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What is A.D.D.? (Attention Deficit Disorder)

What is A.D.D.? (Attention Deficit Disorder)

In simple terms, everyone fits into two categories: the creative risk taker, and the logical perseverer. Creative risk takers include people who learn differently, such as the ADD population. Everyone else fits it the category of logical perseverers, which is considered the “normal” population. Although few people fit entirely in one group or the other at all times, an individual typically exhibits more qualities of one than the other.

However, new studies and research show that our creative risk takers – those with learning differences – in fact have far superior creative intelligence. Simply by acknowledging and adjusting our instruction to fit their preferential learning mode – instead of forcing an outdated learning system on them, can unlock their incredible potential. Their contributions to the world have – and will continue – to benefit all of us. From this jumping off point, this site will present helpful information and perspective for understanding learning differences in children.

As an educator working in the area of ADD and learning differences I believe in the natural genius of all children. Throughout my career I realized that when I looked for and focused on the unique gifts of each child rather than his weaknesses his unique gifts became visible. Our limited belief systems, both educational and societal keep us from bringing out each child’s potential.

Understanding A.D.D.

Is your child difficult to manage? Are they having learning and behavioral problems in school? Are you searching for new answers?

More then thirteen million children and countless adults live the experience of A.D.D.. Sadly 35% become school dropouts, 10% are victims of suicide (10 times the national average), and over 50% fall prey to drugs and alcohol and or have problems with the law. Years of research have led to the management of symptoms, however these statistics show that it has not substantially improved outcomes for children with differences. With A.D.D. being identified in larger numbers it is time for a new perspective.

My personal experience as an ADD creative (and mother of one), coupled with professional experience as an educator in elementary schools, gives me a multifaceted perspective. Years of living the gift of ADD and spending seven years researching and writing my book, “The Gift of A.D.D.: Secrets for Transforming Liabilities Into Possibilities for Parents and Teachers.” I have come to see that ADD often becomes a liability in a society who believes that certain ways of learning and processing are superior. However, ADD is not a disability nor disorder, but rather a biological, neurological, and learning difference that gets in the way of a child’s ability to regulate behaviors. The word disorder itself, emphasizes the negative symptoms and frustrations; due to this focus, we overlook the positive aspects, which are many and search for a “cure”. Although children identified ADD do learn, process and perceive differently they are completely normal. Yet because they are so distinctly unique we see them as “inconvenient” and expect and compel them, even though it is more difficult, to act and learn as other children.

ADD persons use multi-dimensional thinking (employing all the senses) which is much faster than verbal thinking. They tend to be more curious, creative, and intuitive than average. They are highly aware of the environment, inventive, and good at real world tasks. Their special mode of thinking allows them, once they have learned something experientially, to understand it on such a deep level that they know how to do other tasks intuitively without thinking about them. That is why, they often can’t explain why they know something, they just know it.

ADD children are usually gestalt homolateral and nonverbal learners and either physical-emotional or emotional-subjective in his personality dynamic. Understanding his personality dynamic and learning/processing style can allow us to abandon a label that implies dysfunction in favor of an approach that is based on understanding his natural attributes and processes. I believe we are seeing a great change in the way our new children process and it is creating an increase in labeling and educational failure for too many children.

ADD symptoms and imbalances do need to be addressed and balanced. This allows the person to operate in reasoning, verbal and logic/language-based society while still accessing their preferred nonverbal gestalt way of learning. Therefore, a multi-modal approach is necessary along with more efficient teaching and parenting techniques. It is therefore, a three step process: First we must see something different and positive about these children in order to do something different, second, we must teach and parent these children (and really all children), more effectively, and third we need to use a multi-modal intervention system which addresses their biological and neurological differences to allow them to access their genius.

ADD/ADHD is a diagnosis applied to children and adults who consistently display certain characteristic behaviors over a period of time. The most common core features include: distractibility (easily having attention diverted), impulsivity (impaired impulse control and delay of gratification), hyperactivity (excessive activity and physical restlessness), and selective attention (poor sustained attention especially to tasks not of interest).

ADD is broken down into three different subtypes: Combined Type, Predominantly Inattentive Type, and Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type. Many people use the term ADD as a generic term for all types. Whether it’s called ADD or ADHD, however, we are basically referring to the same thing. ADD is a neurological, biological, and learning difference that represents a change that is becoming more predominant.

