Driven to Distraction (Revised): Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder

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Groundbreaking and comprehensive, Driven to Distraction has been a lifeline to the approximately eighteen million Americans who are thought to have ADHD. Now the bestselling book is revised and updated with current medical information for a new generation searching for answers.
Through vivid stories and case histories of patients—both adults and children—Hallowell and Ratey explore the varied forms ADHD takes, from hyperactivity to ...
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Driven to Distraction (Revised): Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder

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Groundbreaking and comprehensive, Driven to Distraction has been a lifeline to the approximately eighteen million Americans who are thought to have ADHD. Now the bestselling book is revised and updated with current medical information for a new generation searching for answers.
Through vivid stories and case histories of patients—both adults and children—Hallowell and Ratey explore the varied forms ADHD takes, from hyperactivity to daydreaming. They dispel common myths, offer helpful coping tools, and give a thorough accounting of all treatment options as well as tips for dealing with a diagnosed child, partner, or family member. But most importantly, they focus on the positives that can come with this “disorder”—including high energy, intuitiveness, creativity, and enthusiasm.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

When first published in 1994, Hallowell and Ratay's Driven to Distraction revolutionized public and professional views on Attention Deficit Disorder (now more frequently referred to as ADHD). In this revised edition, they reinforce that classic's reassuring message by emphasizing that this "disorder" is typically accompanied by advantages including high energy, creativity, enthusiasm, and intuitiveness. In fact, they argue that Albert Einstein and Amadeus Mozart both had this condition. The authors speak from hard-won experience: Both have ADD. An essential work for professionals and every worried parent.

From the Publisher
“A very readable, highly informative and helpful book.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Conversational in tone, encyclopedic in content, and, best of all, utterly convincing because of its grounding in clinical experience, Driven to Distraction should make Attention Deficit Disorder comprehensible even to the most distractible reader.”—Peter D. Kramer, M.D., author of Listening to Prozac 
“This is an important and much-needed book! Wise, practical, and reassuring.” —Jane M. Healy, Ph.D., author of Endangered Minds and Different Learners
“The first comprehensive book on the subject for the lay reader.” —The Boston Globe
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307743152
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/13/2011
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 34,959
  • Product dimensions: 7.96 (w) x 5.24 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., is in private practice in adult and child psychiatry and has offices in both the Boston area and New York City. He lives with his wife, Sue, and children, Lucy, Jack, and Tucker. 
John J. Ratey, M.D. is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is in private practice. He lives in the Boston area. 
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Read an Excerpt

— 1 —

What Is Attention Deficit Disorder?

Once you catch on to what this syndrome is all about, you'll see it everywhere. People you used to think of as disorganized or manic or hyper or creative but unpredictable, people who you know could do more if they could just "get it together," people who have bounced around in school or in their professional lives, people who have made it to the top but who still feel driven or disorganized, these may be people who in fact have attention deficit disorder. You may even recognize some of the symptoms in your own behavior. Many of the symptoms of ADD are so common to us all that for the term ADD to have specific meaning, rather than just be a scientific-sounding label for the complex lives we lead, we need to define the syndrome carefully. The best way to understand what ADD is—and what it is not—is to see how it affects the lives of people who have it.

In the cases that follow, and in the many case illustrations that appear in this book, one can witness the struggles individuals faced to break through inaccurate labels and unfair judgments. As their stories unfold, a definition of ADD emerges.

Case 1: Jim

It was eleven o'clock at night and Jim Finnegan was up pacing in his study. This was where he often found himself at night: alone, pacing, trying to get things together. Now approaching the halfway point of life, Jim was getting desperate. He looked around the room and took in the disorder. The room looked as if the contents of a bag lady's shopping cart had been dumped into it. Books, papers, odd socks, old letters, a few half-smoked packages of Marlboros, and other loose ends lay scattered about, much like the bits and pieces of cognition that were strewn about in his mind.

Jim looked up at the TO DO list that was tacked to the corkboard above his desk. There were seventeen items, the final one circled several times in black ink and marked with exclamation points: "Reorganization proposal due Tues., 3/19!!!" This was Mon., 3/18. Jim hadn't started on the proposal. He'd been thinking about it for weeks, ever since he told his boss that he had a plan that would increase productivity, as well as morale, in the office. His boss had said fine, come up with a written proposal and we'll see how it looks. His boss had also added a remark about how he hoped Jim would have enough "follow-through" to actually get something done this time.

