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Dr Hallowell ADHD and mental and cognitive health

A resource about ADD, ADHD, and mental health




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Dr. Hallowell's Blog

November 9th, 2015

People in High Places have ADHD, as do People Who Struggle Mightily

People in high places have ADHD, for example, Daniel Koh, the Chief of Staff for the Mayor of Boston.

But it is also true that people who struggle mightily just to get by often have ADHD.  This condition can associated with greatness or with abject despair and failure.

As many of you know, I have long advocated a strength-based approach to the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD.  In just the past 10 days two things happened that bear upon this matter.

Before I discuss those two items, let me quickly clarify what I mean by the strength-based approach, for readers who may not be familiar with my position.  As I see it, the medical model is skewed entirely toward pathology, toward what’s wrong, what’s sick, what’s in need of bing fixed.  This is in keeping with the medical model.  You don’t go to the doctor to talk about how well you feel; you go when you are sick.

But when it comes to the mind, it is dangerous to assign a diagnosis that only highlights the deficits.  That’s because we identify with our minds.  If you tell a person they have a sick kidney, that’s one thing, because people do not identify with their kidneys (unless they are psychotic!).  However, of you tell a person he has a sick mind, he feels totally diminished, as if you have just told him he, himself, is sick, in toto.

That’s why, when it comes to the mind, it is so important to mention strengths along with weaknesses, not to sugar coat the bad news, but to give a full and accurate picture.  Every mind has strengths and weaknesses.  It is important to mention both.  For example, Abraham Lincoln, perhaps our greatest president. suffered from episodes of major depression.  Yet we do not think only of depression when we think of Lincoln.  Winston Churchill, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and arguably the foremost statesman of the 20th Century, suffered from major depression, substance abuse, dyslexia, as well as a hint of bi-polar disorder.  Yet when we think of Churchill we do not first label him as mentally ill.

In the case of ADHD, it is especially important that we  who diagnose and treat it search out each person’s strengths, as well as their challenges.  When we do that, we get the best results, and we avoid instilling the pernicious disabilities of shame, fear, and a feeling of being defective.

Now to the two items I want to comment on.  First, a distinguished professor of psychology came to my office to take me to task for overstating the positives associated with ADHD.  She told me that I risk making parents feel guilty if their kids struggle, and making the kids themselves feel they have somehow failed even when they are doing their best.

I completely agree with that psychologist, and I want to make it clear that ADHD can be utterly crippling.  ADHD is over-represented in the ranks of the prison population, the addicted, the unemployed, the depressed, the marginalized, and the people who commit suicide.  ADHD can be a terrible curse.  And when it is, no one, certainly not parents, is to blame.  Please do not misunderstand me.  I know how bad ADHD can be.  And I feel nothing but respect for the heroic parents who hang in there trying their best to help their child deal with it and survive.

The second item relates to Daniel Koh.  In the Nov. 3 issue of the Boston Globe, Linda Matchan wrote an article about Mr. Koh that recounted his struggle and ultimate victory in living with ADHD.  To quote the article:

His mother kept the house quiet while he did his homework. His father sat with him when he read. “My parents refused to accept that I was not destined to do good things in life,” he said.
But someone else believed in him too, the teacher Koh calls “Mr. Hutch” — his seventh- grade adviser, Bob Hutchings.

“He would sit with me and make sure my work was organized. He gave me hope that I was a smart guy.”

Hutchings, who still teaches at the Pike School, says he suspected that Koh might have had an attention deficit disorder. He also saw him as “lovable” and impressive.

“He had this huge personality, and in fact I called him ‘the Mayor’ in seventh grade,” Hutchings said.

“The fact that he is now the mayor’s chief of staff is just a hoot to me.”

Among many points I could make here, I want to be sure not to imply that the kids who succeed have good parents and teachers, while the kids who struggle and fail have bad parents and teachers.  Far more goes into it than that.  As the psychologist who visited me correctly pointed out, the best parenting, teaching, and ancillary help in the world sometimes leads to less than wonderful, and sometimes pretty miserable, outcomes.

On the other hand, almost every success story I’ve seen, and I’ve seen many, includes parents who care and a Mr. Hutch, someone who believes in the student no matter what.  In the case of John Irving, who barely survived Phillips Exeter Academy and is now one of the world’s great novelist, it was his parents and his wrestling coach, Ted Seabrooke.  And for Daniel Koh it was Mr. Hutch.

One day we will be able to help every person of every age who struggles with ADHD.  In the meantime, we need to look for the strengths these people invariably have, and then, as Daniel Koh’s parents did and Mr. Hutch did, do all we can to develop them while never losing faith in the person we love or care about.

