ADHD Myths & Facts

ADHD Needs a Better Name. We Have One.

ADHD is not purely a disorder; it is a mix of assets and liabilities. A more representative name for the condition is VAST, or variable attention stimulus trait. This new model recognizes the phenomenon of rejection sensitive dysphoria and its flip side “recognition responsive euphoria” — the super-charged response to perceived encouragement. Learn how to harness it here.

deficit disorder

ADHD Is Not a Deficit Disorder

ADHD is an inaccurate — and potentially corrosive — name. The term “deficit disorder” places ADHD in the realm of pathology, or disease. Individuals with ADHD do not have a disease, nor do they have a deficit of attention; in fact, what they have is an abundance of attention. The challenge is controlling it.

Therefore, we argue that a more accurate descriptive term is “variable attention stimulus trait” (VAST), a name that allows us to “de-medicalize” ADHD and focus instead on the huge benefits of having an ADHD brain.

VAST symptoms can, of course, negatively impact a person’s life, work, and relationships. Rejection sensitive dysphoria, a phrase coined by Dr. William Dodson, refers to the extreme emotional sensitivity and feelings of guilt, shame, and rejection often experienced by those living with VAST.

But with VAST there are always pairs; you can hyper focus and then you can’t focus. You are distractible, but you’re also curious. So if individuals with VAST tend to succumb to perceived rejection, they can just as easily thrive with perceived recognition, an experience we call “recognition responsive euphoria.”

[Self-Test: Could You Have Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria?]

The Flip Side of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

Individuals with VAST are accustomed to receiving negative feedback in their personal, academic, and professional lives. Real or imagined criticism gets caught in the Default Mode Network — one of the primary networks in the brain that is active when a person is not focused — and creates the negative feelings that spiral into rejection sensitive dysphoria.

However, the Default Mode Network can have the opposite effect when positive recognition is perceived by someone with VAST. This positivity and encouragement super-charges the VAST brain with the same intensity with which negative feedback defeats it.

Those with VAST are often embarrassed to ask for encouragement, so supporters have to remember to offer accolades for goals met, effort expended, and movement in the right direction. Do not wait to praise perfection because perfection may never happen without praise along the way. Individuals with VAST thrive when surrounded by positive people and when they can step away from projects and people that are a chronic disappointment. These choices, sometimes paired with medication, create recognition responsive euphoria and lead people with VAST to success and happiness.

Just as a little negativity can tumble into anxiety and panic, a drop of praise can build into a tsunami of hope and motivation. Remember, key traits of VAST are resilience and an amazing ability to never give up.

This content came from the ADDitude webinar by Dr. Hallowell and Dr. Ratey titled “The Flip Side of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria: How to Tap into ADHD Energy and Motivation,” which is available for free replay here.

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Updated on January 31, 2020