Patient Expert

So here's a snapshot of me doing chores on a Saturday morning. I'm working at my computer in the living room and remember that I wanted to put the sheets from my husband's and my bed in the wash. I head down to our room and notice on the way that my son hasn't made his bed. I head back to the living room and tell him he needs to make his bed. While I'm in the living room, I notice that there's a dirty plate, so I bring that into the kitchen, where I remember that I wanted to start the Scooba (the floor washing robot) on cleaning the kitchen floor. After I do that, I notice that the breakfast dishes are still on the table, and I put those in the sink. I finally sit down at my computer, where I remember half an hour later that I never put the sheets in the wash.

Note that all these diversions are not a matter of me re-prioritizing on the fly. I'm not making a conscious decision to change direction. For someone like me with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), the first goal is completely replaced by the distraction, and the new goal is almost certainly going to be replaced in a short time by something else. A person with ADD doesn't make a conscious decision to switch focus. ADD switches their focus for them, one hundred percent, from what they were thinking about/noticing to the new distraction. I personally think the disorder should be called "Compulsive Distraction Disorder."

Is this frustrating? You'd better believe it. None of us like having control taken out of our hands, and I in particular am big on prioritizing my actions. But I'm no more able to control whether a distraction derails my current course of action thanI can hold back a sneeze, or not cry when cutting onions.

Oddly enough, people with ADD often experience something called "hyper-focusing," which is essentially the opposite of distraction. You become so focused on a task (generally one that you enjoy) that you shut out all distractions. I've experienced this when re-designing my site (this is before my son was born, of course). I would work for hours at a time, forgetting to eat in some cases.

We hear a lot about children with ADD, but not so much about adults with ADD. It was believed until about two decades ago that that children always grew out of ADD. While the medical community recognized that this wasn't the case in the late 1970s, the general public to a great extent isn't aware that adults can have ADD. In fact, when my therapist initially suggested in 2000, when I was 37 years old, that I might have ADD, I was completely flabbergasted. Despite years of reading about mental health (although technically ADD is a neurological condition, not a mental illness) I had never connected my condition with ADD, probably since I had had it from a young age. When you grow up with a condition, it's just part of you. This actually was probably one reason that my depression didn't get diagnosed earlier - I kind of assumed that this was normal.

While I appreciate the attention that the issues surrounding a child with ADD receives, especially as I remember how difficult life was as a child with ADD, I wish there was more attention paid to adult ADD. Adults with ADD find that their career, personal life, and ability to function in general can be seriously impaired by the symptoms of ADD.


Adult Attention Deficit Disorder entry at Wikipedia
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder at NIMH