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Portrait of the A.D.D. Person

When we think about ADD, our attention immediately goes to four major characteristics: selective attention, impulsivity, distractibility, and hyperactivity. Yet ADD is much more complex than that. To affect outcomes we must understand the symptoms of ADD, why they exist, and not only address them in more appropriate ways but also address the underlying learning difference—the ADD profile and their gift. 

ADD children (whom I call “creative risk takers”) make up a large percentage of the school population labeled “learning disabled.” This is not because they are truly disabled, but rather because they learn and process information differently. School and social failure impact peer group formations, and these children often fit into the fringes because of their difficulties. By the time creative risk takers reach adolescence they have often lost hope, face, and motivation. This, combined with brain differences that make emotional problems more likely, create not only a greater chance for dysfunctional behavior but also identification with fringe peer groups.

Since the 1950s we have seen more negatively perceived peer groupings in the adolescent population due to many factors. Peer group formation and fringe groups will always take place. They are based on a transition from childhood, separating oneself from adults to find a sense of self, and then re-blending with adults and society from that perceived new identity. How successful a person is with this process is dependent on self-esteem, how we interpret society’s view of us, and how successful we are in life’s arena (socially, educationally, emotionally). Education, parenting, and societal expectations play a large role in how skewed these peer groups become.

For instance, the educational/societal view of intelligence is based almost exclusively on logical/mathematical capabilities. Fully 90% of all instruction is directed to students who can process linearly, take in information auditorily and visually, look at the teacher, and restate pieces of information in a logical sequential manner. Yet only about 15% of the population fit neatly into the learning profile to access this mode of instruction. The “bell curve” is the direct result of a self-fulfilling prophesy. We have literally created it by our unawareness of learning profiles and our limited view of intelligence. By simply focusing on children’s strengths we could eliminate labels, improve education, decrease negative peer grouping, reduce mental disorders, improve self-esteem, and help all children to become more productive and self actualized.

A major stumbling block to this ideal is found in our problem solving model. We are led to use the scientific/medical model. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with this process, it does narrow our focus and limit the possibilities for solutions. This is because, along with it we bring our beliefs, prejudices, and preconceived notions. This process leads us to look for symptomatic approaches that interfere with the mechanism of imbalance but which doesn’t address the origins of those imbalances. This process also surrenders the solution to someone else, leaving us impotent. Thus we label, negate, and unconsciously give ourselves permission to fail. The Berlin Wall and communism didn’t fall because of outside influence. Rather, they fell because we no longer supported the beliefs that held them up. The fall came with a change of heart. Similarly when we see something different about ADD—the positives—these children will become a positive force in our world.

Major Reasons for Undesirable Outcomes
Educational issues are poorly addressed early, so creative risk takers see themselves as unintelligent, or at least less so than their peers.
Major reasons for ADD symptoms are not adequately addressed early in the education process.
Behavioral techniques are inappropriate (logical & natural consequences aren’t used, punishment vs discipline).
Poor self-esteem (resulting from negative feedback, labeling, social-educational failure.
Tonal messagesPortrait of the Creative Risk Taker

In order to form a more positive view of the creative risk taker and to better address the symptoms and characteristics associated with ADD we must first understand myriad factors behind it. From this more enlightened perspective we can then address underlying causes for symptoms and focus our further efforts on better teaching and parenting techniques to ensure his success.
In the following sections we will discuss the major reasons for ADD symptoms. These are:

. Immune system difficulties
. Sleep disturbances
. Allergy
. Depression symptoms
. Brain differences
. Memory problems
. Nervous compulsions
. Homolaterality

Immune System Difficulties
Creative risk takers often have chronic ear and upper respiratory infections. These difficulties create language delays and other problems which persist into adolescence.
Researchers at Utah State University found that a large percent of ADD children and their parents have a defect in certain genes that play an important role in preventing infections. This results in lower amounts of C4B protein in the bloodstream, which aids in protecting against

Early ear and upper respiratory infections can interfere with the vestibular system of the ear, which controls the sense of movement and balance, maintaining static and dynamic equilibrium—and even the eye muscles which are important in reading are impacted. This interference can leave the reticular activating system (RAS) underdeveloped since it is closely tied to the vestibular system. The RAS is a nerve network that carries impulses from the medulla oblongata and pons portions of the brain, to the neocortex or thinking brain. (See picture). The RAS literally wakes up the neocortex to learn from and respond to the environment. It also screens incoming information and sorts out the important information from the unimportant.

