Busting ADHD Myth on Medication

MYTH: The “right help” for ADHD begins and ends with medication.

FACT:  While medication can often be useful in dealing with ADHD, it is neither necessary nor always effective.  The starting point in managing ADHD is education.  One needs to learn about what ADHD is–and what it isn’t–in order to change it from a serious liability into a bonafide asset.

Books are a cost-efficient way to start the process.  I can recommend my comprehensive book, Delivered from Distraction, written with Dr. John Ratey, but there are many other good books out there as well.  

There are also excellent websites, chock full of free, valuable information.  The best one for parents looking for help for children is Understood.org, which is a phenomenal resource. ADDA provides resources for adults.

Once you learn about ADHD—its positives and its negatives—then you get to work, with a good guide, a therapist of some sort who understands ADHD. Someone who takes a strength-based approach, to change whatever it is in your life that is causing you problems. Usually you need to work with a coach to get more organized.

Steps To Take:

  • Get on a regular sleep schedule.
  • Build exercise into your life.
  • Consider the nutritional aspects of treatment.
  • Reconsider your job or school situation in light of ADHD
  • Making various structural changes in your life can make a big difference: the right filing system, the right organization scheme, the right daily schedule.

In addition, you will likely want to talk with your therapist about your family life. If you are a child, some family therapy will help. If you are an adult, couples therapy can make a big difference.

Beyond education, coaching, and therapy, it is important to have a plan for developing your talents and interests. This will take time, but it is key. You build a life not on weaknesses you have repaired, but on talents you have developed. Of course, fixing weaknesses can help you in developing your talents, so the two go hand in hand.

Click here for a list of comprehensive resources.

Click here to learn how the Hallowell Centers can help you.

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ADHD Upside


If you missed my podcast on the Upside of ADHD, listen HERE.


ADHD Downside


If you want to know about the Downside of ADHD, listen HERE.


Celebrating Neurodiversity, ADHD and Dyslexia

Recently I had the great pleasure of attending a conference in Liverpool, England sponsored by the ADHD Foundation, Britain’s leading organization dedicated to neurodiversity, which of course includes ADHD and dyslexia, both of which I have myself.

I was thrilled to see the enormous progress the Brits have made on this front. Not too long ago the “moral model” still prevailed there, in which children and adults who had ADHD were told to try harder, be more disciplined, and basically to suck it up.

Now, under the dynamic leadership of Tony Lloyd and the great team he’s put together, the foundation offers screening, testing, and treatment, as well as massive public education, symbolized by the Umbrella campaign. Children wrote their strengths onto umbrellas—red, blue, orange, green and purple umbrellas—and the symbol caught on so well that in Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in London there is a section where you can see dozens of these colorful umbrellas hanging from the rafters, celebrating the progress and joy created by the ADHD Foundation and all the participants who’ve joined in.

It’s a beautiful sight, bright colors, bearing bright messages of hope, progress, and a new era in helping the neurodiverse population in the U.K. These (we) are the people who have changed the world for the better since the dawn of time. DaVinci seems to have had it, as do Mozart and Thomas Edison. We neurodiverse people are the ones who come up with the game changing ideas and the ideas that take the world to its next level. For too long we’ve been misunderstood and stigmatized.

But the new era is upon us at last.

At last this group of the world’s population is finding understanding and credit, validation and well-deserved admiration from the rest of the population who, for centuries, did not appreciate the amazing gifts wrapped inside the minds of this diverse group.

It was wonderful to look up and see these multi-colored umbrellas, hanging like Mary Poppins’ favorite form of transport should do, symbolizing triumph, joy, freedom and creativity for all the world to share.

Freedom at last for the tens of millions who’ve been shackled by misunderstanding, ignorance, and stigma for centuries. Freedom at last to give all that we have to give, to develop all that we can develop, and to share with the rest of the world the immense and unpredictable fruits of our diverse, creative brains.

Hooray for Tony Lloyd and his merry band of freedom-fighters in the U.K., liberators all, benefactors of the civilization that gave us Parliament and Shakespeare, the greatest literature the world has known and an enduring form of government tailored, fittingly enough, to preserve freedom.

Hooray for their great work, and hooray for this world, so in need of good news, that the day is come at last where hidden gifts get recognized, unwrapped, developed and put on grand display.

Just go to Terminal 5 at Heathrow, look skyward, and get ready to fly.


Myth – ADHD means you are Stupid


Since October is ADHD Awareness Month, now is a good time to review some ADHD myths. We want you to have the FACTS.

MYTH: Having ADHD, ADD means you are stupid.

FACT:  People with ADHD vary in their intelligence (whatever that elusive word means!) as much as the general population does.  Many people with ADHD are extremely intelligent, especially in the areas of:

    • creativity,
    • original, out-of-the-box thinking
    • remarkable persistence and resilience
    • highly intuitive style
    • resourcefulness, and
    • emotional savvy.  

Indeed, when I meet with someone who has ADHD, one of my top priorities is to locate their special talent. This is what I often call their special sauce, because, in my experience, almost everyone with ADHD has one. 

