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The ADD Myth: How to Cultivate the Unique Gifts of Intense Personalities

The ADD Myth: How to Cultivate the Unique Gifts of Intense Personalities

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by Martha Burge, Allen Frances, MD (Foreword by)

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More than 5 million children in the United States take stimulant medication to treat ADHD. Yet, there is no objective method of diagnosis for ADHD. And, many of these medications can cause serious side effects including amphetamine psychosis.

In The ADD Myth, ADHD coach Martha Burge proposes that what is commonly understood as ADHD is actually five intense


More than 5 million children in the United States take stimulant medication to treat ADHD. Yet, there is no objective method of diagnosis for ADHD. And, many of these medications can cause serious side effects including amphetamine psychosis.

In The ADD Myth, ADHD coach Martha Burge proposes that what is commonly understood as ADHD is actually five intense personality traits: sensual, psychomotor, intellectual, creative, and emotional. Once properly understood, People with these intense personality traits can develop them into gifts.

The ADD Myth shows:

  • The five intense personality traits: sensual, psychomotor, intellectual, creative, and emotional
  • Why all personalities exist along a "neurodiversity" spectrum
  • Where intense people fit on the spectrum
  • Why the medical profession should seek alternative explanations for ADHD
  • Stories, practical steps, and daily practices for developing one's intense nature with the least amount of suffering.

Burge includes her own story of having both of her children diagnosed with ADHD, the serious reactions they had to drug treatment, and how she began her search for an alternative approach to help them. The ADD Myth will raise awareness of the underlying condition of intensity, and help people who previously thought of themselves as broken develop more fulfilling lives.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
About 10% of American children (and 5% of adults) have been diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), and a multibillion-dollar industry has grown up around the diagnosis, with potentially dangerous stimulants, writes “ADD coach” Burge. In her sure-to-be controversial book debunking the disorder, she asserts that those branded with ADHD experience stimuli—physical, sensory, emotional—more intensely than others. There is no such thing as ADD, she asserts. Instead, the problem for those who are distracted, disorganized, fidgety, and impulsive is to learn how to turn their intensity into a strength. Burge bashes the forthcoming edition of the psychiatric bible, the DSM-V, with its broader ADHD criteria, as well as a drug industry profiting from the label. She then offers “practices”—many based on meditation techniques—to calm, soothe, and sharpen the mind. Hers is a bold stand, and Burge is partly backed by Frances, who was task force chairman for the current DSM-IV. Still, Burge’s guidance is more suited for adults who understand their difficulties than struggling school kids. Still, her assertions should at least spur scrutiny of an “epidemic” that continues to stymie its sufferers and their families. (Sept.)

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The ADD Myth

How to Cultivate the Unique Gifts of Intense Personalities


Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2012 Martha Burge
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-639-5


There Is No Such Thing as ADHD

The hardest part about gaining any new idea is sweeping out the false idea occupying that niche. As long as that niche is occupied, evidence and proof and logical demonstration get nowhere. But once the niche is emptied of the wrong idea that has been filling it—once you can honestly say, "I don't know," then it becomes possible to get at the truth.

—Robert A. Heinlein, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls

I know I have very few standing beside me in my stance that there is no such thing as ADHD. The vast majority of psychiatrists, psychologists, educators, parents, and others believe at their core that ADHD is truly a disorder. I'm not anticipating that this little book will change their minds. The ideas they have are well substantiated by years of practice and documentation. The longer these ideas exist, the more valid they appear.

I contend that while perhaps well-meaning, this description of intense people as having a disorder is a farce. Millions of people have been taken in by it, and most of them believe that their participation in the farce is in the best interest of their patients, their children, and themselves. It is with great conviction that I tell you that labeling these people as disordered not only is an error, but also contributes to creating the dis-ease it intends to treat by withholding the understanding and development of their true intense and gifted nature.


ADHD began as a construct in someone's mind. Psychiatrists see mental disorders or potential signs of mental disorder in every patient that presents to them. The very fact that a person goes to see a psychiatrist means that the psychiatrist must find a diagnosis in order to bill for the visit. It's a reward system. Find a diagnosis, get paid. It's that simple. The possible diagnoses are found in the DSM, which is created by consensus of a group of people who regularly get together and publish a book. This book contains descriptions of every mental disorder. By definition, if a condition is in the book, it's a disorder; if it's not in the book, it's normal. You can see how important this one book is to the way we see ourselves in this culture.

The DSM is sometimes treated like the Bible of the psychiatric profession. It states its primary purpose is to provide a guide for clinical practice in diagnosing psychiatric disorders. Because we are forever learning about disorders, the DSM goes through a continual review process, resulting in new versions being published every few years. The DSM-5 is scheduled to be released in May 2013.

As happens with manuals like this one, people who use it tend to anoint it with powers beyond its intent. It is sometimes seen to define the entirety of mental health and disorder. Common sense tells us that there is no way a single reference book can include all the information needed to identify every type of mental disorder that exists within the human population. We can also guess that with such a broad scope, there is at least a possibility that the criteria supplied could be used to indicate disorder within what should be healthy human differences. But the glow around the book continues.