Because of this underdevelopment, all of the information the creative risk taker receives seems to have equal value. This not only overwhelms them, it also tends to make them shut down in learning situations, and makes reading for comprehension, note taking, communication, social skills, listening to lectures, and studying for tests—more difficult. This is why teacher notes and or peer note takers are not “advantages,” but necessities for these children. These children can either receive too much information from the environment, thus overwhelming them, or too little—making them bored and looking like they are unmotivated and uninterested.

Providing training in note taking and picking important information details is helpful. Extra test time is also needed since they have trouble quickly accessing and expressing what they know. Note training and extra test time are not inconveniences that give these children an advantage over others. They merely even the playing field. Although they may appear “not to care” or seem “unmotivated,” this is not the case early in the learning process. However, as they experience academic failure due to their differences they will begin to “give up” and believe they are incapable—or at least less capable—than others.

These children usually have excellent hearing, but poor listening ability. Inability to use the ear well affects their ability to read and concentrate. Using high frequency music sounds (i.e. accelerated learning music of 50 to 60 beats per minute (bpm), and up to 90 bpm—especially string instruments at 4 x 4 time such as Bach and Mozart—help energize the brain and allow it to organize, concentrate, memorize, focus, learn, and work for long periods without effort. It also increases the capacity for imagination and creativity and makes problem solving easier. Since these children are usually right ear dominant (and the right ear is adept at tone, rhythm, etc.) this can help them to better access the left brain and reduce stress while learning.

Hyperactivity is usually a means of charging up the brain through vestibular activities to keep attention focused. Inability to keep the brain charged because of a damaged vestibular and RAS systems is a distinct disadvantage for these children. Brain Gym works perfectly to help repair this damage and should be implemented at home and in school

Sleep Disturbances
Creative risk takers often fight sleep as infants and toddlers, and resist bedtime as youngsters. They are erratic and restless sleepers who thrash and jerk during sleep, interfering with the ability to rest. Because of this, most are sleep deprived. Their restlessness causes them to spend less time in dream state, which is necessary for maintaining learning, memory, reasoning, and for proper emotional development. Lack of sleep causes irritability, poor frustration tolerance, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, difficulty staying awake especially when they are bored, and inability to maintain short- and long-term memory.

Many creative risk takers have enlarged tonsils or adenoids, causing sleep apnea. This is why for some creative risk takers, the removal of adenoids and or tonsils has helped to decrease symptoms. However, even that is not the entire answer since ADD has many other components. Because of increased problems with upper respiratory infections, these children are at particular risk for sleep apnea. Sleep disturbances are also common to children with conduct disorders (which often coexist with ADD). Sleep disturbances exacerbate all ADD symptoms, make learning more difficult, and increase the likelihood of behavioral disorders. Sleep schedules, meditation, homeopathy, and neurofeedback are all excellent interventions.

Creative risk takers are more prone to allergies. At least 80% have allergies, and 25% suffer from asthma. Many ADD symptoms actually mirror allergy symptoms, and proper allergy treatment can alleviate many of them. The allergies they suffer are usually the accumulative variety. This means that it takes a certain level of the toxin (or several different toxins to which they are allergic) to trigger the response or symptom. This means at times they can come in contact with or eat a substance to which they are allergic without a symptomatic response. This is probably why so many of the dietary studies show inconclusive data.

Dr. William Walsh, an allergy specialist, suggests that neuroexcitatory and neurotoxic food chemicals can cause nerve damage. These are chemicals like MSG & artificial sweeteners. It is possible that this nerve damage may lead to limited frontal lobe development, which according to Dr. Jay Giedd, is an indicator of ADD (as well as other brain differences). It is probable that ADD children are more susceptible to this nerve damage, which can exacerbate impulsiveness, hyperactivity, poor attention, fatigue, and other symptoms. Since their immune systems are deficient, allergies are more likely.

