ADD: We Don't Have a Problem--Everyone Else Has "Task-Switching Deficit Disorder"

by Tina Blue
December 27, 2000

          I have been meaning to initiate this column for some time. You see, I have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), but I don't really mind it at all. In many ways, ADHD has been more of a boon than a burden in my life, and I believe that if one approaches it with the proper attitude, a lot of the problems associated with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD can be alleviated or solved altogether.

          For thirteen years now, I have tutored people of all ages with all sorts of so-called learning disabilities, and most of them have also been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD in addition to whatever other LDs they have. I also teach freshman-sophomore English at the college level, and since Kansas University has, up until this year, not had any admissions standards, a lot of my students have been people who have struggled in school all their lives, often because of LDs. I also ran a home daycare for eighteen years, and many of my daycare kids also had ADD or ADHD. To put it mildly, I have had a lot of experience teaching people of all ages who have ADD or ADHD.

          (At this point, I would like to just drop the ADHD and stick with ADD, for convenience, unless what I am focusing on is the hyperactivity component of ADHD.)

          Thom Hartman, a researcher who was himself diagnosed with ADD, says he doesn't see the condition as a problem at all. In fact, he figures that other people have "task-switching deficit disorder." His point is that there are certain advantages to having ADD, and people without the condition are actually disadvantaged sometimes by their "normal" state.

           I have to agree with him. Think about it--if the qualities of mind and behavior associated with ADD were disastrously maladaptive, they would have been weeded out through natural selection. The fact that so many people have those qualities of mind and behavior suggests that there has been, at least under certain environmental conditions, some benefit to possessing such traits.

          I do believe, though, that the demands placed on most of us by modern life are such that ADD is quite often a disadvantage. It is my purpose in this column to identify some of those disadvantages and to suggest ways to overcome them.

          Some people don't even believe that ADD exists. They consider it a sham diagnosis. Certainly, the guidelines for diagnosing ADD are flexible enough to allow for a fair amount of misdiagnosis, and I believe that the need to manage large numbers of children in classrooms causes a lot of inappropriate diagnosis and medication for ADD, and especially for ADHD.

          But I also know, from many years of experience, that there is such a thing as genuine ADD, and those of us who have it or who work with those who do are thoroughly aware of the difference between true ADD/ADHD and mere misbehavior, or mere excess energy from being cooped up in a classroom all day.

          Furthermore, the parents of an ADD child (especially one who also exhibits the behavioral pattern known as hyperactivity disorder) are done a disservice by doctors and educators who refuse to believe that in some ways their child is different and may sometimes need to be handled differently, especially in school.

          ADD has always been recognized, in one way or another. We don't have words and phrases like "airhead," "scatterbrained," "space cadet," "wool-gatherer," and "flibbertigibbet" for nothing. Some such words have been a part of everyone's vocabulary in all times and places. It is a well-recognized phenomenon. What is at issue is whether the behavioral traits associated with being an "airhead" are under the individual's control, and whether or not such behaviors should be viewed punitively, as they so often are.

          If you have ADD, or if your child does--or if you teach children who have ADD--then the articles on this website are for you. I have some very practical suggestions for how you can function in a world where most people (poor things) suffer from task-switching deficit disorder.

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