I had never heard of ADD until 1981, when I learned about it at the start of my fellowship in child psychiatry. If you’d told me before 1981 that someone had attention deficit disorder, I would have thought you were referring to a psychoanalytic term for a person who’d not received enough attention growing up. But when I learned the actual definition of ADD, it hit me like a slap across my psyche. In one of the great “Aha!” moments of my life, I realized not only that I had the condition myself, but that the medical deficit-disorder model left out all the good parts, like creativity, curiosity, tenacity, high energy, an entrepreneurial spirit, spontaneity, an infectious sense of humor, a refusal to give up, and an array of other assets I would piece together over the ensuing decade, culminating in my writing a book with my friend, John Ratey, M.D., in 1994.
In writing that book, I had to work way outside the box, because the straight medical deficit-disorder model left no space for anything positive, useful, or gifted. The condition was regarded as an unmitigated blight. Yes, the negatives were real and could ruin your life if you didn’t take care. But the positives shone through the gloom if you looked for them. I saw them, I lived them, and I made it my business to tell the world about them. I saw it as my mission to set people free from the shackles of ignorance and a misunderstood condition. I saw in ADHD what others did not see.
Edward Hallowell, M.D., was an early proponent of a strengths-based approach to ADHD. He is co-author of the groundbreaking Driven to Distraction series. (#CommissionsEarned)
[More from Dr. Hallowell: 3 Areas of Research Advancing Our Understanding of ADHD]