ADD persists throughout a person’s lifetime although its manifestations often change as one ages. It is not limited to children. Approximately one-half to two-thirds of children with ADD will continue to have significant problems with ADD symptoms and behaviors as adults, which impacts their lives on the job, within the family, and in social relationships. With greater understanding and different interventions to balance their lives however, outcomes for ADD persons will be positively impacted and their many gifts will be recognized.

What Does ADD Feel Like?

ADD feels like being super-charged all the time. You get one idea and you have to act on it, and then, another idea pops up before you’ve finished with the first one, and you jump for it, but of course a third idea comes along to interrupt the second, and off you go to follow that one. Seeing this trait people can soon begin calling you disorganized and impulsive and other even less polite words. These words label and judge things you misunderstood in us, that make you feel impatient and angry. As this goes on, we’re trying our best and working very hard. In fact studies show that our brains and bodies are working fifty percent harder than the non-ADD person. Often because we have so many ideas, and each one is so interesting, we don’t complete tasks that get started.

We feel like we are being pulled in so many directions at the same time it is difficult to stay on task and decide what is most important. We also feel like we are in perpetual motion. Other people think we’re not paying attention or that we’re not interested or get irritated, when we drum or rub our fingers, tap our feet, look around, stretch, and doodle, yet these are all means for us to stay engaged and pay attention or release our excess energy. We are able to pay much better attention when we walk, move our bodies, or listen to music. A crowded, noisy room is often preferable to us than being still and surrounded by silence.

It often feels as if everything is happening all at once. This can create a sense of inner turmoil or even panic. In these moments we may lose perspective and the ability to prioritize. At other moments, it seems as if time becomes a black hole. We loose track of time completely and nothing but what we are working on is experienced. It is like existing in a vacuum where there are no sounds, and no sensation of your body. Only the moment and the idea or project exists. It is total immersion in the moment and connection to the muse.

In an emergency or “deadline” situation we are often at our best. We can multi-task and flow from one task to the next, seamlessly choreographing each part. Yet on a task that has plenty of lead-time we may seem disorganized, scattered and have a difficult time staying with it.

Thus the dilemma of ADD is created. Most people believe we can’t pay attention accept when we want to or we are looked at as being unmotivated or just not trying. The fact is we can’t sit still and pay attention (easily) unless we are in hyper focus with something of extreme interest. When we are asked or forced to sit still (as in school) our ability to learn is blocked or greatly impaired.

The positives don’t usually get mentioned when we speak about ADD. This is because there is a natural tendency to focus on what seems wrong, or on what needs to be controlled. ADD people are highly imaginative and intuitive. They have a “feel” for things, a way of seeing right into the heart of matters while others have to reason their way along methodically. We often believe that others see the way we do and we wonder at others confusion with our suggestions or conclusions. We often can’t explain how we thought of a solution, where the idea for the story came from, how we produced such a painting, or how we knew the short cut to the answer. Our answer is, “We just knew it, or “felt” it. “

We are people, who make million dollar deals on a napkin and pull them off the next day. We are the children who are reprimanded for blurting something out and then praised for having blurted out something brilliant. These are the people who learn and know and do and go by a touch and feel and connection to the pulse of life. We literally live by a wing and a prayer.

In places where most of us are blind, we can see or perhaps “feel” the light is more appropriate. We seemingly produce answers out of the dark. It is important for others to be sensitive to our “sixth sense” and to nurture it. If the environment insists on rational, linear thinking and “good” behavior from us all the time, then we may never develop our intuitive style to the point where we can use it profitably and most effectively. Then we literally die with our music still in us and we and the world is so much less because of it.

It can at times be exasperating to listen to us talk. We may sound vague or rambling in the early stages of a new idea because we believe that you can sense and see what we do. If you are willing to take us seriously, grope along with us and patiently assist us to explain things so that you understand, you will often find we are on the brink of startling conclusions and surprising solutions. Our cognitive style is qualitatively different from what is considered the norm. At first glance, our style may seem impaired and annoying, yet with patience, understanding, and encouragement this opinion can magically shift to appear engaging, gifted and positive.