Before the first printing of the DSM, little had been done to categorize mental disorders. Each mental hospital had its own system. The federal government was interested in collecting statistics on mental disorders, but the lack of a unified system to categorize these disorders made the effort impossible. As a result, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) took on the challenge to produce a system that could be used nationwide. The first printing of the DSM was based on input from both mental hospitals and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Considering the sources, there wasn't much emphasis on childhood disorders or development.

In 1966 Dr. Samuel Clements wrote an article on minimal brain dysfunction in which he describes a number of learning or behavioral disabilities found in children with average to above-average intelligence. He identified the effect on motor activity and attention span. The label "minimal brain dysfunction" likely resulted from the fact that he believed the cause of these disabilities to be minor damage to the brain stem. This may have been the first formally accepted description of ADHD, although it has been recognized in one form or another by mental health professionals for at least a century.

By the time DSM-II was printed in 1968, the label had been adjusted to "hyperkinetic reaction of childhood or adolescence" with a one-line description: "This disorder is characterized by overactivity, restlessness, distractibility, and short attention span, especially in young children; the behavior usually diminishes in adolescence." This change reflects the APA's efforts to avoid labeling a disorder according to the cause of the disorder, mostly because they knew they were only guessing at the cause. There was no evidence of differences in brain structure or functioning. By this time, Ritalin was already in use to treat hyperactivity.


Once there was a description of ADHD as a mental disorder and a pharmaceutical treatment option available, the disorder seemed to go in search of patients. This practice is very different than the treatment of any other type of mental disorder. In the case of paranoia or schizophrenia, the patients bring themselves to the doctor for treatment. ADHD goes in search of patients, much like many newly discovered and much-advertised physical ailments such as restless legs syndrome. "Ask your doctor!" It should be no surprise that the pharmaceutical companies are paying for those ads. But are they also funding ADHD awareness?

Medication for ADHD is a multibillion-dollar industry. It's clear that the pharmaceutical companies have a lot to gain from an increase in diagnosis. It's also becoming clear that they have the resources to influence the outcome.

In 1987 CHADD (Children and Adults with ADHD) was founded to support people with ADHD. According to a transcript from PBS NewsHour's Merrow Report, CHADD was funded by Ciba-Geigy, secretly receiving almost $800,000 between 1991 and 1994. I've been involved with CHADD for years. I still am, and this hit me like a ton of bricks. The CHADD website states:

CHADD was founded in 1987 by a small group of parents of children with AD/HD and two treating psychologists in Plantation, Florida (near Miami). These parents came together because they felt frustrated and isolated, and there were few places to turn for support and information about AD/HD.

However, they also state that pharmaceutical donations received by CHADD as of June 30, 2009, included support from Eli Lilly, McNeil, Novartis, and Shire US. This constitutes 39.5 percent of CHADD's total revenue, or about $1.5 million, in 2009. This fact by itself is not as troublesome as the fact that these arrangements were kept secret for so long.

The use of stimulant medication to treat ADHD in children in the United States has grown from 2.4 percent in 1996 to 3.5 percent in 2008. That's a half million more children on drugs. The drug is introduced to parents as a safe treatment plan. Indeed it's not very hard to find supporting articles and studies showing that taking stimulants under a doctor's supervision for treatment of ADHD is safe. But the very same people will also tell you that stimulants are deadly. The list of potential serious side effects of stimulant use contains paranoia, anxiety, depression, tachycardia (increased heart rate), dizziness, high blood pressure, increased sweating, decrease in appetite, sleeplessness, and more. One side effect usually attributed to consistent abuse or a serious overdose is amphetamine psychosis. This is similar to the symptoms of schizophrenia. Vivid auditory hallucinations and paranoid delusions are caused by the brain's fear center being overstimulated. This couldn't happen when the drug is prescribed by a doctor and administered as directed, right? Wrong! My son was only ten years old when he began to experience auditory hallucinations while taking a prescribed stimulant for treatment of ADHD. There are other stories about children taking medication for ADHD as prescribed and under a doctor's care that have had even more serious side effects, including death.

I'm not one of those antidrug advocates. I believe in better living through chemistry; it's just that this should be done with a solid understanding of the risks. Drugs should be used only when there are no other options. To prescribe such strong psychotropic drugs to children for an illness that cannot be proven seems irresponsible, particularly if the intent of the prescription is only to improve performance in school.

There's no question that the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the medications used to treat ADHD stand to benefit from an increase in prevalence. The only remaining question is how much misinformation has been distributed and what part drug manufacturers are playing in today's increase in ADHD diagnosis.


The symptoms in the diagnostic criteria for ADHD fall into three categories of behavior: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The chart below shows the symptoms matched with what the implied "normal" behavior should be.