Neurotransmitter Imbalance
Like persons identified as depressed or bipolar, creative risk takers have neurotransmitter imbalances. For people with depression, Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and other drugs are used to increase serotonin and other neurotransmitters, which are thought to be part of the reason for their problems. ADD is also thought to connected to an imbalance of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.

Neurochemical Changes
In depression and ADD their is faulty circuitry between the hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus, and the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which disrupts the ability to generate positive feelings while not inhibiting negative ones.

The latest ADD evidence also shows faulty circuitry between the left and right PFC’s and these same brain areas. Many of these problems are caused by ear infections which damage the vestibular system and inhibit maximum stimulation of the reticular activating system and treatment with antibiotics. Some of the damage to the prefrontal cortex is also caused by poor digestion, which with a high sugar and complex carbohydrate diet can produce alcohol as in the antibiotic-stress-sugar cycle (see the article on the vestibular system). This decreases the brain’s ability to stay alert, focus and learn.

Prefrontal Cortex
In depression and ADD, there is a communication deficiency between the right and left PFC, and decreased blood flow to these same areas. This keeps the person from mentally holding onto goals, and instead—attached to rewards. They also show a reduced capacity for pleasure, lack of motivation, and lose interest quickly. They show little emotional eagerness as they reach goal attainment. This may be why rewards for creative risk takers must be changed so often to be powerful enough to direct a change in behavior.

Nerve Growth Factor Deficiency
In both depression and ADD, there are Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) deficiencies. NGF stimulates the nervous system to promote nerve–net–growth allowing more efficient learning. It also activates the production of acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that expands the growth and reorganization of neural networks, helping us to effectively think and remember. NGF production is increased through touch. Since ADD children spurn touch, dislike being cuddled, and are difficult to calm as infants and toddlers, it is easy to see why they would have these deficits in NGF.

Brain Wave Differences
The brain wave patterns of ADD persons look more immature because there are more slow waves (in the alpha and theta range like in that of an infant or young child). This pattern does not reflect their intelligence or maturity. Their EEG (electroencphalographic) profile is not abnormal. For many, this slower activity is mainly found in the frontal lobes, which direct attention, critical thinking, and impulse control. This difference in brain wave patterns becomes more pronounced during school related activities, especially reading, seatwork, and listening to lectures. Non-ADD students produce more fast–wave patterns when doing similar tasks. Most creative risk takers “tune out” in the theta range and spend much more time in the alpha or daydream brain wave range. This is the area where accelerated learning and creative thought take place, so this is not necessarily a negative other than in the traditional school setting. Neurofeedback and meditation can be effective for this aspect and for some other brain differences.

Memory Problems
Sleep disorders, allergies, stress, infections, antibiotics and brain differences all affect the ability to maintain attention and play a part in memory. Yeast also affects memory and attention. This is mainly because yeast produces alcohol, which not only affects the frontal lobes of the brain, but also inhibits nerve net growth and proper development and function. This can show up as decreased attention span, behavior problems, disruptive behavior, irritability, increased sugar cravings, hyperactivity, depression, and autistic behavior. Yeast also have receptor sites for cortisol, which means it produces cortisol. Although cortisol plays an important role for the mind and body on alert for danger, it also decreases learning and memory function. When we are under stress, we learn and remember less because it increases cortisol in the system. That is why it is difficult to focus and remember under stress.

Nervous Compulsions
A child with ADD is often driven to repeat behaviors associated with nervousness. These may be nail biting, sucking a thumb, scratching or picking at nails or sores, teeth grinding, banging their heads and other similar behaviors. There can be many causes for these behaviors, yet in the ADD child they usually do not indicate nervousness in the usual sense. Many of these children may complain of itching a lot and scratch themselves in response to this itching or tingling feeling on their skin.

Although our experiences help develop our awareness—who we become, and how we learn—we also have innate abilities that deeply affect us. Each of us have a dominant sense, which governs how we take in information from our sensory environment. For example, a child may be a kinesthetic learner and learn predominantly by touching and doing. These things make up our learning style. No one learning style is better than another.

