• Distractibility? Or ADHD?

    We all have our distracted moments. Sometimes it is amusing. Sometimes it can cause serious problems. Pervasive exposure to media, multitasking, and anxiety can all make us distracted. Sometimes chronic distractibility can be symptomatic of a disruption of cognitive processing which is now called ADD or ADHD. Are you are often distracted, and feeling confused, frustrated, and sad when you can’t move from intention to action? At home or work, your relationships might suffer due to your disorganization and inconsistent behavior. In fact, your job might be jeopardized because your work is late, incomplete, or inaccurate. Take comfort: you are not stupid, but you may have undiagnosed ADHD. 


    People have long observed a cluster of symptoms that occur in a person of average or above average intelligence who seems unable to function in a competent, masterful way.

    • AD/HD is a neurobiological disorder. Three major characteristics are inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. A person may have all or some combination of these traits.
    • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is used to describe a person who is inattentive but does not have hyperactivity and/or impulsiveness as primary symptoms.
    • It is estimated that 8 million (one in 20) adults in the US have AD/HD and the majority have not been formally diagnosed or treated.
    • AD/HD usually becomes noticeable during childhood. According to a recent study reported in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, there is a prevalence rate of AD/HD at 8.7 percent for children ages 8 to 15 years old.
    • AD/HD often runs in families. According to research, if one person in a family has AD/HD, there is a 25% to 35% chance that another family member also has the disorder.
    • Only a professional, such as a psychiatrist, neuropsychologist, psychologist, or physician can properly diagnose a person.

    The diagnostic criteria for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) of the American Psychiatric Association.

    Some common symptoms of AD/HD include:
    • Inattention to details
    • Easily distracted
    • Difficulty sustaining attention
    • Disorganization at work and at home
    • Loses or forgets important things
    • Poor sense of time
    • Poor listening to directions
    • Restlessness
    • Interrupting or blurting out answer
    • Difficulty with relationships

    While some of these symptoms may sound common, a person with AD/HD has a variety of symptoms that are excessive, long-term, and pervasive. These symptoms create significant barriers to performance and satisfaction in several areas life. ADHD is a complex condition and individuals may differ significantly in the number, combination, and severity of the symptoms.

    New evidence points to AD/HD as impairment of self-regulation and executive functioning. These two complex functions enable a person to see a task through from beginning to end by coordinating multiple processes, starting and stopping mental operations, and maintaining motivation and persistence.

    Should I Get Assessed for ADD? How Could It Help?

    After being diagnosed with AD/HD as children, some people claim that they have “gotten over it.” However, these people are especially vulnerable as their life becomes more complicated and the insidious effects of inconsistent attention take their toll. Also vulnerable are gifted but “spacey, flakey” people, who chalk up numerous ADD symptoms as “quirks.” Their lives also begin to disintegrate when their old methods of compensating are no longer effective.

    There is both surprise and relief when an otherwise competent person discovers that there’s a scientific basis for the nagging and disabling problems that surround them and hold them back. In the ground-breaking book about adults with ADD, Dr. Edward Hallowell describes his feelings when he was 31 years old, completing his training in child psychiatry at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston. During a lecture describing ADD, he had an “Aha!” experience: “So there’s a name for what I am! I thought to myself with relief and mounting excitement. There’s a term for it, a diagnosis, an actual condition, when all along I’d thought I was just slightly daft.” He and co-author John Ratey opened the door to understanding adult ADD.

    If you’re wondering about whether or not you have ADD or ADHD, “Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood” is a great resource (Hallowell, Edward M., M.D. and Ratey, John J., M. D. New York: Touchstone, 1995.) If you don’t like to read, it’s also available as an audio book.