Attention Deficit Disorder, A Personal Account

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More


A Case Study, My Own


Sometimes it amazes me that I have accomplished as much as I have in my life because of all the school and social problems I have had since my childhood. I was never able to understand why I could not do better than I did in school. I certainly passed all of my classes but rarely achieved outstanding grades. My report cards consistently stated that “I must try harder,” or, “shows little interest,” or “talks during class.” I would always try to try harder but never could. Somehow, there was something wrong but I could not figure out what it was, at least not until “the truth” finally occurred to me. “The truth” that I finally discovered (and I do not remember when this happened) was that I was just plain stupid! Unable to follow a conversation and, thus, make friends I soon discovered a second “truth” about myself. That second “truth” was that I was not a likeable person. By the time I entered adolescence I continued to get average and below average grades but with the additional burden of feeling depressed.

Skipping many decades of my life I will report a recent conversation with a colleague of mine who happens to be a psychiatrist who specializes in pediatric, adolescent and adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). By the way, he happens to have ADHD himself. During this conversation I reported some of the symptoms that plagued me most of my life and then asked him the “Big Question:” Do I have ADD? Without hesitating for one second he said “yes, you have ADD.” This was not simply a quick diagnosis. Instead, my colleague based his assessment information that I gave him and the many things he has come to know about me over several years. For me, many issues fell into place having to do with my life and my problems.

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Having ADHD and not knowing it:

One of the things that fascinated me as a child and adolescent was the fact that I simply could not concentrate. Remember, when I came along, which was 65 years ago nothing was known about ADHD. Many of us with this problem went unrecognized and unsung. I was thought to be a lazy and unimaginative boy. My older brother was a “wiz” as school and he went on to become a Medical Doctor, the veritable star of the family. I did not doubt that he was smarter than me but I did often ask myself how he could be that much smarter than me. He spent hours applying himself to school and diligently studying. Interestingly, he attended parochial school, better known in the Jewish community as Yeshiva or religious school. He received both an education that met the requirements set by public school standards and religious standards with equal importance. My parents decided that this type of rigorous type of schooling would not meet my needs because I was too “temperamental.” They were probably right but without knowing or understanding the reasons why. Therefore, the only real conclusion that anyone could draw about me was that I was not very smart.

But I tried. I tried to read my school books despite the fact that my mind wandered a thousand miles away. I would come back to what ever I had been reading wondering to myself where I had been for the last five or ten minutes. It was not that I could not remember what I had read. Rather, I had never read the page I was staring at for that period of time.

The same thing happened in school. To this day I remember that I decided I would focus my attention on a math lesson about fractions. This was in the sixth or seventh grades. To my dismay, the key points of the lesson were past by the time my mind returned to the lesson. Where was I during that time? I have no idea except that I remember spending many lessons dreamily staring out of the school window. My teachers were not concerned because I gave them no trouble, except occasionally talking to my neighbor and I managed to pass. There only comment came on my report cards: “Effort: Needs Improvement.”

For these reasons school was filled with frustration and despair for me. The idea of going to class filled me with dread and hopelessness. After all, if I could not or would not read, I certainly could not complete my homework. My family tried to help this “poor and unfortunate student who was not very smart.”

Turning Point:

Learning to Compensate

As I became older and completed High School and even was accepted to College I scrambled for reasons for my poor performance beyond intelligence. It was confusing for me because I did not feel unintelligent. That was part of the issue: I felt like I understood so very much about my subjects, current events, the world and people. Perhaps, I thought, I had a reading problem. On my own initiative I went to the library and took out several books on reading. I had to do something.

One of the books I borrowed from the library included a workbook on speed reading and that helped enormously. I also learned how to skim, write outlines and focus on the main theme. Finally, I felt as though I had some weapons in my arsenal to help me cope with school.

Socially, I learned to repeat the names of the people I was introduced to as I met them. I also overcame my anxiety about asking someone their name if I had forgotten. No one has ever been offended by this, at least not in my experiences. This was just one of the strategies I taught myself in my effort to focus more attention on people. Remember, I had no idea that I had ADD. These things felt right and worked.

The real point is that I had to learn how to compensate for whatever my weaknesses were. Had more been know about ADD at the time it would not have been necessary for me to figure things out for myself. Let me assure the reader that because I was “in the dark” about what was wrong with me I still believed in my own innate dumbness. In fact, as my grades and school performance improved I was convinced that I hoodwinked or fooled everyone.

What you should do:

If you suspect that you have the adult version of ADD with or without the H for hyperactivity, consult a psychiatrist or psychologist in your community. In fact, here on there is a link that will allow you to test your self for ADD. It is not reliable enough to make a diagnosis but it can indicate that you might have a problem. Have your self evaluated by a professional and if you are positive for ADHD you need to take two important steps: 1) Discuss medication for ADHD and if it is determined that it will help you begin the medication treatment. 2) Look for behavioral or coaching psychotherapy from someone who is expert at treating ADHD so that you can learn the strategies necessary to succeed in life despite having this disorder.

If you have a child who is showing symptoms of ADHD consult pediatric psychologist immediately and have you child tested for the disorder. There are excellent treatments for children including medication and the necessary psychotherapy. The sooner you seek treatment for your child the sooner you can help him learn how to cope and avoid much suffering in the future.

There are many articles on this web site about ADHD and you are encouraged to read them and learn. Also, there are many support groups to help people cope with both adult ADHD and childhood ADHD. I suggest as a good web site to learn more about the disorder and find support groups in your community.

No one should ever feel hampered by a diagnosis of one type or another. Life is about reaching above ones abilities and problems. Instead of wallowing in self pity several of the Colorado Rockies baseball team, when interviewed after they lost the World Series without winning one game stated that they learned a lot from their mistakes and would be back next year putting all of their energies and learnings into winning the world series in 2008.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged.

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