ADD isn’t a list of symptoms; it’s a way of life. Even when we remove the symptoms, ADD exists. This is because we view and experience the world from a different perspective and have a unique learning style. The diagnosis can and needs to, open the door for new possibilities and the chance for real change rather than stereotyping.


Labels for ADD and other learning differences are generally arbitrary and non-pathological. We most often rely on pigeonhole strategies to deal with these differences. This means we label the problem believing that greater understanding will follow from greater generalization. However, this approach usually only leads to oversimplification and insensitivity to the persons behind the label. Unfortunately, these approaches often trap these children and adults, in a diminished view of themselves and their potential.

Brain Differences

Recent research shows that two regions of the brain at the front of the corpus callosum in ADD are markedly smaller then those of non-ADD people. This is partially due to more limited experiences that are needed to develop full sensory-motor-emotional patterns. These persons have often missed the interactive relationships that include rich dialogue and emotions. These discrepancies could be eliminated with more activation of the frontal lobes, greater acceptance and less criticism, and encouraging and teaching us to do more emotional expression.

Research also shows that females have 10% more neuro-connectors across the corpus callosum than males. This, and because women have more neuronal links for language, may be some of the reasons girls are not identified ADD as often as boys. They speak more and are seen as more intelligent than there male counterparts and they are less likely to appear hyperactive.

Studies by Alan Zametkin and colleagues, demonstrates a frontal lobe/hyperactivity connection. They found 8.1% less brain activity. The largest reduction in brain activity was found in the pre motor cortex and superior prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobes. These are the areas of the brain responsible for self-talk, which controls behavior and planning, fine controlled movement, and integrative thought. The prefrontal cortex affects focused attention, motor activity, and the ability to think before acting.

No Magic Pill

Because ADD is learning and processing difference that is actually a superior and faster way of processing, it is not something that should be or needs to be “cured”. The symptoms and imbalances associated with ADD do need to be addressed and balanced however, to allow the person to operate in a reasoning and logic/language-based society while still allowing them to access their preferred nonverbal gestalt way of learning.

Below I will briefly discuss 4 interventions that are helpful, Cogmed (working memory training), Neurofeedback, Heartmath, and Dietary interventions. As a parent these can assist you to gain control and empower positive changes in your child’s life. These however are only the first steps. You must become knowledgeable about your child’s way of processing in order to impact a change in his learning environment.

Cogmed (working memory training)

Working memory is a principal cognitive function associated with attention and focus. It is the ability to maintain information for several seconds in your mind, manipulate it, and apply it in your thinking and reasoning. It is fundamental for concentration, problem solving, and impulse control. It is essential to improve intelligence and is a crucial indicator of success both academically and professionally. Poor working memory is a primary difficulty associated to ADHD, and other learning disabilities.

Cogmed is a computerized training program whose efficacy has been demonstrated through peer-reviewed scientific journals, including several randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, and evaluations by research with no affiliation to Cogmed. It was designed by leading neuroscientists to improve attention by effectively increasing working memory capacity over a 5 week training period.

Attention, concentration, focus, impulse control, social skills, and complex reasoning skills are all substantially improved by Cogmed training through the long-term increase in working memory capacity. The outcome is enhanced performance, heightened attention, and success.


Children, especially young ones have a larger proportion of slow brain waves called alpha, theta and delta waves. These brain waves are those associated with daydreaming, meditation and sleep. One of the many brain differences that an ADD person has is that this proportion of slower brain waves remains higher even in adulthood. Although this pattern is not abnormal it is different than the non-ADD child in the balance of slow and fast waves. The greatest difficulty for these children occurs during school-related activities. Unlike the non-ADD child, who produce more fast waves when performing tasks, like reading and seatwork, the ADD child produces more slow waves making attention and learning more difficult.

Neurofeedback trains the mind to access the appropriate brain state for the task at hand. The training allows the child’s brain to more easily shift into and stay in a focused state for learning. Along with assisting in attention, neurofeedback also improves sleep patterns, reduces hyperactivity, impulsivity and anxiety,

How Heartmath Can Help?