Of course, when you first receive the diagnosis, you may not feel you have any special talents. You might also feel afraid. This diagnosis may sound ominous, containing the words deficit and disorder, but you need not be afraid.  Since once the diagnosis is made, the next step is to find and develop your talents.

What To Do If You Find Yourself Asking, “But What Am I Good At?”

My answer is, “You never know. But whatever you do, don’t stop looking.” You can’t predict what your talent will be. Maybe it’s in being creative with investing online. Or maybe in working with motors or engines or in inspiring people. Whatever the talent, the goal of treatment is to bring your special talent to light and put it to work.

Learn How to Embrace Your ADHD

If you have ADHD and feel, “incompetent,”  “stupid,” or “ashamed, learn how to reverse the negative thinking that leaves you feeling depleted and defeated. Read my approach outlined in this ADDitude article, “How to Stop Beating Yourself Up Already.”  

Need help managing your ADHD?

At the Hallowell Centers,  we follow Dr. Hallowell’s strength-based approach. It begins with a personal connection with you. We also connect with your family – if appropriate – and one of our clinicians.  We believe in the power of positive connection above all else.

Upon that positive energy we seek out your, or your child’s, interests and strengths, while also identifying what weaknesses need shoring up.  Together we turn what you may have thought was a “deficit disorder” into an advantage full of powers that can’t be bought or taught. We open up what you’ve known all along was a treasure chest, but you just didn’t know how to open.  Learn more…

If you want to learn more about ADHD, click here.

Follow Dr. Hallowell on Facebook for more ADHD tips.

Reframing ADHD

I have ADHD and I’m proud of it. My daughter and one of my sons have ADHD. I think that people with ADHD represent some of the most fascinating, fun, and fulfilling of all the people I meet. However, words such as structure, supervision, reminders, and persistence don’t even begin to describe the magnitude of the task people with ADHD have to tackle every day, especially kids.

People with ADHD need their families and friends to understand their difficulties. If you know someone with ADHD, the best way to help is to start by changing your own thinking about ADHD.

When explaining ADHD to a child, I say, “you have a turbo charged mind – like a Ferrari engine, but the brakes of a bicycle, and I’m the brake expert.” When ADHD is properly treated, children and adults can achieve great heights: doctors, lawyers, CEO’s, dreamers, innovators, explorers and even Harvard grads. Founders of our country may have had ADHD. The flip-side of distractibility is curiosity.

By far, the biggest barriers for understand ADHD are denial, ignorance, and a refusal to learn. So you need to learn what ADHD is and what it isn’t. Perhaps the single most powerful treatment for ADHD is understanding ADHD in the first place. You need to understand what a positive attribute ADHD can be.

You can learn how to break down the positive aspects of ADHD by watching my TV interview with WBZ | CBS Boston below:

Dr. Hallowell
Dr. Hallowell

Reframe Challenges in terms of Mirror Traits 

Remind yourself  of the positive sides of the negative symptoms associated with ADD. By recognizing the mirror traits, you avoid the ravages of shame and fear.

ADHD chart


As we discussed in my WBZ interview, ADHD is being diagnosed more frequently today than it was a generation ago. As clinicians nowadays, we know a lot more about how the brain works and have far better diagnostic tools to work with. Despite all these advances, however, there is still no simple, “one-size-fits-all,” definitive test that can determine if a person, whether child or adult, has ADHD. It’s the individual’s own story – what psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers refer to as “the history” – that makes or breaks the diagnosis of ADHD.
If you missed my ADHD podcast on The Downsides of Untreated ADHD, LISTEN HERE.

My Turbo ADHD Brain

Now that ADHD Awareness Month is here, I’d like to take this time to share how I feel about ADHD. I’d also like encourage you to learn more about ADHD and share what you learn with others.

You see, I have ADHD myself and I treat hundreds of people who have it at my centers in Boston MetroWest and New York City every year. And with my buddy, John Ratey, I have written several books about it.

I have a love affair with ADHD.

Would you mind if I didn’t call ADHD ADHD in this piece? I really dislike the term. Please don’t tell the Thought Police that I have strayed from the DSM-IV. Just indulge this aging lover in his love and let him—me—call ADHD something else.

How about Turbo?

I choose Turbo because having this condition is like having a turbo-charged brain. I do not see Turbo as a disorder, but rather as a condition, or a trait. Of course, I know there are important reasons to consider it as a disorder. Mainly having to do with getting accommodations, research funding, and insurance reimbursement—but for my little love letter here, let me refer to my love as a trait, okay?)

The Turbo brain is so unpredictable. One minute it gets you into trouble, the next minute it gives you the smartest idea you’ve ever had. It speaks out of turn, when it should hush up, and when others wish it wouldn’t. Furthermore, the Turbo brain speaks when it wishes it wouldn’t.

Alas, the Turbo brain also forgets. Oh, does it ever forget. And it remembers just a minute or two too late. The Turbo brain often gets yelled at, or gets reprimanded, lectured, scorned. It gets remediated, medicated, or even detonated, so that it explodes! When it explodes, of course, there is a mess. And then there is a mess to clean up. Sometimes the owner of the Turbo brain lives life from mess to mess.