At the same time, we need to be ever so careful not to cast stones at the caregivers of the individuals who are not thriving.  Blaming these heroic people is beyond ignorant, it is cruel, hurtful, and deeply destructive.

We need, all of us, to work together, to believe in the power of positive human connection, and to keep at it, no matter what.

November 4th, 2015

Young Adults with ADHD Build their Futures

I am on the Advisory Board of InventiveLabs – Ned

People with ADHD have a difficult time completing the standard college regime; it is not built for them. As Dr. Hallowell has explained, it is for people with attention-surplus disorder. Consequently, some of our most brilliant and creative thinkers in this world are being put in the penalty box because of the box they cannot tick – college degree.   There are many famous entrepreneurs, entertainers, sports heroes, etc. who have ADHD and/or dyslexic. Some of them did not finish college. At an event at our research center, Dr. Hallowell gave a fantastic presentation describing these types of people and their struggles. (You can view it here on our YouTube channel.) These struggles are not necessary.

Our view is that society is sidelining what we call “necessary brilliance”. Necessary brilliance is embodied by the intellect, creativity and contributions that people with learning differences can provide to the world if they are given the opportunity to do so. Right now, they are not being given that opportunity. Look around at all the bright young people who are living back home with their parents. Some of them were valedictorians, leads in the high school play, class presidents or star athletes who now consider themselves failures. They are not. They just need to find a different path to success.

Instead of asking people with ADHD to change their behavior to meet society’s expectations and blend in, we are providing a platform for them to prove their worth by demonstrating their brilliance. InventiveLabs is a place for people who learn differently to explore their passions and figure out a way to become successful doing what they love in an environment of acceptance. Tom Bergeron and I have experience with creating and growing businesses over the last 20 years. We, along with a community of successful business people, guide them to their end goal: starting a company, joining a company that fulfills their passion or actually re-entering the right college once they know what they want to do with their lives. Whatever their passion is, we support them. We even have highly successful angel investors, some of whom are likely ADHD themselves (imagine that!), ready to invest in good ideas coming out of the lab.

Our current team of Inventives (our attendees) are working on things such as a fictional novel, a new beachwear business, a new retail store, temporary covers for outdoor equipment, kitchen accessories, and apps for mobile devices. To give you some perspective on the types of people we attract, one of our Inventives played netball for the Australian National Team. Another was integral to the growth of a major YouTube channel for Minecraft. Another is the great grandson of Igor Sikorsky (of helicopter fame). Not one of them has completed college, but they have a lot to offer to the world!

Our Inventives are launching some new products on the Kickstarter crowdsourcing website. They have worked hard on creating their prototypes and are offering them for sale on the website. Pre-buying their products on Kickstarter will help them launch their first business if there is enough interest in their idea. It will also help InventiveLabs as we work to raise awareness and prove that our Inventives deserve to be noticed, and should not be stuck in menial jobs where they cannot contribute to the betterment of society. Help us demonstrate their necessary brilliance!

Click here to take a look at their Kickstarter pages or visit our website at www.inventivelabs.org.

Warm regards,

Rick Fiery

October 28th, 2015

Dr. Hallowell Comments as ADHD Month Winds Down

The month of October is ADHD Awareness Month.  It also marks the 21th anniversary of the publication of Driven to Distraction.

How far we’ve come since 1994 in our nation’s collective awareness of ADHD.

But how far we have yet to go!

I think it’s deserved for us all to pat ourselves on the back a bit for joining together to educate the public about ADHD.  But the timing is also propitious to sound the alert as to how much more there is to be done.

Stigma still retards progress.  Factions still prevent the unified efforts that would bring greatest success.  Children still suffer in schools unnecessarily, and millions of adults who have ADHD still don’t know they have it.  New non-medication treatments are emerging, but we need more research to validate them and develop new ones.

Still, we have come a long way since that book came out.  Back then, when I went on talk shows, the first question I was asked was, “How do you know ADHD is real?  Isn’t it just a fancy excuse to get out of doing work?”

I am never asked that question today.  True, some uninformed people still wonder about it, but the science is so solid that no informed person has any doubt but that ADHD is real.

Now the great task is to educate this country–and the world–as to how best to identify ADHD and how best to deal with it.

With your help, we will do this work, and we will do it sooner than later.  We must, because millions of lives will suffer without it, while millions will thrive once they get the right kind of help.

It is a time to feel grateful, but also to rededicate out efforts.  I intend to keep working hard on behalf of this cause.  I hope you all do, as well.