Jim knew what he wanted to say. He'd known for months what he wanted to say. The office needed a new computer system, and the men and women out front needed more authority so they could make decisions on the spot so everybody's time wouldn't be wasted in unnecessary meetings. Efficiency would go up and morale would definitely improve. It was simple. Obvious. All the ideas were detailed on the various scraps of paper that dotted the floor of his room.

But all Jim could do was pace. Where do I start? he thought to himself. If it doesn't come out right, I'll look stupid, probably get fired. So what else is new? Why should this job be any different? Great ideas, no follow-through. That's me, good old Jim. He kicked the trash basket and added to the mess on the floor. OK, breathe in, breathe out, he told himself.

He sat down at his word processor and stared at the screen. Then he went over to his desk and began to straighten things up. The telephone rang and he barked at it, "Can't you see I'm busy?" When the answering machine came on, he heard Pauline's voice: "Jim, I'm going to sleep now. I just wanted to see how your proposal is coming. Good luck with it tomorrow." He didn't have the heart to pick up the phone.

The night went on agonizingly. One minor distraction after another would knock Jim off-line as he tried to clutch onto the task at hand. A cat would meow outside. He'd think of something someone had said three days ago and wonder what they really meant by that. He'd want a new pencil because the one he had felt heavy in his hand. Finally, he got down the words "A Proposal for Office Reorganization at Unger Laboratories." Then nothing. "Just say what you want to say," a friend had told him. OK, say what you want to say. But nothing came. He thought of a new job he wanted to apply for. Maybe I should just bag this and go to bed. Can't do that. No matter how bad it is, I've got to finish this proposal.

By 4 A.M. he was beat. But not beaten. The words began to come. Somehow his extreme fatigue had lifted the censor in his mind and he found himself explaining his ideas simply and efficiently. By six he was in bed, hoping to get a little sleep before his meeting with his boss at nine.

The only trouble was that at nine he was still in bed, having forgotten to set the alarm before he went to sleep. When he arrived in a panic at the office at noon, he knew from the look on his boss's face that no matter how good the proposal was, his days at Unger were over. "Why don't you find a place with a little bit more flexibility?" his boss said, and thanked him for his proposal. "You're an idea man, Jim. Find a place that can accommodate to your style."

"I don't get it," he said to Pauline over drinks several weeks later. "I know I have more to offer than getting myself fired every six months. But it's always the same old story. Great ideas, but can't get it done. Even in high school, can you believe that? The guidance counselor, she was this really nice lady, she told me that I had the highest IQ in the class, and so she just couldn't figure out why I had such a hard time living up to my potential."

"You know what's not fair?" Pauline said, turning the stem of her Manhattan glass between her thumb and forefinger. "They took the ideas in your proposal and used them. Dramatic improvement. Everybody's happier and work is up. Those were your ideas, Jim, and you got fired. It's not fair."

"I don't know what's wrong with me," Jim said. "I don't know what to do."

Jim had attention deficit disorder. When he came to see me at the age of thirty-two, he had been living a life of chronic underachievement, falling short of his goals both at work and in relationships because of an underlying neurological problem that made it difficult for him to pay attention, sustain effort, and complete tasks.

ADD is a neurological syndrome whose classic defining triad of symptoms include impulsivity, distractibility, and hyperactivity or excess energy. About 18 million Americans have it today; while awareness has increased in the years since Driven to Distraction was first published, many still do not know that they have it. The condition occurs in children and adults, men and women, boys and girls, and it cuts across all ethnic groups, socioeconomic strata, levels of education, and degrees of intelligence. It used to be thought that this was a disorder of childhood alone, and that one outgrew it during adolescence. We now know that only about a third of the ADD population outgrows it; two-thirds have it throughout adulthood. ADD is not a learning disability or a language disability or dyslexia, and it is not associated with low intelligence. In fact, many people who have ADD are very smart. It's just that their smartness gets tangled up inside. Undoing the tangle to get a smooth run on the line can take more patience and perseverance than they can consistently bring to bear.


Where does the syndrome begin and normal behavior leave off? What is impulsivity? What is distractibility? How much energy is excess? These are the questions we will explore throughout this book, mainly in the context of individual cases, like Jim's. Considering the symptoms, can't we all recognize parts of ourselves? Yes. However, one bases the diagnosis of ADD not on the mere presence of these symptoms, but on their severity and duration, and the extent to which they interfere with everyday life.

When Jim came for consultation, he was at wit's end. He came into my office, sat down in one of the easy chairs, and began to run his fingers through his curly hair. He leaned forward, alternately looking at me or staring at the floor. "I don't know where to begin. I don't even know what I'm doing here," he said, shaking his head as if to say no, this won't help either.

