for some people. It is a more emotionally-charged topic than you might guess, though this probably isn’t surprising when you consider the ADD population in the United States, the number of children whose ADD is misdiagnosed or unrecognized, the stigma that has been attached to ADD for years (and still has a strong hold), the medical community’s propensity to overmedicate people with even a hint of ADD, and the question of whether ADD actually exists.

This blog entry isn’t intended as a balanced airing of different viewpoints, nor is it a thesis on the nature of Attention Deficit Disorder. Rather, this is simply a quick exploration of my opinion and experiences on the subject.

Some background information: I am a high-achiever. I was an honor student all through school and got my bachelor’s degree in only three years from Duke University, graduating with honors. I also have a graduate certificate in film and video studies from the University of Southern California, completed my seminary studies at the New Seminary and was ordained, and am a certified hypnotherapist. I’ve always had at least a dozen irons in the fire at once and have managed (mostly) to keep track of them all. While my diverse interests appear to pull me in many different directions at once, I somehow manage to pull it all together into a cohesive whole.

I don’t mention all of this to toot my own horn, but to hold myself up as an example of a seemingly scattered but high-functioning person with ADD. My ADD is milder than some others, but no one even suspected ADD in me until I was 25 years old, when my step-father (a behavioral therapist) raised the question. Despite the advice of one doctor who wanted to start me on ritalin immediately — after having spoken with me for all of twenty minutes, running no tests or blood work — I have never been medicated. I count myself exceptionally fortunate that the first book I read on ADD, after my own diagnosis, was Thom Hartmann’s ADD: A Different Perception.

There are plenty of people in the world — myself included — who have ADD but who do not require medication or other intervening methods. ADD is simply a difference in brain wiring; it is not truly a “disorder,” yet most doctors are very keen on freely prescribing medication to “normalize” people who simply think differently.

Last week, I found a review of Managing the Gift: Alternative Approaches for Attention Deficit Disorder (Kevin Ross Emery, DD) in a message sent to an e-group to which I subscribe. The reviewer was Tys Dammeyer (aka Outboundlight), who had thoughtfully pointed toward the author’s encouragement away from traditional ADD remedies and toward a more holistic approach — with specific regard to what are termed Indigo children and adults. While I was pleased to see that ADD was being recognized not as a disorder but a natural difference in how people think and process information, I wasn’t so sure about the author’s contention that ADD is “the next step in our evolution as a species.”

I am more incline to agree with Thom Hartmann’s theroy — from his ADD: A Different Perception — that ADD merely demonstrates a difference between two groups of humans that goes back to early history: the hunters and the farmers.

While primitive agricultural societies splintered off from hunting and gathering tribes, these farming populations grew and became the foundation for great civilizations. Eventually, the “farmer brain” — which is wired for focused, methodical tasks (like agriculture) — was considered the norm, simply because there were so many more “farmers.” The more nomadic, hunting tribes — whose brains are naturally better suited for constant scanning of the environment for danger or possible prey — did not flourish in similar numbers, though these peoples are still in existence on the planet today. Hartmann cited several studies that found the incidence of ADD in these contemporary hunting tribes to be an astonishing 100%.

People with “hunting brains” are natural risk-takers and entrepreneurs, which goes a long way toward explaining why the incidence of ADD in the United States is so much higher than elsewhere in the world: the people who chose to brave the seas to settle and hopefully thrive in the New World were embracing huge risk and were oftentimes rebuilding their entire lives from scratch. These are choices that a “hunting brain” would be more comfortable and prone to making, and the hunter mentality would allow these individuals to even thrive under such circumstances. ADD is hereditary, passed from parent to child; so with more ADD people coming to the New World in the first place, it is not surprising to find that we have higher percentages of “hunters” here in the U.S. population today. Plus, the “Western lifestyle” — especially the media and entertainment cultures — caters to ADD and can even encourage the symptoms of those trying to cope.

(Just consider the frenetic pace of many television commercials and the continued evolution and significance of the “sound bite.”)

I do not mean to discount the thesis put forward in Emery’s Managing the Gift; in fact, these two theories are easily complementary. Perhaps the more evolved souls who are coming into this world are taking advantage of this “hunter brain wiring” (aka ADD) in order to further their work and missions. You could even look upon this as evidence that the Indigos have been here all along, just in more limited numbers until more recently.

I agree that our ADD youth and adults are overmedicated. Too often, people with ADD are given pills to “cure” their “condition,” when all that happens is a masking of symptoms in an attempt to make these people more “normal” (i.e., more like the farmers). ADD is indeed a gift, but one that can be difficult to manage in this world. Genius often comes hand-in-hand with the ADD/hunter brain, and it is speculated that great minds such as Edison and Einstein were classic cases of ADD — especially Edison! He had half-finished projects and incomplete ideas all over the place. If Edison had been treated for ADD, he may well have settled into a normal life, with a normal job, and wouldn’t have considered pursuing anything so crazy as a light bulb. Imagine our world today if these minds had been quieted and “normalized” by ritalin, instead of being allowed to flourish.

I agree absolutely with Emery’s assessment that “ADD impacted individuals can learn to use these gifts to become outstanding contributors to our society rather than misfits who suffer lifelong frustration.” I hope that this book and other such constructive resources will help those with ADD children, and those with ADD themselves, to recognize the true gift that this kind of brain wiring offers.

Personally, even with its hassles, I wouldn’t give up my ADD for anything. The ability to multi-task alone is very valuable to me, not to mention the heightened creativity, the interesting “brain path hyper-segues” (I may have to discuss this in another blog entry), and hyper-focus when I need it.

Posted in news, thoughts from the spiral.

One Comment

  1. Having been later diagnosed with Adult ADD,I just cannot accept it as a disability! In fact, I am quite frustrated that there is such thing as “Normal”. I just cannot believe that in this day and age, people can seriously look at the world today and think things are ‘normal”. We have to stop this view that ADD is a disability. The effects of this viewpoint are destructive on so many levels. In fact, I find it likened to racism and just as offensive.
    It is dangerous to continue to look at ADD only in a clinical sense. ADD is NOT a disability! It is not a limitation to one’s “capacity” to function. Matter of fact, given the topic, situation or circumstance, an ADDer can perform circles around “Normal Folk” in learning, focussing, applying & retaining knowlege without medication.

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