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Barbara Jordan
Mar 01, 2011

ADD: Different, Not Wrong, Part 2

Do you struggle with organizing time, details, and paperwork? When people expect you to do things in a linear (successive, direct, straight) fashion, do you have trouble? What works for me is to keep all related project papers in piles stacked in left-to-right (or right-to-left) tiers, overlapping 50% so you can see half of the top sheet of each pile. This works best because "out of sight" is usually "out of mind" with people who have a lot of ADD traits.

Do you have difficulty focusing or paying attention? Well, people may accuse you of concentrating on tasks you like to do. It seems like they are implying you're abnormal or inferior. But, this is the same as what you see happen when the rest of the world has to do things that don't match their style of working, learning, and living.

Have you been described as "hypersensitive", "moody", or "reactive"? Who determines how much sensitivity is too much anyway? I agree with Lynn Weiss, author of Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults, that undersensitivity is as much of problem, or worse than oversensitivity. Feeling hurt by condescension or disrespect seems like a normal response, don't you agree? Perhaps the person accusing you of being hyper-sensitive is really being insensitive. Who says which of these traits is unhealthy or abnormal? Over-sensitivity, mood variability, and reactivity are neither right nor wrong. They just reflect a different way of thinking, feeling, and acting. Instead of labeling, Weiss challenges us to accept this as diverse behavior.

Do you find that you over-focus at times? You get so engrossed in an activity that you're oblivious to everything around you? But, who says what is the "correct" amount of focus when working on a task? According to Lynn Wiess, this is just your "style of focusing attention". You work until your mind is exhausted. You take a break, do something else, then return to the task at hand. "There is nothing wrong or pathological about this."

Are you usually over-active or restless? Do you move a lot, think a lot, or talk a lot? However, you probably notice this is only a problem when you have to learn or work in a sedentary manner. Then again, who determines what activity level is normal?

According to Michael Gordon, Ph.D. & F. Daniel McClure, Ph.D, occasionally all of us are inattentive, distracted, and impulsive. Gordon & McClure wrote The Down & Dirty Guide to Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. They add that "it's normal to be inattentive and scattered...(, especially) when overwhelmed with responsibilities or managing complex tasks or dealing with powerful emotions." ADD is not something you either have or you don't have. More than likely, you either have a few or several of it's traits. So what if you see the long-term outcome of what you want before you see the details or take steps toward that big goal? That's not so awful, is it?

So what if you think in terms of how things work? Before you can figure out how to reach a goal, you may need to know its purpose or why it is necessary. And, this is bad because...?

Why is it so terrible that you're very active-physically, mentally, emotionally, and verbally? Naturally, your abundance of energy enables you to work, learn, and create the most when you are active. All you need to do is seek this type of occupational/educational setting. There's nothing wrong with that.

And, what's wrong with learning best kinesthetically, or learning by doing? Most people learn by reading, watching, or listening to instruction. But, whatever happened to the value of "different strokes for different folks"?! For example, I learned about writing by writing my book, not by taking writing courses. Because we're wired differently, we simply learn differently. That's it-nothing more, nothing less. Just pursue on-the-job training and apprenticeship models of learning if you have a lot of ADD traits.

What's so bad about having a high level of sensitivity? It allows you to be very empathetic. You sense others at a much higher level than most people do. You notice things that are often overlooked by others.

So what if you "dance to the beat of a different drum"? You have strong inner vision or intuition. Instead of following the concepts of time arbitrarily defined "out there", you have your own internal timing for getting things done. Instead of the conventional way of working days and sleeping nights, you might work late into the night and sleep late in the day. Rather than break projects down into equal time blocks, you might work when you are creative and alert but resist when you feel reluctant. According to Weiss, you'll still get things done on time even when you follow your natural timing.

You get the idea. What I'm getting at here is that normalizing and accepting ADD traits allows you to manage them more quickly and easily than judging, labeling, or diagnosing them. I have seen so many people trying to manage ADD traits subjected to discrimination and condescension that I developed a coaching program designed specifically with them in mind. The program aims to help leaders learn large amounts of material, keep track of projects and papers, follow verbal instructions, remember deadlines, manage interruptions, maintain focus among distractions, remember names and numbers, and meet personal and professional goals. It's called "Successful LeADDers".

Barbara Jordan is a counselor, counselor educator, author, trainer, and leadership coach. For more information go to

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