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Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood

Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood

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by Edward M. Hallowell, John J. Ratey

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Procrastination. Disorganization. Distractibility. Millions of adults have long considered these the hallmarks of a lack of self-discipline. But for many, these and other problems in school, at work and in social relationships are actually symptoms of an inborn neurological problem: ADD, or Attention Deficit



Procrastination. Disorganization. Distractibility. Millions of adults have long considered these the hallmarks of a lack of self-discipline. But for many, these and other problems in school, at work and in social relationships are actually symptoms of an inborn neurological problem: ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder.

Through vivid stories of the experiences of their patients -- both adults and children -- Dr. Edward R. Hallowell and Dr. John J. Ratey show the varied forms ADD takes -- from the hyperactive search for high stimulation to the floating inattention of daydreaming -- and the transforming impact of precise diagnosis and treatment.

Driven to Distraction is a must listen for everyone intrigued by the workings of the human mind.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Hallowell and Ratey offer a fine addition to literature on ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). The authors employ a broad, general definition of ADD (``high-energy, action-oriented, bottom-line, gotta-run-type people'') and continually emphasize the special, positive qualities of people with ADD. They describe how ADD affects adults--many Americans mistakenly think of it as a childhood curse--and explain how the American temperament helps create ADD-like symptoms. Best of all are the stories and case studies of myriad folks who have dealt successfully with their diagnosis. A state-by-state list of support groups are included in this excellent approach to an intriguing subject.-- Linda Beck, Indian Valley P.L., Telford, Pa.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
Abridged, 2 cassettes, 2 hrs.
Product dimensions:
4.70(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 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 wimess 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 endslay 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 15 million Americans have it today; most of them do not know that they have it. The condition occurs in children and adults, men and women, boys and gifts, 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 recoguize 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 eas

Meet the Author

Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., is in private practice in adult and child psychiatry. He lives in the Boston area with his wife, Sue, and children, Lucy and Jack.

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Driven to Distraction 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 55 reviews.
Jillermeister More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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 anymore...you 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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
SHEI More than 1 year ago
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".
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I purchased two books for friends with ADD. It is very enlightening. They have learned why they do things the way they do. They have also realized what is wrong with them and they are not lazy, crazy or stupid. They can now discuss condition with their doctors and seek treatment.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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