Until now, we have evaluated children’s capability by measuring (grading) how well they respond to left-brained (logic) approaches. To improve success for the creative risk taker, we must first recognize that they use right-brained (gestalt) approaches that are based on their neurological differences or competencies. Neither the gestalt nor the logical approach is necessarily better than the other, but they are different—and they require different teaching techniques. Many of these changes actually make learning more interesting and engaging for the logical perseverer as well.
The specifics of categorizing gestalt or logical preference is not as important as whether it inhibits the child from effectively learning, and whether their preferences can be fine tuned to incorporate other styles and behaviors. When their preferred style is so strong that change is difficult, as it is with the creative risk taker, teaching must occur through their preferred style to ensure success. Knowing that the creative risk taker is a gestalt learner, we can begin to incorporate better strategies to ensure their learning success.

The creative risk taker is not only a gestalt learner, but generally homolateral as well. Homolateral means that the dominant brain hemisphere and dominant eye, ear, hand and leg are on the same side of the body. Generally, the creative risk taker will be right-brained, right-eyed, right-eared, right-handed and right-legged.

Learning occurs most efficiently when the dominant eye, ear, hand and leg is opposite the side of the dominant brain hemisphere. Because of our natural neuronal wiring, our left brain hemisphere controls and receives information from the right side of our body and the right brain hemisphere controls and receives information from the left side of our body. For example, auditory input is most efficient when the dominant ear (perhaps the right ear) is opposite the dominant brain hemisphere (perhaps the left brain). However, if both the right ear and right brain are dominant (which is called homolateral), then hearing and understanding information from auditory stimulation will be less efficient because the dominant brain is not controlling the activities of the dominant ear. As a result, homolateral dominance decreases mental efficiency because the functioning of the nondominant hemisphere is limited.

It is our eyes that influence how we see and make visual sense of our environment. The ears assist with hearing, listening, and memory. Our hands help communicate through gestures, speaking, and writing easier. Communication is impaired in a person with a dominant right hand and right brain. This issue is much more complex than this explanation suggests. Yet it does give an idea of the problems it can engender.

Studies by Dr. Carla Hannaford in the Denver and Hawaii schools show the significance of brain dominance, dominance profiles, and labeling. In a random sampling she found that students who were left (logic)-brain dominant with high verbal abilities were more often labeled gifted and talented. Students who were right (gestalt)-brain dominant and had poor verbal skills were more often labeled as having learning disabilities and in need of special education. Right-brained dominance is further complicated when students are fully sensory limited (meaning they are right-brained, right-eyed, right-eared, right-handed and right-legged).

Studies go on to show that homolateral mental efficiency is decreased even further by conditions that cause stress. Dr. Paul Dennison developed Dominance Profiles which give us information about our preferred learning styles and help us to understand our first response in moments of stress. Under stress, a person relies on their most dominant senses and preferred ways of processing. This is called our basal dominance profile. When not under stress, our dominance profile actually fluctuates; we learn in ways that depart from our basal dominance profile. As we do this, our dominance profile becomes more adaptive, allowing us greater ability to take in and understand information from our environment. These adaptations are made up of the learning strategies that are most successful for us. However, when we encounter stress, or complicated learning, we return to our basal dominance profile. When this happens, only our dominant brain hemisphere kicks in, which means we only have use of the senses—dominant or not—that are connected to it.

In the school setting, most teaching strategies are logic based (logic, linguistic, left-brained) while ADD children are gestalt (kinesthetic, visual, right-brained) learners. This setting is the start of a vicious tailspin. Learning becomes complicated for the creative risk taker because the teaching modality does not match their learning dominance. This generates stress, and the creative risk taker instinctively reverts to her basal dominance profile. However, due to her homolateral nature, this leads to decreased efficiency of the input senses. As a result, learning is inhibited, more stress is incurred, even lower efficiency occurs, until the creative risk taker finally “shuts down” in self-preservation. A physical analogy is “blacking out” when the body is injured; it’s a natural self-preservation response. Ironically, on the modern-day “highway” of learning, shutting down is not a self-preserving response. Our body and mind, borne through millions of years of evolution, does not serve us well in this instance. The solution is to change the teaching methods, not to change the mind and body of the creative risk taker.

