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ADD in Adults?

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That was precisely Jennifer Koretsky’s experience. Before her diagnosis, she says, “I was really struggling. It felt like I had to put in so much more work and effort just to keep things together; it was hard for me to get to work on time; there was never any food in my fridge; there was never any time to keep the apartment clean or get my laundry done. It felt like I was constantly struggling to keep up.”

Her diagnosis, she says, “explained so many of my challenges, like disorganization and poor time management, but it also validated my strengths — creativity, compassion and drive.”

What is ADD?

The hectic pace of modern life, the constant techno-interruptions of email and social media, the omnipresence of speakers and video screens in public spaces — it can make anyone feel distracted. And we all misplace our keys or forget an appointment now and then. But, as Hallowell notes in one of his books, Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder (Ballantine Books, 2005), occasional periods of distraction do not necessarily mean you’re suffering from ADD.

“Because its symptoms abound in modern life,” he writes, “ADD is a seductive diagnosis; it is easy to imagine that you have ADD when you do not.”

It’s the intensity and duration of symptoms that determine a diagnosis of ADD. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) lists 18 symptoms for ADD, clustered into two areas: inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity. To warrant an ADD diagnosis, one needs to have experienced six or more of the symptoms from one or both of the groups for at least six months. The symptoms must impair your life in some way, and they must occur in two or more areas of your life — for example, home and work. (Hallowell has established a distinct diagnosing protocol at his clinic; see the “Diagnosis: ADD” on page 4.)

Attention deficit disorder is something of a misnomer. Someone with ADD doesn’t have a deficit of attention. It’s actually an inconsistency in attention, which allows people with ADD to hyperfocus at times. And contrary to some outdated stereotypes, many people with ADD are often clever and outgoing. But that combination of sociability and hyperfocus can present its own challenges.

Many people also have the misconception that ADD is limited to hyperactive boys. While boys are diagnosed with ADD three times more often than girls, this is likely because, in girls, the disorder typically presents as the “inattentive” or “dreamy” type (staring out windows or drifting off midconversation), as opposed to the “hyperactive” type.

Next: the ‘Dreamy’ type

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Megan, selected from Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.

41 comments

+ add your own
12:17PM PDT on Oct 9, 2012

I've been selected with the "gift" off A.D.D. for 9 years now. It is a curse but a curse that can be used for good. I had numerous people tell me lead singers and other famous people had A.D.D. We are a different breed. We see the world differently. Others may say we are weird or out casts. To people who don't know what A.D.D. is like, walk into a room full of teenage girls talking, all at once about different things, don't mean to offend anybody, than try to remember a number, while explain street names while saying your ABC's backwards. Okay, not that extreme but some may agree! It effects my relationships, sleep, and food intake. I'm currently trying to find a specialist to help with A.D.D. and my anxiety tied with it. To many pills!

11:05AM PDT on Jun 18, 2011

Great article. Thanks.

11:45AM PDT on Jun 13, 2011

Really important and interesting topic---thanks. We have this in our family.

1:48AM PDT on Jun 10, 2011

I have ADD. And it's hard to read a big wall of text. Some people think my short and direct answers are rude, but I can't focus on these big huge things.

Thanks for making the list easy to read.

5:53PM PDT on Jun 7, 2011

PS, another quick thought: WHY do bipolars and ADD/ADHD's get into so darn much trouble? Because all that excess nervous energy constantly seeks TARGETS: stuff to expend the energy against; stuff to stop it, define it, direct it, contain it. This often fails to serve the person's needs adequately, and it often involves social situations and interactions that can be quite exasperating &/or tiresome for others. My heart goes out to all manics (and ADD/ADHD, PTSD, MAD, GAD and all the other cousins in that fascinating extended family.)

5:42PM PDT on Jun 7, 2011

Interesting how "ADD" seems to be the term de jour for people who've always been called "Bipolar" in the past. Yes, there are some differences, notably the lack of depressive episodes... although the commonest form of bipolar (often called mixed anxiety and depression or MAD) is one in which the person is "up" almost all the time, rarely having an actual depressive slump.

Because of SO MUCH going on in their heads, both conceptually and emotionally, almost all the time, bipolars are extremely disorganized, restless, stimulus-seeking, tangential and distractible... i.e., everything described herein as "ADD."

Also, actually it's NOT so essential to "get an accurate diagnosis" as advised herein. In point of fact, VERY FEW people neatly "inhabit" a particular diagnosis. Instead, in actual practice, 99% of patients are a little of this, a smattering of that, a lot of this under certain circumstances, none of it under others.... No, the MOST IMPORTANT thing is to get an accurate picture of exactly what problems the traits and tendencies bring into a person's life, establish patterns and triggers, learn tools and coping mechanisms and other avenues of control, and go from there. A diagnosis is just a starting point to get one "into the ballpark."

I've worked in mental hospitals for 22 years and I know what I'm talking about. Also I'm about 2/3 bipolar myself. Luckily saved by my father's genes. If HE'D been bipolar too? Yipe!

5:43AM PDT on Jun 6, 2011

Wow... thats 20 out of 20 for me... scarry.. never thought about ADD ... It does say if you suffer from anxiety you may display similar symptoms... now the question is this... Is my anxiety actually misdiagnosed ADD or is it actually Generalised Anxiety... 20 out of 20 on the ADD Symptoms and i've been like that for as long as I can remember.. all my school reports always said the same thing... Intelligent and could do well but lacks attention. lol... I did well in school in the end due i guess to a period of hyperattention lol ... I do wonder... Where i'm from you can't get diagnosed for anything properly so i won't bother going to fnd out.. i'll plod along as i always do... It has it's pittfalls but hey what doesn't...

4:44AM PDT on Jun 4, 2011

I've only heard of ADHD, not of ADD.

3:48AM PDT on Jun 4, 2011

Thank you for a very good article.

1:39AM PDT on Jun 4, 2011

@ Jill C. I'm not sure where you got your "FACTS" but it seems obvious to me that you don't know nor have ever been close to someone suffering from ADD. I have a friend who fits the description perfectly and when he comes over it's like a psychological tornado hit and he is not even aware of what damage he has done. I can see it is not anything he can control on his own. i think you would not be so quick to say it is not an illness if you could experience it.

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