The Hidden Gifts Of ADD

from notes taken at a presentation by Dr. Ned Hallowell

"What's it like to have ADD? Some people say the so-called syndrome doesn't even exist, but believe me it does. Many metaphors come to mind to describe it. It's like driving in the rain with bad windshield wipers. Everything is smudged and blurred and you're speeding along, and it's frustrating and frightening not to be able to see what you're zooming past at sixty m.p.h. In other ways, it's like being supercharged all the time. You get one idea and you have to act on it, and then, what do you know, but you've got another idea before you've finished up with the first one, and so you go for that one, but of course a third idea intercepts the second, and you just have to follow that one, and pretty soon people are calling you disorganized and impulsive and all sons of impolite words that miss the point completely. Because you're trying really hard. It's just that children with ADD have all these invisible vectors pulling this way and that, which makes it really hard to stay on task."

"What is it like to have ADD? In ADD, time collapses. Someone once said, 'Time is the thinking that keeps everything from happening all at once.' Time parcels moments out into separate bits so that we can do one thing at a time. In ADD, this does not happen. Time becomes a black hole. To the person with ADD it feels as if everything is happening all at once. This creates a sense of inner turmoil or even panic. The child loses perspective and the ability to prioritize. He or she is always on the go, trying to keep the world from caving in on top."

"There is a very positive side to all this. Usually the positive doesn't get mentioned when people speak about ADD because there is a natural tendency to focus on what goes wrong or at least what has to somehow be controlled. But often once ADD has been diagnosed, and the child, with the help of teachers, parents, coaches, and even friends, has learned to cope with it, an untapped realm of the brain swims into view.

Suddenly the windshield is clear. And the child, who has been such a problem, such a general pain in the neck to himself and everybody else, that person starts doing things he'd never been able to do before. He surprises everyone around him, and he surprises himself" Dr. Hallowell uses the male pronoun, but it could just as easily be she.

Dr. Hallowell says "ADD people are highly imaginative and intuitive. They have a "feel" for things, a way of seeing right to the heart of matters while others have to reason their way along methodically. This is the child who can't explain how he thought of the solution, or where the idea for the story came from, or why suddenly he produced a painting, or how he knew the short cut to the answer, but all he can say is, he just knew it, he could feel it. This is the man or woman who makes million dollar deals in catnip and pulls them off the next day. This is the child who, having been reprimanded for blurting something out, is then praised for having blurted out something brilliant. These are the children who learn and know what to do and go by touch and feel."

"These people can feel a lot. In places where most of us are blind, they can, if not see the light, at least feel the light, and they can produce answers apparently out of the dark. It is important for others to be sensitive to this 'sixth sense' many ADD people have, and to nurture it. If the environment insists on rational, linear thinking and good behavior from these kids all the time, then they may never develop their intuitive style to the point where they can use it profitably. It can be exasperating to listen to these children talk. They can sound so vague and rambling. But if you take them seriously and grope along with them, often you will find they are on the brink of startling conclusions or surprising solutions."

"Their cognitive style is qualitatively different from most people's and what at first may seem impaired, with patience and encouragement may become gifted."

"The thing to remember is that if the diagnosis can be made, then most of the bad stuff associated with ADD can be avoided or contained. The diagnosis can be liberating, particularly for people (children) who have been stuck with labels like. 'lazy, stubborn, willful, disruptive, impossible, tyrannical, a spaceshot, stupid, or just plain bad.' Making the diagnosis of ADD can take the case from the court of moral judgment to the clinic of neuropsychiatric treatment."

"What is the treatment all about? Anything that turns down the noise. Just making the diagnosis helps turn down the noise of guilt and self-recrimination. Building certain kinds of structure into one's life can help a lot. Working in small spurts rather than long hauls; Breaking down tasks into smaller tasks; Getting extra help. Medication can help too, but it is far from the whole solution."

Hallowell spoke about ADD children having the ability to "hyper-focus" and actually be able to excel at tasks much of the time with the help of a patient person on their side. He spoke about growing up in Chatham on the Cape [Cod] with a special elementary school teacher, in the early 60's. "She took me by her side and kept my attention by being a 'good coach.' She gave me encouragement at every wrong turn." Hallowell has gone on to be on the staff at Harvard Medical School and he has a successful medical practice in Cambridge. MA.

Dr. Hallowell concluded with this thought: "We need your help and understanding. We make mess-piles wherever we go, but with your help, those mess-piles can be turned into realms of reason and art. So, if you know someone like me who's acting up and daydreaming and forgetting this or that and just not getting with the program, consider ADD before he starts believing all the bad things people are saying about him and it's too late."

Ed Note: This is a summary of a talk given by Ned Hallowell, M.D. of Harvard Medical School to a local chapter of CH.A.D.D (Children and Adults with ADD) in February of 1993. Many thanks to Carson Graves for preparing this transcription and permitting its distribution. This summary is taken from the newsletter of the Concord Special Education Parent Advisory Council which encourages readers to share its contents with others. Address: P.O. Box 274 Cocord, MA 01742

This article appeared in the Spring '97 GRADDA Newsletter. The Greater Rochester Attention Deficit Disorder Association. PO Box 23565, Rochester, New York 14692-3565. e-mail us at

Thanks to Dick Smith of GRADDA and the authors for permission to reproduce this article.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2007, June 6). The Hidden Gifts Of ADD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: February 13, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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