Brian's Blog

…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World

My attention deficit…


After I had written my post about my seeming inability to learn languages [link], WordPress kindly bombarded me with other blogs on similar topics. I say “bombarded” because ironically for this topic it is distracting, but it’s a welcome one I think because it allows me to develop a topic further, or have a spin-off, like these. One of these other blog posts [link] reminded me what it’s like to be in a classroom of young children and how when their imagination can become fired up they can become distracted, and a teacher then has to try and rein them back in to the main topic at hand. It’s quite funny, and great to have a wave of enthusiasm take over a whole class, but perhaps not always ideal when you’re trying to teach them key things.

I suddenly recalled the term Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD, and thought how my attention is quite easily distracted by certain parts of a topic that intrigue me, and lead me off on a tangent and away from the main topic – this breaks one away from the single-mindedness that is perhaps the first key part to learning a particular subject or concept, as was pointed out to me on this blog [link]. My college friend and I used to greatly amuse ourselves by purposely doing this to the teacher/lecturer during lessons on I.T. – leading him off topic, it was quite hilarious but was probably detriment to my learning the subject sufficiently enough to pass the exams (while my friend faired better). Anyhow, I googled the term ADD and the first page I came to [link] spoke of how it does indeed affect adults. It cites the following “ADD in Adults” myths from the book Attention Deficit Disorder: The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults by Dr. Thomas E. Brown [link] which I may well purchase or borrow (I have underlined the points I feel are most valid for this post):

attention_deficit_disorderMYTH: ADD/ADHD is just a lack of willpower. Persons with ADD/ADHD focus well on things that interest them; they could focus on any other tasks if they really wanted to.

FACT: ADD/ADHD looks very much like a willpower problem, but it isn’t. It’s essentially a chemical problem in the management systems of the brain.

MYTH: Everybody has the symptoms of ADD/ADHD, and anyone with adequate intelligence can overcome these difficulties.

FACT: ADD/ADHD affects persons of all levels of intelligence. And although everyone sometimes has symptoms of ADD/ADHD, only those with chronic impairments from these symptoms warrant an ADD/ADHD diagnosis.

MYTH: Someone can’t have ADD/ADHD and also have depression, anxiety, or other psychiatric problems.

FACT: A person with ADD/ADHD is six times more likely to have another psychiatric or learning disorder than most other people. ADD/ADHD usually overlaps with other disorders.

MYTH: Unless you have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD as a child, you can’t have it as an adult.

FACT: Many adults struggle all their lives with unrecognized ADD/ADHD impairments. They haven’t received help because they assumed that their chronic difficulties, like depression or anxiety, were caused by other impairments that did not respond to usual treatment.

Perhaps (assuming we do all indeed having ADD to some degree or other) I was quietly suffering with the disorder in such a manner that just wasn’t recognised by anyone (or myself) and this meant that early on in my life I failed to develop a learning technique that worked for me (working around the ADD), and as I pointed out in my earlier post, I have often struggled to absorb some of the things I want with the same ease as other (perhaps less distracted) people seem to. Friends at high school and college who I sat beside (and I copied a lot off!) just seemed to grasp what it was we were being taught – I’m thinking of mathematics here as a key subject I struggled with, and I still feel the same struggle within my mind to today when I read books that use mathematical concepts, and because I now (still?) find it quite fascinating, it’s somewhat frustrating.

Key to learning, it seems, is the ability not to be distracted by other things, and as the website on the disorder points out, it’s a myth that it’s simply a lack of willpower, but that is definitely how it has felt to me – I feel like I have just been lazy (at least in my approach) when I have failed to absorb a topic or concept, or can’t recite it later – especially when it comes to comparing myself to others and seeing the ease with which they seem to handle a topic (such as when comparing test marks or exam grades, or even just hearing someone else talk or write about a topic, or speak in a foreign language). I hold great respect for people who can speak a foreign language or two.

A factor that is likely making ADD more of an issue in this day and age is the internet – we have developed a very distracting world. I have read about such things in books such as The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, about “how the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember [link]. Some people, such as Tracy King [link] who writes a monthly article for Custom PC magazine and whose objective view point I appreciate, may well point out the many benefits the internet and technology in general have as a counterargument to this viewpoint, and how the benefits must surely outweigh the distractedness. Of course I find the internet useful and to imagine life without it would be to forget all the things I’ve shared with the world and friends I’ve made around the globe, but it is distracting (more so to some than others) and has changed how we live our lives.