Children identified ADD suffer from an increased amount of rejection, shame and guilt from continually being reprimanded for their behavior. These children also often spurn touch (not because we don’t like touch, but because we are neurologically restless). They are difficult to soothe as infants and toddlers thus, are less likely to have received adequate amounts of healthy touch early. This leaves them Nerve Growth Factor deficient. Nerve Growth Factor encourages the growth and development of neural networks in the brain increasing the capacity to learn and remember. The emotional environment a child is exposed to, profoundly affects the development of his emotional circuitry.

When the primary caregiver and other significant adults are attuned to the feelings of a child and respond appropriately to the child’s emotions, the neural circuits are positively reinforced. However, if a child repeatedly receives responses that are indifferent or negating, the neural circuits can become confused. These weakened connections may not be strong enough to withstand the normal neural pruning process that occurs around the age of ten or twelve; and thus these connections are often lost forever. Neurons that haven’t made connections or developed circuits are pruned back and dissolved into the surrounding cerebro-spinal fluid to enable other neuronal structures to grow. Emotional support is even more critical for an ADD child because of Nerve Growth Factor deficiencies.

Happily, brain researchers have found that the brain is amazing plastic. This means that major changes can occur even after this critical time. The plasticity of the brain offers the hope that through positive reinforcement and emotional self-management techniques, such as Heartmath, neurofeedback and other interventions, this emotional circuitry can be re-taught. Since many of the symptoms we see in ADD are caused by a learning difference not adequately addressed, these children are constantly under stress. Heartmath assists the child to destress and enter a coherent state, which increases their ability to learn even when the teaching techniques are not optimum. It also assists them to act in ways that are more acceptable.

Heartmath is a wonderful tool to be used by these children at home as well. The ability to get along with people and use interpersonal and social skills well is essential and is more critical to success and happiness than intelligence or schooling. By practicing the techniques at home and school they more quickly become lifelong practices for dealing with the pressures and obstacles that inevitably arise.

To find out about other behavioral, learning, and balance interventions return to the home page for information about how to purchase my book.

Dietary Interventions Can Help

Although a multi-modal approach is necessary (no one intervention is enough) to balance symptoms and the neurological system dietary intervention is a critical one. These children have erratic digestive systems, which create deficiencies in nutrients due to poor absorption. Their digestive systems also produce too much yeast, which increase cortisol and alcohol, which directly impact the frontal lobes and create anxiety and poor focus.

Working with an excellent Functional Medicine practitioner and or Nutritionist can help determine the unique imbalances, toxins, allergies and sensitivities specific to your child or yourself. By holistically removing these challenges along with changes to a healthy diet many symptoms can be removed.

Because our diets are typically less than desirable in this country due to processed foods, fast foods, high sugar, high fructose corn surup, high glycemic index carbohydrate content foods, and soil nutrient deficiencies these children are at greater risk of imbalanced neuro systems. It is difficult for families to provide enough of the necessary nutrients for their families, especially for an ADD child with special nutritional needs given our busy schedules.

Most vitamins, unfortunately, do not make up for these deficiencies adequately. To assist with these challenges I recommend i-nourish (on the products page) to assure your child gets is more likely to receive the proper nutrients he needs to remain in balance and experience fewer troublesome symptoms. Starting off the day with a protein shake along with the i-nourish fruit and vegetable supplement can increase their chances of educational success while improving your child’s fragile immune system function. (See the Products section of this website for a list of delicious shake recipes. These products supply not only the extra protein these children need but also digestive enzymes for better digestion along with amino acids that these children lack. Because recent studies show that ADD and oxidative stress are intricately connected I also recommend Protandim to reduce this. Since stress is much higher for ADD children and adults it is important to address this issue (See the Products section of this website for information.

Supplying all the necessary nutrients that these children need to balance their systems can be accomplished through a regimented dietary program. This is more than most busy families can keep up with. This is especially true as children grow since they are away from the home more and not monitoring their diets as closely. This makes it less likely they will be able to stay in balance and regulate their behaviors and control their ability to focus and learn.

Please see the ADD/ADHD books section for two books to help you with better dietary intervention.

Contact MaryEllen For Personalized Coaching

Expert coaching available for you or anyone in your family that needs a personalized plan for understanding and addressing ADD issues. To learn more, please call 415.550.1723.