Of course, the Turbo brain knows enthusiasm like few other brains ever do, but it also knows disappointment too well, too. The Turbo brain tries—oh, boy, does it ever try—but then it shows up at the wrong place on the wrong day with hat in hand, ready for another reprimand.

So it’s no surprise that the Turbo brain cannot conform. It loves its own way too much. It loves to go where enchantment leads it, and once caught up in a mind-riff it can’t say no—because it forgets where it is and what the world is waiting for.

The reason I love the Turbo brain is the same reason I love anyone or anything that has to overcome great odds. The deck is stacked against the Turbo brain, especially in school. But I also love it because at times it can be so marvelous. It has to persist, and not believe all the nasty things that get said about it, if it is to do well over the long haul.

Can it do well? Oh, can it ever!

What do you need to do to give yourself the best chance of doing well if you have a Turbo brain?

You need, above all else, in as many positive ways as you can, to CONNECT.

  • Connect up with a mentor who sees your hidden skills and talents and can help draw them out of you.
  • Find someone, somewhere who gets such a kick out of you that they just can’t help but smile when you walk into the room, even if you have your pants on backwards and you’re an hour-and-a-half late.
  • Have a hobby that you get lost in, like building engines; or a sport you’re awesome at, like wrestling; or a horn you like to blow.
  • Get a pet who loves you and you love back, in spite of poops.
  • Discover a place where you can relax. Someplace where you connect to the vibes of whatever is true and good and fine in the life you live.
  • Connect to hope.
  • Spend time in Nature, at the sea or on a mountain or in the sky. Feel how much like Nature is your Turbo brain.
  • Connect to love and disconnect from all the nasties that nibble at you like gnats.
  • Give what’s best in you but you don’t know what it is a chance to grow. You do this by finding the right gardener.

The right gardener is out there. He or she is not always easy to find, as right gardeners don’t turn up as often as one would hope. But when you find the right gardener—the one who sees you’re not a weed but a most unusual plant—then your hard work will turn you into the great tree you were meant to be.

Having a Turbo brain can be hard. Having a brain—period—can be hard. But, I can tell you, as one who has a Turbo brain, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

After all, it has given me my world—my loves of many kinds—and even if it is not there when I need it, it takes me where, without it, I could never go.

If you’d like to learn more about:

ADHD – click here
Adult ADHD – click here
Signs of ADHD in Children – click here
ADHD Resources – click here
You can also listen to my Distraction podcasts on ADHD

Learn how The Hallowell Centers can help you manage your Turbo brain.

It’s ADHD Awareness Month

The month of October is ADHD Awareness Month. It also marks the 25th 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 questions 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.

Read more about Changing the Shame and Stigma of Mental Illness.

VAST (SM) Variable Attention Stimulus Trait

To that end, John Ratey and I will publish a new book, the third in the Distraction series, in November of 2020. In this new book we unveil a new term for ADHD. Our new term is VAST (SM), which stands for Variable Attention Stimulus Trait. It’s time to move past the deficit-disorder model and see the condition as a trait composed of positives and negatives. ADHD conveys shame and stigma. VAST conveys a truer picture, that this condition can be a great asset in life if it is managed properly.

In addition, Nancy and Tim Armstrong are funding the making of a feature-length documentary about ADHD/VAST (SM) rooted in the strength-based approach I’ve been championing for many years. This film should also help to dismantle stigma promote the hope and positive outcomes we need to aim for and achieve.

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.

If you think you or a loved one might have ADHD, learn about the Symptoms of ADHD and Getting a Diagnosis.

Learn about ADHD and Addiction here.

Learn about ADHD and Hope here.

Upcoming ADHD Awareness Events

Register for free and raise your ADHD awareness!

October 1st – October 31st – The ADHD Awareness Expo is a unique and innovative FREE online event! This is THE place to find the Help and Support YOU need to understand and treat ADHD. You will also have the opportunity make life changing connections with members of the ADHD Community. Dr. Hallowell and other Special Guests will be joining us by video to share tips and strategies. REGISTER FOR FREE NOW!

October 14th – October 30th –  Are you ready to transform your child’s behavioral challenges and get your life back?  Sign up for this complimentary event called: The ADHD Toolbox: Transform Your Child’s Behavior, Secure Their Future, and Empower Their Independence!” I’ll be discussing  “What’s the best part of ADHD and what’s the worst.”   REGISTER FOR FREE NOW and learn from 30+ experts.
November 21st – Live ADDiTude Webinar with Doctors and ADHD experts Edward Hallowell and John Ratey. They’ll discuss Recognition Responsive Euphoria (RRE), the sister syndrome of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria which is characterized by soaring peaks of positivity and euphoria.

If you’re not available to attend on 11/21, you can sign up and ADDitude will send you the replay to watch at your convenience.  RESERVE YOUR FREE SPOT – REGISTER NOW!