October 20th, 2015

ADHD Student and Parent Workshops

Parenting Children with ADHD Starts Nov 2 – Support for feelings of isolation and being misunderstood 7-session afternoon or evening workshop.

Managing Homework Dec 1 & 8 – Learn how ADHD and Executive Functions impact your child’s motivation, retention and self-confidence, and how to overcome these obstacles.

Both workshops are live (Long Island, NY) or via webinar




October 20th, 2015

ADHD Awareness Expo, October 21-25, 2015

ADHD Awareness Expo, October 21-25, 2015. Free. Online. Get your questions answered by Experts! Register here.

October 15th, 2015

ADHD: Celebrating 34 Years of Progress

Note from Ned

Since October is National ADHD Month, I thought this would be a good time to celebrate the progress we’ve seen regarding ADHD in the past 34 years.

I chose 34 years because I learned about ADHD, or what was then called ADD, in 1981, 34 years ago. In one of the great “A-HA!” moments of my life, I heard a lecture given by Dr. Elsie Freeman as part of my training in child psychiatry about a condition I’d never heard of: attention deficit disorder. Until that moment, I would have thought the term referred to a chid who suffered from not receiving enough attention!

But Dr. Freeman opened my eyes to a condition I’d been living with my whole life (I have ADHD as well as dyslexia) and now have been treating in people of all ages for lo those 34 years.

When I first learned about ADD, the best known book for the general public on the condition was Paul Wender’s book. Russell Barkley was doing his seminal research out in Worcester, at the University of Massachusetts. CHADD had not yet come into existence, and the general public had close to zero awareness of the condition. The few people who had heard of it assumed that either it was a bogus excuse to help kids get out of doing work, or it denoted some form of retardation. Ignorance and stigma ruled.

How far we’ve come! Dr. Barkley worked tirelessly to establish ADD as a bona-fide condition, while the basic science that poured in during the 1990’s including Alan Zametkin’s seminal 1990 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, established the roots of ADD in biology. Genetics, anatomy, and neurochemistry all varied in children and adults who had this fascinating condition.

Today there is still widespread misunderstanding regarding what’s now called ADHD, but we are on far, far more solid ground than ever before, thanks to the efforts of many researchers, authors, parents, professionals, and other individuals and organizations who joined the effort to help people of all ages who live with ADHD.

While Dr. Barkley and many others have proven how crippling and devastating ADHD can be if it is not dealt with properly, in my work I’ve tried to highlight how successful people can become if they address their ADHD and learn how to tap into their talents, while minimizing the damage done by the negative symptoms associated with the condition.

I’ve used the analogy of a race car. I tell people that having ADHD is like having a Ferrari engine for a brain, but with bicycle brakes. As long as you consult with a brake specialist, a doctor trained in how to help people deal with ADHD, then you can win races and live a hugely successful life. But, if you do not, then the consequences can be dire.

My message has always been, and remains today, one of hope rooted in knowledge. We have the knowledge now to help people of all ages live great lives with ADHD. While the condition can be vexing and troublesome in the extreme, there is always help, always hope. I’ve seen many, many lives turn around with the right kind of treatment, which usually includes medication, coaching, and various other interventions tailored to the individual person.

More groups and organizations are joining the efforts of the national organizations like CHADD and ADDA to help educate the public. I’ve worked with one, in particular, a non-profit organization that I highly recommend. It is called Understood, and you can mine its vast treasures of practical, authoritative, and interactive information on its website, Understood.org. Aimed at parents, the website is chock-full of everything you need to raise a child who has ADHD.

More and more doctors outside of mental health are learning about ADHD. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Peter Jensen and his organization called REACH, pediatricians are getting advanced training the in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. This is especially needed as child psychiatrists are in such short supply.

Everywhere you turn, you see positive developments, as awareness spreads like the great good news that it is. Now, in this National ADHD Awareness Month, let’s celebrate together on how far we’ve come. There is more, always more work to do, but we’ve come a long ways.

Let’s continue the effort by each of us reaching out to one person who does not understand ADHD and educating that person, tactfully and accurately, so we can continue to shine the light of knowledge into the darkness of ignorance and stigma.

We can proceed now with confidence and joy, standing on the shoulders of the giants in the field, men and women like Paul Wender, Leopold Bellak, Hans Hussey, Russell Barkley, Virginia Douglas, Peter Jensen, Alan Zametkin, and many, many others, who brought this condition from the realm of humbug to scientific fact, helping millions of people of all ages to change their lives dramatically for the better.

In a world aching for good news, the story of ADHD is beyond good, it is spectacular.

Let us all rejoice, give thanks, and sure, why not, sing!



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