The most frequently asked question about ADD / ADHD is what it is like to have it.
The catch is that most of the symptoms that make up ADD sound like regular personality traits or quirks that everyone has in some degree. For example, the hallmark symptom of ADHD is being easily distracted. But, many people will mention that they also get distracted. In an effort to clarify, an example would be in order. That is the second catch; it is tough to come up with examples of what ADD is like off the top of your head, because it something that happens every day, so it isn’t like anything sticks out.
People With ADD / ADHD Are Easily Distracted
The main symptom for ADD is distractibility. But, doesn’t everyone get distracted?
The answer, of course, is yes, but it is how easily that one gets distracted, and what that distraction causes that separates ADD from normal distraction.
Example of ADD / ADD Behavior
Adam and Paul are sitting around a conference room table in a meeting.
Adam has ADD.
Paul does not.
The meeting is long and boring. Both Paul and Adam are having trouble paying attention. This is not ADHD or ADD, it is just a normal reaction to boredom and sitting still for a long period of time.
Outside, a fire truck drives by the window. Both Paul and Adam look up at the sound of the siren and watch the flashing lights go by. Both men are distracted from the speaker and the meeting. Again, this is nothing out of the ordinary.
After a few minutes, Paul returns his gaze to his notepad and then turns back to listen to the speaker. Paul is still bored, but he knows that his boss expects him to pay attention, so that is what he does. For non-ADD sufferers, there are things that are distracting and it can be hard to pay attention to something boring. But, when the realize they aren’t paying attention, they bring themselves back to the task at hand.
This is where Adam’s and Paul’s minds diverge. Like Paul, Adam was distracted by the fire truck. Unlike Paul, Adam still has not returned his attention to the meeting. Instead, he is still looking out the window.
As the truck drove away, Adam tried to calculate whether he heard another siren or just the echo of the firetruck’s siren. Then, he noticed the grass outside the window was browner than usual. He thought back over the last week or two’s weather and didn’t remember it being any hotter than normal, so there was probably something wrong with the sprinklers. That, or maybe they had just changed the settings to save money, or the environment. In fact, he had tried to lower his sprinkler settings last week and his grass started to turn brown too.
That reminds Adam that he meant to fertilize his lawn last week and he forgot, again!
From there, Adam thinks about what else he needs at the hardware store. He thinks about how the office supply store is near the hardware store and he needs toner too. Plus, he was supposed to call his sister.
Then, a squirrel runs across the grass and up the tree. Adam stares at the tree trunk even though the squirrel has long since ascended to the branches. His gaze is locked on the tree trunk as various thoughts about what kind of tree that is, how old it must be to be that big, and whether or not the squirrel lives in that tree or just ran up it for another reason, all float through his head.
It’s been four or five minutes when Adam’s boss has had enough. He has to say Adam’s name twice before Adam is startled out of his thoughts and returns his focus to the room. He look’s up at his boss, now fully aware that he has not been paying attention.
“Would you like us to just finish this meeting so you can go outside for recess?” his boss says.
The Difference Between the ADD Mind and the Standard Mind
The difference between Paul and Adam was not that one of them was bored and the other was not. Nor was it that one of them was distracted by the siren and one was not.
The difference is that Paul realized he had been distracted and manually forced himself to return his attention to the meeting.
Adam’s mind had did not notice that he had been distracted having left all thoughts regarding the meeting somewhere in the back of Adam’s mind. Instead, it continued to pay attention to other things.
People who are ignorant about ADD often say things like, “Just make yourself pay attention.” That is a good answer, but only if you realize you are not paying attention, and that is the crux of the issues caused by ADD.
Adam would have “forced himself” to pay attention if only he had realized he wasn’t. But, because his brain was preoccupied with other things, he never had the chance to manually change his focus back where it belonged.
And that, is what makes ADD immune to willpower.