Cross Lateral
The ideal student for whom education is structured is left brained, right eyed, right eared, right-handed and right-legged. This means they are cross lateral. This would make them full-sensory accessible, which means their dominant brain is controlling all of their dominant senses.

We value and honor these students who organize and reason linearly, comprehend information auditorily and visually, keep their eyes on the teacher, and can enumerate bits of information logically and sequentially. However, these individuals make up only about 15 % of the population.
Because schools are structured toward the competencies of the logic-brained learner, the left-brained students are more likely to have high self-esteem and lower stress. With less overall stress they have a better chance to develop adaptive learning strategies and more developed neuronal networks which makes learning even easier.

The gestalt learning creative risk taker is less likely to develop the ability to adequately use their left brain—due to stress. Managing details and the linear processing of math and language will be more difficult. They come to believe that they are “dumb,” and they operate from a realm of “learned helplessness.”

Brain studies of creative risk takers show less left-brain activation even during logic-based tasks, and fewer shifts between brain hemispheres while doing activities involving multiple strategies. Because of induced stress, creative risk takers revert to their basal dominance and rely on their right brain. However, as added compensation, they also rely more on their sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system which regulates body processes that are involuntary like heartbeat, blood pressure, digestion, and breathing. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, as it often is in the creative risk taker, heart rate increases, blood is directed to the muscles, the “flight or fight” mechanism is initiated, and anxiety creates shallow breathing. If these conditions persist frequently, or for long periods of time, they become detrimental. As a result, the homolateral creative risk taker becomes trapped in a cross-lateral education system.

Since the majority of creative risk takers are right-brained and homolateral, some right-brained with a mixed dominance (where one dominant sense is on the left side), the characteristics and symptoms we see are merely the physical results of ADD—which is a learning difference based on vibrational, learning, and brain differences. This plays a significant role in the difficulty ADD children face in trying to succeed in school. Most ADD children don’t learn in response to conventional motivations, and until we understand how they learn, they will not succeed in conventional classrooms no matter how hard they—and we—try.

It is easy to feel frustrated, unsuccessful, or out of control when dealing with a child with ADD. It is important to remember that we each do the best we can at each moment in time with our present awareness. Our challenge is not to become complacent. We must continue to learn more about the complicated dilemma that is called attention deficit disorder, and to grow in patience and understanding.

Focusing on the many positive traits of individuals with ADD can help. These children can possess great ambition and spirit. They can be amusing, charming, and imaginative. In spite of their learning difference, some of our greatest artists, inventors, and leaders have reached their potential by benefitting from their positive qualities. Fifty percent of the most successful in business are creative risk takers, and they make up about four out of five independent business owners.

ADD is not something we must “cure.” It does not have to be a disability, or a liability, if we use the strengths of the person with ADD and see him or her with new eyes. Nor in the truest sense is ADD a disorder. There is no doubt that some of the traits of ADD can have negative effects. However, when we focus and build on the positive qualities of persons with ADD, we increase their self-confidence and positive self-esteem, thereby strengthening the positive qualities while lessening the negative ones.

As the adult role models of children with ADD, we must help them to believe in themselves and lead them to take the next step—knowing they can succeed. This comes from understanding their problems, believing in their goodness, seeing the value in their differences, and helping them to make the most of their positive traits. Round pegs do not fit in square holes.

I am reminded of a story about Marlo Thomas, daughter of comedian/actor Danny Thomas. When Marlo was old enough to become an actress on her own, she worried that others would compare her abilities and performance to her father and find her lacking. Her father told her that she was a “thoroughbred horse,” and that she must run her own race. The evening before her first stage performance, a package from her father arrived for her back stage. Inside were a set of blinders that a race horse wears while racing so that it can’t see what the other horses are doing. The note attached said, “Run your own race, kid!”

We owe it to all children to let them run their own race. Our greatest inventions, most glorious art, and creative ideas have come from those willing and able to do just that. The difference between the mystic and the manic, the genius and the jailbird, and the creative and the crazy is the ability to overcome the “good opinion of others,” and reach within yourself to achieve your potential. Our expectations and influence on these young spirits can create the difference. Their future—and our own—is in our hands.