"Did you have any trouble finding your way here?" I asked. He was twenty minutes late, so I figured he might have gotten lost.

"Yes, yes, I did," he said. "Your directions were fine, it wasn't your fault. I just turned left where I should have turned right and then I was gonzo, school was out. It's a miracle I got here at all. I ended up at some gas station in Somerville."

"Well, it can be pretty confusing," I said, hoping to let him relax a bit. Of the people who consult with me for problems related to ADD, probably about a half are either late for their first appointment or miss it altogether. I have come to expect it. It comes with the territory. My patients, however, usually feel very bad about it and so begin the session thinking that I am going to reprimand them in some way. "You certainly aren't the first person to get lost coming here," I said.

"Really?" he asked. "That's good to hear." He took a deep breath to say something, but paused, as if the words had crowded in his throat, then let his breath out in a long sigh, the words apparently dispersed. He went through the same cycle a second time before I asked him if maybe he could use a few moments just to collect his thoughts while I wrote down some bits of information about him like his name, address, and telephone number. That seemed to help. "OK," Jim said. "Let's start."

"OK," I responded, leaning back in my chair, folding my hands behind my head. There was another long pause, and another sigh from Jim. "I can see that it's hard for you to get started," I said. "Maybe we could focus on what the problem is that brought you here."

"Yes," he said, "OK." With that little bit of prodding from me, Jim began to fill in most of his history. A normal childhood, or so it seemed to him. But when I pressed for more detail, Jim acknowledged that he was quite rambunctious in grade school and enjoyed getting into mischief. He got good grades even though he never really studied. "I thought school was like playtime," he said. But with high school, things got tougher. His innate intelligence couldn't carry him so easily anymore, and he began to fall behind. He started to get lectures from his teachers and parents on his moral shortcomings, how he was letting himself and everyone else down, how in the long run he'd be the worse for it, and so forth. His self-esteem fell, although somehow his inborn temperament was buoyant enough to keep him fairly upbeat. After stumbling through college, he began a long series of jobs in various computer-related fields.

"You like computers?" I asked.

"I could have invented them," he said with great enthusiasm. "I love them. I just have this understanding of them, you know what I mean? I know what makes them tick, and I know how to get the most out of them. If only I could tell people what I know. If only I didn't screw up every time I get a chance—"

"How do you screw up?" I asked.

"How do I screw up?" he asked, then repeated the question again, turning it into a sorrowful statement by his tone of voice. "How do I screw up. I forget. I argue. I postpone. I procrastinate. I get lost. I get mad. I don't follow through. You name it, I do it. I'll get into these discussions with my boss, and I'll see my way is right, and the next thing you know, I'm calling him a stupid jerk for not seeing that I'm right. Tends to get you fired, calling your boss a stupid jerk. Or I'll have this idea, but I won't be able to find it, like it's a jumble lost in the closet or something. It's in there, I know it's in there, but I just can't get it out. I want to get it out, I try to get it out, but I can't. One of my old girlfriends told me before she left me that I should face it, I'm just a loser. Maybe she's right, I don't know."

"You cared about her?" I asked.

"For a while. But then she got fed up, like all the rest have. I mean, I'm pretty intense to be with."

"Where do you think that intensity comes from?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said. "It's always been there, though."

The longer we talked, the clearer it became how right Jim was, how the intensity had always been there, seldom harnessed, but always burning. That intensity may in part explain why ADD is common among people in high-energy fields, from sales to advertising to commodities to any high-pressure, high-stimulus kind of work. "Have you ever consulted a psychiatrist before?" I asked.

"A couple of times," Jim said. "They were nice guys, but nothing really changed. One of them told me not to drink so much."

"How much do you drink?"

"I binge. When I really want to let loose, I go out and tie one on. It's an old family tradition. My dad drank a lot. I guess you could say he was an alcoholic. I don't think I'm an alcoholic, but that's what they all say, huh? Anyway, I get these terrible hangovers the next day, so I don't go back to it for a while."

