Top 10 Questions on ADHD

These are the ten most frequently asked questions I receive about ADD/ADHD:

A: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or just attention deficit disorder (ADHD) are confusing medical terms. Don’t be afraid, though, because if you manage it right, ADHD can become your friend, a major asset in your life.

The terms ADHD and ADHD refer to a syndrome found in both children and adults characterized by distractibility, impulsivity and restlessness or hyperactivity.

In my opinion, ADHD is a terrible term. As I see it, ADHD is neither a disorder, nor is there a deficit of attention. I see ADHD as a trait, not a disability. When it is managed properly, it can become a huge asset in one’s life. I have both ADHD and dyslexia myself and I wrote a book, Positively ADHD, with Catherine Corman profiling a collections of fabulously successful adults all of whom have ADHD, so I know whereof I speak.

As I like to describe it, having ADHD is like having a powerful race car for a brain, but with bicycle brakes. Treating ADHD is like strengthening your brakes–so you start to win races in your life.

In my work as a psychiatrist who treats ADHD, I see myself not as a doctor who treats a disability, but rather as a doctor who helps people, adults and children alike, identify, develop, and celebrate their talents. That’s why I love my work!

A: It’s very simple. ADHD includes the symptom of physical hyperactivity or excessive restlessness–that’s the “H”. In ADHD (or what is called in the diagnostic manual, ADHD, inattentive subtype), the symptom of hyperactivity is absent. Indeed, people with ADHD can be calm and serene, not in the least hyperactive or disruptive. This syndrome is often found in girls and women, but it also occurs in boys and men. It is often missed, because the absence of hyperactivity leads others to assume the child or adult is simply shy, quiet or slow. In fact, they are dynamos in the making!

A: People with ADHD typically are creative, intuitive, original, and full of positive energy. They tend to be independent thinkers. They are persistent to the point of being stubborn. They usually are quite sensitive, but often cover this over with a kind of bravado. They are big-hearted and generous. They often have charisma or a special something, a twinkle in the eye, a zany sense of humor, or an ability to inspire others. With the right kind of guidance, these people can become hugely successful in their lives.

A: People with ADHD typically have trouble paying attention and focusing, especially when they are not interested. On the other hand they can super-focus at times. They also can be impulsive and sometimes hyperactive and disruptive. They can have trouble getting organized, prioritizing their activities, managing time, and completing tasks. They can be unaware of the impact they have on others, and so they can be socially awkward or inappropriate. They can be forgetful, inconsistent in follow-through, and often late. They have trouble with planning and what mental health professionals call “executive functioning.” The good news is that treatment can ameliorate or correct all of this, so that the positive attributes can carry the day.

A: Treatment should start with education. You need to learn what ADHD is and what it isn’t. You need to understand ADHD well enough to embrace it, and realize that while it may be holding you back right now, in time, with the right help, it can propel you to the fulfillment of your dreams. You need to understand what a positive attribute ADHD can be in your life.

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 and 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. You need to get on a regular sleep schedule and build exercise into your life. You need to consider the nutritional aspects of treatment. You will want to reconsider your job or school situation in light of ADHD. 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.

A: When medication works, it works as safely and dramatically as eyeglasses. Medication helps about 80% of the time in the treatment of ADHD. Make sure you work with a doctor who can explain the issues around medication to you clearly. Most people do not realize how safe and effective stimulant medications truly are, when they are used properly. Make sure you work with a doctor who has plenty of experience with these medications. The stimulants include medications like Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall, Vyvanse, Focalin, and others. As long as you take them under proper medical supervision, they can help you immensely.

A: We recommend any and all treatments that work, as long as they are safe and legal! When I led the way and introduced coaching as a treatment for ADHD back in 1994 in Driven to Distraction it was considered alternative and quite outside the box. Now it is entirely mainstream and recommended by everyone. What’s alternative today becomes either forgotten or standard tomorrow.

Among the innovative, alternative treatments we recommend include transcranial magnetic stimulation for some conditions, like depression and OCD, that can co-exist with ADHD; balancing exercises that stimulate the cerebellum, because the cerebellum has rich connections to the frontal lobes where the action is in ADHD; therapy aimed at managing the DMN, the default mode network which causes so many of the emotional problems in ADHD; transcendental meditation, which has been shown to improve both focus and internal calm; and a host of nutritional supplements all of which have a scientific backing strong enough for us to recommend them, from fish oil to vitamin D to magnesium.

But perhaps the most powerful “alternative” treatment we recommend is the most powerful remedy in the world, and the one Dr. Hallowell stresses more than any other: the human connection. We recommend massive doses of connection, “the other vitamin C,” to everyone who comes to see us. It is the universal remedy for all of life’s ill’s and provides the greatest of life’s pleasures.

A: Above all, what matters most is taking a positive approach. Of course, you need to see a professional who is highly knowledgeable and experienced. But you also want to make sure you see a professional you like, a person you feel understands you or your child, and a person you can be open and real with. Treating ADHD takes time, often years, so you want to be sure you are in the hands of a person you trust implicitly, a person you feel cares for you and your family, and, perhaps most important, a person who sees a clear way for you or your child to fulfill your dreams.

A: I have both ADHD and dyslexia myself. I was diagnosed with a reading problem early in my school years, but my ADHD was not recognized until I had completed college (Harvard, where I was an English major and graduated with high honors while also doing pre-med, not to brag, just to point out that ADHD doesn’t have to hold a person back!), medical school (Tulane, which I loved, largely because of New Orleans and the wonderful people I met in medical school), and finished a residency in psychiatry back at Harvard at the Mass. Mental Health Center, where I was lucky enough to find stellar teachers who deeply understood the human heart. After residency, when I was doing a fellowship in child psychiatry, I learned about ADHD and realized I had it. I was 31 years old at the time. What an a-ha! moment.

I have been treating ADHD and other learning differences for more than 35 years. I have authored or co-authored five books on the subject. I still carry on an active private practice in my offices in the Boston MetroWest area, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle. I see individual patients of all ages, as well as couples, families, and groups.

My offices are staffed by people who share my passion for ADHD and the marvelous people who have it.

A: In my centers, we see ADHD not as a disability or a deficit, but as a trait, a way of being. It is characterized by a host of qualities, some positive, some negative. Our job is to promote the positive qualities, while limiting the damage done by the negative. The standard, medical approach looks at ADHD entirely as a disorder. By disregarding the positive attributes, this approach often creates new serious disabilities: shame, fear, loss of hope, lowered self-esteem, broken dreams.

Next Steps

If you believe that you, your child or spouse may have ADHD, I strongly recommend getting a professional diagnosis. The Hallowell Centers all provide Dr. Hallowell’s strength-based approach and specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD.

Looking for more information about ADHD? Check out  What Is ADHD, and our page on ADHD Diagnosis and Treating ADHD.

I’ve written multiple books on the subject that all speak to different aspects of the condition: I recommend starting with Driven to Distraction or Delivered from Distraction, both offer thorough overviews on ADHD and their treatment. For parents of children with ADHD, I recommend SUPERPARENTING FOR ADD: An Innovative Approach to Raising Your Distracted Child.

It is easy to imagine you have ADHD when you do not. Don’t try to diagnose yourself. Leave it to the professionals.” Click here to learn how The Hallowell Centers get help make an ADHD diagnosis.

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