THE GIFT, NOT THE CURSE, OF ADD
A Brief Commentary on Edward M. Hallowell, MD
Extended Insight by Judith Bessette, EdD
Imagine you are an adult with ADD (or ADHD)… that you and your spouse have three kids… that two of the kids also have ADD… and that it is your child without ADD who feels left out… that he (or she) wants to have it, too!
That exact scenario describes the family situation of Edward (Ned) M. Hallowell, MD, an international expert on ADD and ADHD. Hallowell was recently a guest speaker to staff, donors and friends at Rogers Memorial Hospital – who graciously shared his visit with staff at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Hallowell is a boardcertified child /adolescent psychiatrist who specializes in working with kids and adults with ADD and ADHD.
Many parents and professionals working with troubled teens know of Hallowell’s book Driven to Distraction and its sequel, Answers to Distraction. Written in the early 90’s, they remain the cornerstones of any reading list dealing with ADD and ADHD. The first describes the condition and offers coping strategies; the latter answers many of the questions posed to Hallowell and his co-author, John J. Ratey, MD.
I was not aware of the other books – another 12 to be exact – that have come from this prolific writer. Hallowell finds the time to see patients as he has for the past 30 or so years, lectures internationally and makes time for his greatest passion – his wife and three children. (He did give up teaching at the Harvard Medical School in 2003.) His most recent book speaks to the fast pace of the 21st Century, CrazyBusy: Overbooked, Overstretched and about to Snap.
He has written a charming children’s book, A Walk in the Rain with a Brain which fine-tuned a story he used to tell his daughter Lucy to help her understand her ADHD. And, in 2005, he (and Ratey) authored Delivered from Distraction, a handbook if you will, for those living with ADD and ADHD.
In the preface to the 2006 edition of Delivered from Distraction, Hallowell draws on one of his many non-ADD books – the childhood roots of adult happiness – and reframes our thinking about ADD. Hallowell suggests we begin to think about a strength-based approach to ADD rather than continue to think about ADD through the more traditional emphasis on the deficits it may cause. In an effort to help us understand the gift of ADD rather than the curse, he suggests substituting irresistible curiosity for distractibility, creativity for impulsivity and extra energy for hyperactivity. He points out that you cannot buy – or teach – these traits but that you can learn to control them and use them to their best advantage.
The childhood roots of adult happiness offers advice to all parents on rearing kids that will turn out to be happy, well-adjusted adults. The book elaborates on a simple 5-step cycle that keeps rolling forward as your kids grow up. The cycle includes (1) connection; (2) play; (3) practice; (4) mastery; and (5) recognition. His eloquent explanation of each step in the cycle and his many examples from his own family as well as from the families of his patients lay out a road map to success – helping parents help kids create and sustain lifelong joy.
Hallowell is an entertaining and informative speaker. If you have the chance to hear him in person, you’ll be glad you did! To learn about his speaking schedule, check out the EVENTS section of his website. And, if not, take a look at his books. They are engaging and well-written…and offer advice on a wide range of psychological topics.