My Liberating – But Late – ADHD Diagnosis

I suspected my lack of focus was a symptom of ADHD and I finally got a diagnosis... better late than not at all.

The ADD Experience, Part 2

A raging debate

The findings haven't settled a raging debate about how common adult ADD really is. Some critics claim that psychologists are too quick to diagnose it without the proper testing. But even skeptics agree that at least some of the newly identified have the personality type described by my psychologist and could benefit from treatment.

So I decided to go for the more rigorous evaluation. During the three-hour session, I took numerous tests of comprehension, memory, and problem-solving skills. The capper was a particularly frustrating one called the TOVA (Test of Variability of Attention), which consists of watching an orange square appear and disappear on a computer screen. When the square appears below the screen's center, you do nothing. When it appears above, you hit a button. Simple, right? Wrong. Despite humming, and even biting my lip to stay focused, I ended up making an incredible number of errors.

It turns out, my childhood was riddled with signs of the disorder. I recalled that, when I asked my mother a question, she'd often want to know precisely how long she had to answer. She knew that at some point I would get that glazed look - distracted by other concerns, impatient to move on. At school I was a classic underachiever; lost in my thoughts, I had a great deal of difficulty concentrating on the subject at hand.

Looking at the overwhelming evidence, both the doctor and I ended up convinced that mine was a classic case of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, inattentive type. My reaction when she told me her opinion further convinced me: I cried, both fearful of the implications of the diagnosis and relieved to find an explanation for the problems that have plagued me all these years.

And what next? There are any number of behavioral approaches to treating ADD, such as workbooks and coaching programs designed to help people focus. But for the underlying attention problem, particularly for someone who does detail-oriented work, doctors usually favor a low dose of the stimulant medication Ritalin.

Though I can't begin to address the controversy surrounding this drug, particularly its use on children, I can testify that a minimal dose works wonders for me. It keeps my editorial eye focused for three to four hours at a stretch. I feel less scattered, and I've noticed a definite improvement in my moment-to-moment memory. (And all these benefits come to me without side effects.) When I went back to take the TOVA on medication, I got a perfect score.

Still, even though my behavior has improved, I worry. If people, particularly coworkers, knew about my diagnosis, might they consider me one of the shirkers, someone who just wants an excuse for flaky behavior? That fear is why I've used a pseudonym for this story.

And I can't say ADD isn't a fad diagnosis. But to tell you the truth, in my case the treatment was so liberating that I don't really care.

©1998 Health magazine. Reprinted with permission.



This article comes from the February/March 2006 issue of ADDitude.

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