Often people with ADD self-medicate with alcohol or marijuana or cocaine. Cocaine, particularly, is similar to one of the medications used in the pharmacological treatment of ADD.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 54 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 54 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2007

    A reviewer, a grandparent who had been searching for that window from which their ADD child/grandchild views the world

    All the books written and coauthored about ADD by Dr. Hallowell and Dr. Ratey, I have found to have been very enlightening about two of my female family members who have behaviors I could never understand. I needed to understand and be able to look out of the same 'window on the world' as my ADD family members do 'out on the world' so that I could find a way that I could assist them as well as be able to communicate with them when something didn't go their way, and that they didn't understand why something didn't happen like they thought/imagined it would. These books have assist me by opening up a whole new way to see how those with ADD deal or don't deal with life realistically and although I know I don't understand everything about ADD now, I don't feel so much in the dark as I did. For me personally, my role now has been redefined as such as 'the organizer' which it has been always, but not without the anger on my part that went with it. Now I realize why much of the 'load' so-to-speak has always been there, with me, with me wondering why am I the one whose always left with the task of organizing and left with getting all those details completed which is always apparent and the norm for those with ADD needing someone to 'pick up the slack'. Thank you Doctor Hallowell and Dr. Ratey for your wealth of information because of your enlightenment, I finally understand these people with whom I love and live with and I don't have to be angry have 'set me free' to assist these individuals 'I have two ADD family members'to work toward their potential in regards to school and what they ultimately want to do with their lives. Understanding how my role can be/must be utilized as family member, now that I have the knowledge about the behaviors of those with ADD, I can be better at doing what I do as well as do a better job when I come incontact with these behaviors and more freely encourage those members of my family to help themselves as as to faciliate their energies in a positive direction. Just to understand what is going on within the mind of an ADD person has assisted me to identify my important role in my family as the 'organizer' which has made it easier for me to make more positive contributions to these female ADD family members, which will hopefully facilitate a more positive manner that will help them obtain what they want out of life inspite of their ADD. Knowledge from these books about ADD behaviors has given me my mental 'saving grace' back and I too can be a better help to those I love with ADHD.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 16, 2010

    Excellent Book

    Down to earth and easy to read. This book is very informative and was eye opening to me. Read the book cover to cover in a couple of days. Took book to my doctors office and asked his opinion. ADD was confirmed after medication turned my life arround. I had been misdiagnosed for years with anxiety disorder and mild bipolar disorder. Now I am off those previous medications. I am treated with one medication and I no longer suffer symptoms that I suffered from this disorder. My life has not only changed dramatically in a positive way, but it brought such order to my life and gave me hope. I thought only children suffered with this disorder.

    I strongly recommend this book, it can answer a lot of problems people have in life including relationships, work issues, disorganization and memory.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2007

    College student with ADD

    I first read this book in my dorm room and couldn't put it down. My whole life I had been told I had ADD, but i never knew what that really meant for me. I cried when I was finishing this book, because it told me that I am not crazy or weird. I just have ADD characteristics that I can work with and change if I don't like them. It was the first piece of literature about ADHD that I actually understood and agreed with!

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2012


    So many times, my husband and I have been so frustrated with our child. He has so much potenital. He wants to do well. He is GT identified and has an AMAZING mind. Why is it so hard for him to understand how his behaviors affect those around him? Why are his reactions to other people almost never the right one? Why can't he get a handle on that? Why does he get so inexplicably angry at a moments notice? Why can't he sit down and do his assignments? Why can't he go to his room and change his shirt without stopping in another room and completely forgetting what he was going to do? This book gave me an "ah-hah" moment. We now have a path to go down with our son.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2004

    even I can pay attention to this book!

    I was diagnosed with ADD in early childhood, and have coped sometimes badly ever since. This book and others written by the authors make sense. I was able to read it from cover to cover, just not in that order, I was able to skip and bounce around, like all us ADD'ers like to do! It was also funny and informative without being dry. Great Book, Great authors, great help, I am currently in school and hope to be half as good as these men are helping the people out there with our 'gifts'. This book is all about me they just don't know my name, I'm sure you will feel the same way when you read it. It really helped me find my strenghts and use this 'disability' in positive ways.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2003

    After all these years

    After all these years my son, now 18 has been diagnosed with ADHD. I have felt anger at the school for not cathing it, but also at the many therapists that he has seen over the years, this book describes him to a T. Now I know that all of my efforts at discipline and why it never worked had a name, ADHD. THis book is awesome.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2003

    Not Alone Anymore

    My therapist recomended this book to me, which I was so surprised to read other people talk about how they were either bad with time, and how they would get so angery when they tryed to do normal tasks that most people do with out thinking twice. People with learning disability, ADD, and dislexic tend to take more time, just taking notes for ex: than others. So, hearing that for me, told me that there are people going thru the same problems as myself, like feeling ashamed. Thank you Mr. Hallowell and Mr. Ratey for writing the book and for making it so easy to read, I hope that people will get a chance to learn more from it and not be so judgemental. Tami