There are some people (perhaps a lucky few) that don’t find themselves distracted by the web (quite so much perhaps) and automatically become simply single-minded over a topic at hand. For the rest of us we have to grapple with a world of distractions and even the other things we enjoy in life can feel like a chore to begin when we are being distracted. To say that only a proportion of people have something like ADD seems wrong, to me it seems that those that are diagnosed with it are only the most obviously affected by distractions and perhaps obviously struggling while they are at school. As I mentioned in my previous post, I think that because I have always been well-spoken this masked my learning issues at school, and I didn’t recognise myself as having a problem (beyond perhaps “knowing” I was being lazy when it came to homework and answering “yes mum” to the question of “have you done your homework?” before running out of the door to go and build dens).

With school populations ever increasing and teachers having to teach to the masses, finding and implementing the teaching methods that are required for individual students will become an ever-increasing problem. Perhaps the number of children diagnosed with ADD are on the increase too, but this is beside the point if it’s something we all have to some degree – a solution can’t possibly be to separate those “with it” from those “without it”, because by doing so we only skim off the worst affected and then leave behind all of the others that would benefit from… what? Perhaps ‘Key Skill’ lessons in learning techniques would be a step in the right direction. As I recall it wasn’t until university that a teacher told us ways to learn, such as how to speed-read and pick out key words from a page of text (that requires focus and attention), but really these techniques as I recall were a list of what to to, what worked for the lecturer himself, and works for the masses, rather than a variety of techniques that we could pick and choose from to find what worked best for each of us, as individuals, individuals with differently-wired (or chemically-managed) brains.

acediaAs a final note, I was going to write more about other “disorders” I have stumbled across on my intellectually-stimulating travels around cyberspace that I have on occasion subscribed to myself in one form or another, but as you can see this post quickly filled up on the topic of ADD. I’m really not one for hearing about random disorders and claiming “I have that”, but I can sometimes recognise some traits in myself and perhaps empathise with those that [genuinely] suffer from them more severely. Another term, one that I heard about for the first time only recently, is Acedia:

Acedia (also accidie or accedie, from Latin acedĭa, and this from Greek ἀκηδία, “negligence”) describes a state of listlessness or torpor, of not caring or not being concerned with one’s position or condition in the world. It can lead to a state of being unable to perform one’s duties in life. Its spiritual overtones make it related to but arguably distinct from depression. Acedia was originally noted as a problem among monks and other ascetics who maintained a solitary life. [link]

Reading that at the time and seeing the picture, I felt some connections with it. I go through these little lows, which is I am sure quite normal, but for some it is a blatant case of “depression” (which like ADD is perhaps something we all “suffer from” to differing degrees (and I fear medication is thrown at the worse affected rather than developing techniques, mental or practical, that could benefit us all). I live a life that can have quiet days with no urgent work, and I live a life with a degree of solitude which I very much life (especially since I moved house last year and now live on my own) and more so if I should choose not to log into the virtual world that is Second Life. I know that if I don’t get out of the house for a day or two and ride my bicycle, or make myself go for a jog, I become very much the person in that picture (just not with my eyes closed!) – I sit and clickety-click at my mouse and fiddle around with paperwork and their digital counterparts, but I achieve nothing of significance. A cloud of “can’t be botheredness” envelops me and I slouch in my chair. I can still connect mentally with the things I like doing or want to achieve or complete in life, but the will to get me started with the day can be lacking.

Such a positive not to end on, I know, but the point I have brought up a couple of times is how it’s important for use to find the techniques and methods that work for us. Perhaps these things affect us all to one degree or another, and if that’s the case then a blanket approach for the most severely affected is not helpful across the board. Techniques to recognise and combat these things (and others or at best appreciate that everyone experiences them to some degree) at an early stage of life, and on an individual basis, would surely benefit us all.


One comment on “My attention deficit…

  1. Raymond
    14 February, 2015

    Hey Brian , I had a great read of your blog. I have a student who is also facing the same issue. I am glad to have chanced upon your blog. It sheds light on how I can become a better academic coach to help my students.

    Hope everything is great for you too! =)

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