Up Close With Dr. E

Two lives, two stories, one shared disorder


What would it be like to live with an undetected attention disorder? Using stories from a 5-year-old boy and an 18-year-old adult, today’s column will answer the above question.

Before doing so, allow me to give you basic facts about Attention Disorders. First, the term AD’s includes what is called “subtypes” of this disorder: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Attention Deficit Disorder without Hyperactivity. Don’t panic, examples of each disorder will be explained.

1. What is ADHD/ADD? Attention Disorders are a developmental disability caused by a neurochemical abnormality located in the front part of the brain, called the frontal lobes.

2.The term developmental disability is used with children who are blind or deaf. Are you saying kids with AD’s are in the same category? Yes. ADHD is a developmental disorder that persists throughout the lifespan.

3What causes AD’s? ADHD is inherited. Studies of identical twins found that if one twin has ADHD, the risk of the other having it is 80-90% (Barkley, 2009).

4. What are the core problems AD kids, or adults struggle with? AD’s disrupt all behaviors which involve self-control, motivation and goal-directed activities.

5. You said that AD’s involve the frontal lobes of the brain. Can you explain more? The brain has two frontal lobes, a left and a right, which are referred to as the “executive” of the brain. The function of the frontal lobes is to plan, organize and motivated us, so we can complete goal-directed behaviors. ADHD/ADD frontal lobes do not function properly. This means that goal-directed behavior, going from point A to point B, might be like this: Starting at point A, an ADHD adult becomes distracted and ends up at points C, D, E or F.

Now, let’s meet two people who have an undiagnosed ADHD/ADD condition.

Nathan (5): “Doctor, I don’t know how to say this, so you don’t get the wrong idea. I love Nathan more than anything, but, I …” Tears flooded Mrs. Wilson’s eyes, as she struggles to talk about the severe behavioral problems her five-year-old son has had since age 2.

Nathan has been kicked out of three daycares for unprovoked kicking, hitting and swearing. Mrs. Wilson continues: “My own mother told me I’m a bad mom, that I’m too hard on Nathan, that I yell at him. Last week I got a call from her, my mom, and she was crying. She had agreed to keep Nathan overnight and guess what? Nathan kicked her and she had to lock herself in the bathroom, to call me. What a mess.”

Nathan has ADHD, the subtype of AD’s which is diagnosed early, due to severe behavioral problems in preschool. If Nathan does not receive treatment, his ADHD condition can lead to the even more serious problems of substance abuse and jail.

Sara (18): Sara is a freshman in college. She studies hard, does all her assignments, including writing and preparing for tests. But she requires much more time to complete her work. In addition, no matter how hard she tries to pay attention to her teachers, her mind drifts and she can’t follow the lectures.

As her first exams approach, she becomes worried and anxious. On the night before her midterm exams, she knows everything very well. 5-6 hours of study every night has paid off. But, on test day, when she is given her exam, her mind goes blank. No matter how hard she tries to focus, all she can get is a swirling vortex of dislocated data. She fails her exams.

Sara will be diagnosed and treated for the AD subtype called ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder, without hyperactivity. Her college will support her by giving her extra time on tests and ADD specialists who teach her how to retrieve memorized data while taking exams.

Conclusion: Regardless of whether you are a child, adolescent, or adult, living with an undiagnosed attention disorder means that you have a swirling tornado inside your own mind. How much power does this tornado wield?

The roaring winds of ADHD/ADD can easily uproot a marriage, derail an education, scatter a family’s financial plans or, fracture the very bonds which bind you to those you love. Early detection of AD’s, combined with high quality treatments, tame these destructive winds, so that every child born with ADHD/ADD can have a chance to achieve in school, make friends, get a good job and, attain the full measure of their human potential. What’s that you ask?

As a parent, how would you know if these positive changes occurred to your ADD child? Just focus upon your child’s face and watch, as they unspool the last of their string, which is attached to their kite, which flies and soars up, up and away, into the highest strata of atmospheric splendor. What do you see?

The content of this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for treatment by a professional. The characters in this story are not real. Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality.

Reference: “Taking charge of ADHD/ADD”, Russell Barkley, Guilford Press, 2005.


Dr. Richard Elghammer contributes his column each week to the Journal Review.