Do I Have ADD?

“Our son doesn’t turn in his homework, the very same homework we worked on with him the night before,” said Bruce with frustration in his voice, “And report card season is traumatic for him and us. We cringe when we look at the comments section. We don’t expect the grades to be that good, but we grow weary of the frequent comments by his teachers, like, “Needs to focus and not be a distraction in class.” Or, “Doesn’t seem to be able to sit still. He’s always moving.” Now that he’s in middle school we often read, “Has impulsive behaviors.” And, “Doesn’t think before he acts.” We are growing weary. We’ve seen symptoms of ADD since kindergarten, but I don’t want to jump on the ADD bandwagon and have my kid on a pill, just because he’s a little hyper and impulsive.”
Tracie (the mom) asked, “How will we know if he actually has ADD? And if he has it, what can we do as his parents to help him?”

ADD is not just for kids. Two-thirds of children and teens with ADD still have symptoms as adults. Most don’t outgrow it.

Six Classic Symptoms of ADD
1. Short attention span for everyday tasks. Someone with ADD will become inattentive and need some form of excitement to stay engaged in mundane chores or activities.
2. Distractibility. People with ADD have heightened sensory awareness. They can see, smell, feel, hear, and touch things and be much more aware of one or more of these senses than a person without ADD. They are easily distracted by all this information as it streams into their brains.
3. Disorganization. People with ADD struggle to complete projects and tasks on time. They might not be able to find the necessary tools and resources for a job, often misplacing what they need and then losing time searching. They often demonstrate disorganization in the form of a messy workspace, computer desktop, laptop bag, bedroom, or car.
4. Irritability. Someone with ADD can become irritable or moody due to the frustration of losing things, being late, and sensing disappointment from spouses, friends, coworkers, and bosses. We often see men who are irritable, moody, or negative with undiagnosed ADD. They’ve been asked by their wives or girlfriends to “get some help.”
5. Impulsivity. Many people with ADD have challenges with judgment and controlling their impulses. The often “go with their gut,” but their gut is giving them inaccurate data. They might say or do things without thinking through the ramifications. They struggle making a causal connection. In other words, they don’t clearly see that their behavior and words have consequences—frequently negative ones.
6. Procrastination. Some people with ADD might have the motto “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?” They spend lots of energy stalling and avoiding, especially if it’s a boring task. Some learn to wait until the last minute—right up against the deadline—because they “work better under pressure.” Or they wait until someone is upset with their past-due performance and complains.

People without ADD might also demonstrate some of these traits, though not to the same extent. We’ve all been bored and inattentive. Most of us have some areas of disorganization in our lives. (To be ultra-organized is a different kind of problem.)
We’ve all been irritated, impulsive, and stalled, but that doesn’t mean we have ADD. But when a person exhibits these traits often and in intense ways, he or she might have ADD.

Defined By Wellness
Being diagnosed with ADD or having a family member diagnosed, doesn’t automatically enter your family into the dysfunctional category. You just don’t want the diagnosis to become your definition. You aren’t defined by your diagnosis. Or as we prefer to say, ‘You aren’t defined by your different-ness.’ Your brain works differently than others, but that doesn’t mean you are sentenced to a disordered and disappointing life. The focus of your family needs to be on wellness and health, not a diagnosis.

People with ADD contribute value to a family or community with their high energy, spunk, resilience, creativity, persistence and willingness to explore and take calculated risks. Some people have leveraged their ADD to accomplish at high levels in their respective industries. See examples in our new book Understanding and Loving A Person With ADD.

These positive traits often accompany the primary symptoms of ADD, but the secondary symptoms are the ones that often cause the most damage. I like what Dr. Dale Archer writes:
“The secondary symptoms, and the ones that are the most difficult to treat, are the symptoms that develop in the wake of the primary symptoms not being recognized: low self-esteem, depression, boredom, and frustration with school, fear of learning new things, impaired peer relations, sometimes drug or alcohol abuse, stealing or even violent behavior due to mounting frustration. The longer the diagnosis of ADD is delayed, the greater the secondary problems may become.”
– Dr. Dale Archer, The ADHD Advantage What You Thought Was a Diagnosis May Be Your Greatest Strength, (New York, NY: Penguin Random House, 2015), 63.

We know several people with undiagnosed or untreated ADD who struggle with self-esteem, organization, follow-through and maintaining healthy relationships. Some of them are in denial about their symptoms –they avoid thinking about it, hoping that they will go away. Others know they have ADD but don’t want the stigma of the label of a diagnosis, or they don’t want to be on a medication. They may not know that there are effective, non-pharmaceutical treatments that might work for them. As a result, these adults needlessly battle with secondary symptoms of ADD.

A Diagnosis Is Not a Destination
Just because you, or a family member, may have ADD, it doesn’t mean that you are stuck. It’s a description of the way your brain works in a different way. It explains why you may day dream, fidget, stay active and create. It doesn’t have to be your destination – it’s simply a description.  Being diagnosed with ADD doesn’t mean you are destined to failure or mediocrity.

Check out our new book Understanding and Loving A Person With ADD or contact me about our ADD coaching for adults, teens, and children with ADD (and their parents).