Driven to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell

This is a book about attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, ADHD. The author tells stories about people with this syndrome, their lives, and the problems they face. The descriptions can be believed because Hallowell himself has the syndrome.

The book is interesting. It shows how a malfunction in the brain can interfere with one’s life. And how a person won’t even know it’s there. People with ADHD can go their whole lives and never know the diagnosis.

I made a summary of this book and want to share it with you.

It all starts with a description of the syndrome:

ADHD is a neurological syndrome which… has a triad of symptoms: impulsivity, distractibility, and hyperactivity… [It’s] not a learning disability at all… or dyslexia. It’s not related to a lack of intellectual development

…And symptoms:

Energy, openness… seemed perfectly typical of ADHD, as did [the story heroine’s] tendency to deviate from the course

Complications in the development of language abilities can occur in many different ways and on many levels. A person can have difficulties with both reception and transmission

…Hearing impairments, myopia and nerve problems affecting articulation, memory problems and epilepsy

Impulsivity in words or actions, feelings of danger, insecurity, chronic procrastination, tendency to speak without thinking, frequent search for strong stimuli, difficulty following established rules

Because of the last two symptoms, ADD patients are more likely than others to abuse alcohol and drugs:

ADHD patients often self-medicate with alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine. The effects of cocaine are similar to those of one drug used in the medication treatment of the syndrome

But it is difficult to diagnose because few people know about it. It’s particularly difficult to identify it in children:

So many children with ADHD also have strong traits… They have a rich imagination, they empathize, they subtly adjust to the mood and thoughts of others, even if they miss most of what is said

Conversation in the doctor’s office often forces children with ADHD to concentrate. Order and novelty dramatically relieve symptoms of ADHD, and even the fear children sometimes feel can help them pull themselves together. That’s why it’s easy for pediatricians to overlook this diagnosis: the symptoms just aren’t there, not in the office. At school, the picture will be closer to the truth.

At the teacher’s request, the kid took several tests, but as it turned out, they only tested his intelligence level. The IQ was 145, but there was a ten-point gap between verbal and nonverbal skills

It’s important to dispel any notions that ADD is someone’s fault. Lack of parental attention can make the situation worse… The causes of this disorder are not exactly known. As stated above, the strong evidence favors genetics; poor parenting has nothing to do

A person with ADHD has a lot of problems to deal with every day:

ADHD exacerbates learning problems in the same way that myopia does: A person cannot focus properly, so they are unable to fully utilize their talents. The first step in treatment is to put on glasses, that is, correct ADHD, and then reassess the extent of the remaining learning disability

ADHD can interfere with interpersonal relationships just as much as with school and work. To make friends, you have to be able to focus. To create harmonious group relationships, you have to listen to what others have to say. The language of signs can be subtle: squint slightly, raise your eyebrows, change your intonation a little, tilt your head. ADHD patients don’t pick up on these cues, and this can lead to serious social errors and feelings of inappropriateness

They always mix things up, engage in procrastination, and have a hard time finishing what they start. They have sudden, gratuitous mood swings. Such people are sometimes irritable, even go into a rage, especially if they are interrupted or when they skip from one thing to another. They have a poor memory. They like to dream, love excitement situations, dote on action and novelty

And getting a diagnosis always brings him relief:

The first phase of treatment is diagnosis. Often this already brings great relief, because the person feels, “Finally, there is a name for my condition!”

But in addition to the fact that the syndrome is little known, habits and hardened opinions get in the way of diagnosing it:

This is the trouble with all adults: we already have some impression of ourselves, and we already have a certain opinion of ourselves. Because of this, it is incredibly difficult to make a radical reassessment, and for a diagnosis of ADHD, you need exactly that.

ADHD interferes with building relationships:

When one or both partners have ADHD, everyday life becomes very unstable. One woman living in such a couple confessed, “You never know what to expect. You can’t rely on him for anything…”. Syndrome can disrupt intimate relationships and exhaust both partners. However, if properly managed, spouses can cooperate rather than fight with each other. When ADHD is at the root of marital problems, the diagnosis is often overlooked because they may not look particularly unusual

The partner of the person with the diagnosis may benefit as much from receptive discussion as the patient himself. Trying to keep the situation under control, keep the family from financial and emotional collapse, and get things in order, the partner may be hard pressed to

Parents of children with this syndrome need to be careful:

When a diagnosis is made and a family is faced with the need for change, the challenge is often met with strong resistance

Families, like most communities, resist change. For example, if one family member wants to leave, it is often seen as a betrayal. If someone gets fat and tries to lose weight, others begin to sabotage their efforts. And if a family member wants to step out of a role he has been playing for years, it is usually not easy because the other relatives try [to stop him]. If a person plays the role of a clown, he will remain a clown.

The author recommends treating this not only with medication, but also with training:

The solution was found in sports. Max became a fanatical long-distance runner. He said that the last kilometers of a long run gave him “pleasant pain,” a mental relief, “absolute clarity of thought.”

It costs a lot of money: the exercise itself costs a few thousand dollars a month, plus expenses for competitions, costumes, and sundries. But it’s worth it. With their diagnosis, extra energy has to be expended.

And he also notes the great role of family and loved ones in treatment:

It’s nobody’s fault for having ADHD

The authors recommend a method they call principled negotiation, or substantive negotiation—separate people from the problem

Of course, negotiation is not always possible, and at younger ages is often undesirable. Young children with ADHD are in dire need of structure and limits. They want limits themselves and will test parents until they get their way. At that age, it’s more reasonable to say, “We’re going to McDonald’s,” rather than, “Which of the five restaurants in our neighborhood do you want to go to tonight?”

Keep in mind that the ADHD sufferer at any age of dialogue prefers fighting because it is more stimulating. Fighting in the family is more stimulating than sensible, peaceful coexistence, and throwing mashed potatoes at your sister is more interesting than politely passing the plate

There are almost no medical or scientific terms in the book, and it’s easy to read. I definitely recommend it.