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2001

    Wonderful help

    This book was suggested to me after i was told I had ADD by a doctor. I suspected it but was very reluctant to admit it. This book helped both me personally but also my fiance. With its help, not only was I able to feel normal but he was able to understand better and be more supportive.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2000

    A great 'Bible' for ADDers

    This book is a must for those who want to find out what this is all about. It's clear and complete. When I was first diagnosed, I wanted to read everything I could get my hands on...but found some books were too clinical for me. This one was perfect and ADD-friendly

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2012

    Right on

    You can tell the difference when a person who knows a condition from the inside has written a book. This book is excellent. The author really uderstands the condition.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 24, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    I prefer Sugar's "The Silent Crisis Destroying America's Brightest Minds"

    Sugar's 'The Silent Crisis Destroying America's Brightest Minds" is a book that is all about educational reality, the facts on the ground, not vacuous educational theories.

    Sugar pioneered the SMARTGRADES school notebooks that contain the new learning technology, ACANDY Processing Tools, that empower students for academic success. She transformed my kids into Grade A students, soI speak from experience, not hypothetical theory.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Relevant, Compelling for Defining and Explaining ADD/ADHD

    The most encouraging factor about this book is that it was written by two self-diagnosed ADD patients who are also treatment professionals. The subject is handled deftly and expertly. Drug treatment is NOT touted as the only coping mechanism. The book contains many humorous and personal examples experienced by the authors. It is NOT overly clinical in its' descriptions or examination of ADD. Finally, it offers a positive view of ADD/ADHD rather than simply relating to it as a "personal flaw".

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2001

    A must-read for every teacher, parent, and ADD person!

    This book took me through the lives of people with ADD and helped me to understand myself and my students as we struggle through our day and all of the roadblocks we face! I have recommended this book to parents, teachers, and counselors, and all have walked away with a new understanding of the ADD child! OUTSTANDING!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2001

    Very helpful and full of useful information

    I just found out last week I have ADD. I don't know where I would be without this book. My therapist suggested it and I am just really glad I have it to read and understand more about ADD. I recommend this book to anyone who cares about and loves someone who has ADD. When reading this book I feel like I am not alone even though I just discovered an explaination for how I have been all these years. I feel like with reading this book everything will be okay after all and that it's not the end of the world. It gave me great confidence to change old unhealthy habits into new healthy ones that really work. Thank you Mr. Hallowell and Mr.Ratey for sharing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2000

    Eye-opening and relieving

    I read this book because my son has ADHD. In in, I discovered my own ADD (which my son's doctor suggested I might have). This book made me feel better about myself and helped me understand myself. It has also helped me understand my son. It made me laugh to see my own feelings on paper and it was re-assuring to see how professionals still have the drive and capability to succeed with this condition. Not sure if I consider it a 'condition' or just a difference in a person's make-up. But it was a great book. It's hard to put down a book when it sounds like someone wrote it about you!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2012

    Highly recommend!

    This title is frightening if you have a loved one that you think may have ADD. But, I picked it up after 2 professionals recommended it to me.

    The book is very helpful in understanding what ADD is all about. The authors even seem to have this condition!

    I also recommend a follow up book by the same authors, "Delivered from Distraction" which offers more ideas to help deal with ADD.

    Excellent resources!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2009

    An excellent book to help the entire family understand ADD

    I highly recommend this book. I was looking for something that would help my husband to understand what our son was dealing with and that he wasn't just out to make life difficult. This book is fantastic! I has helped me, my husband and our other son to recognize the causes and symptoms of ADD and the best ways to work with it. My son with ADD and I have even taken to reading the book together and it has made a world of difference for him in understanding.
    It has truly helped the entire family!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    this book is so helpfull

    If you have add/hd or think you may or even trying to understand those who do this is a very funny and somwhat sad book that really tells it all! this book shows you the raw emotion involved in Add/hd. I highly recomend this book for anyone.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2007

    Powerful Resource for ADHD Adults

    This book is well written and allows the average person to recognize and address potential ADD/ADHD concerns. Still pertinent for the current environment.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2007

    Driven to Distractions

    This book I saw about ADD, finds useful for myself to learn from, however, I've made greater of improvement on my concentration skills in all settings for many years, however, I still have tough time on integrating myself from distractions at home because too many overprotections from parents, everything I'm doing. Few years, My teacher had noted that I alway uptight, anxious, and out focused, unble to focus on instructions in hand, they made me to take pills, for unnecessary reasons why.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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