Based on the expectations of "normal," what does this sound like to you? It may just be me, but this sounds like a schoolteacher's dream student. This "normal" child sits still for extended periods of time, speaks when spoken to, is patient, and doesn't lose or forget things. The "normal" child is even quiet when engaging in leisure activities. The best part of this for the teacher is that this "normal" child maintains focus on anything they are directed to do until they are directed to do something else.

It's no wonder that ADHD is usually diagnosed at age seven and a half. By this time the child has entered second grade, and the expectations are set. Teachers typically have thirty or more students in a classroom and a lot of material to cover. That would be possible if every student fit the description above of "normal." So the kids that are the furthest from this idealized description of the perfect student are singled out as being the problem. It seems that there is no attempt to question the system that expects young children to sit still and study attentively all day, every day.

The teacher, wanting to help the child who is not in step with the good students in the class, indicates to an administrator or a parent that this child may have a disorder. This is usually done in a formalized meeting around a table full of teachers, school counselors, and administrators. It can be pretty intimidating. The parent or parents are bombarded with tales of the child's problem behaviors, missing assignments, and other proof that there is indeed a problem. A suggestion is made that perhaps it isn't bad parenting. Perhaps there is a medical explanation. The parents usually agree that the child should see a doctor as soon as possible. They are then assured that once the child has a diagnosis, the school will be much more able to help the child.

Many of us can see something of ourselves in the list of symptoms used to diagnose ADHD. However, the criteria are more stringent than that. A diagnosis of ADHD must be based on more than just a list of behaviors. The condition must also cause impairment in two or more settings such as home and school. Since the DSM doesn't offer a definition of "impairment," we'll fall back on this definition found online at www.thefreedictionary.com as a point of reference:

Impairment: The condition of being unable to perform as a consequence of physical or mental unfitness; "reading disability"; "hearing impairment"

Based on the requirement of impairment in two or more settings, it's easy to see why ADHD has traditionally been considered a childhood disorder. The impairments are usually related to expectations of behavior and performance in school. Since schools are dealing with so many children in a single classroom, they simply work better when all the children are on the same program and no one child requires greater-than-average attention. When school activities come home in the form of homework, the impairment comes home, too. Once we're no longer students, the "disorder" seems to go away. But did the underlying condition really go away? Was a side benefit of graduation a cure from ADHD?

Let's say, for example, that a man with ADHD is impaired at home and at work. At home the impairment is related to paying bills on time. The task is boring and so he puts it off and the bills stack up. Then one day he discovers online bill pay. Since he enjoys his computer, the task is quick and easy, and he now pays his bills on time. Since the impairment no longer exists at home, is he cured?

Another criterion required for a diagnosis is "clinically significant impairment" in social, academic, or occupational functioning. The DSM doesn't provide a definition of clinically significant impairment, but it is safe to assume that "clinically significant" is being used in comparison to "statistically significant." For example, a 5-point difference in IQ may be statistically significant in a study, but it wouldn't be considered clinically significant since we wouldn't expect a 5-point difference in IQ to have a profound effect on functioning. Clinical significance requires subjective judgment on which "impairments" are important and which are not. While one person may consider an impairment clinically significant, another with the same level of functioning may disagree on the level of impairment.

It seems unlikely that a true disorder would be cured or eliminated by online bill pay or graduation from school. It is also troublesome to have a disorder defined by a subjective measure of impairment, particularly if the impairment is related to a situation that is temporary. I propose that the underlying condition is still there, but the negative aspects of some of the traits only surface under certain conditions.


These people, my people, are different. They do experience some distress and they are impaired in some situations. That does not equal mental disorder. Stephanie Tolan has a beautiful story called "Is It a Cheetah?" which can be found on her website www.stephanietolan.com. In the story she uses the cheetah as a metaphor for children with different abilities. She explains acts of lashing out or empty eyed staring as expressions of frustration, comparing them to a cheetah in captivity throwing itself at the bars of its cage or giving up. She compares the cheetah cage at a zoo to the classroom. This environment doesn't give them the opportunity to show what they are really capable of, so they are not recognized as special, gifted students, and they may be misunderstood as not really trying or even disabled. If this sounds a lot like ADHD, you are beginning to see the light.

There are statistically significant differences that aren't considered disorders such as giftedness. On the scale of intelligence, the bottom 2 percent are considered mentally retarded and therefore subject to a diagnosis of mental disorder. However, the top 2 percent are considered mentally gifted and not subject to a diagnosis of mental disorder. The difference between the two is the expected outcome. Mental retardation is expected to produce less-than desirable outcomes while giftedness is expected to produce better than-average outcomes.

It's understandable that intense people would be under consideration as disordered when viewed by people looking for mental disorder. They are different. But, as we see in the example of mentally gifted persons, different doesn't necessarily mean disordered.


A new concept of neurodiversity proposes that differences in neurological development in humans is just as important to the health of the human race as biodiversity is to the health of an ecosystem. Neurodiversity takes into account differences in the way different people process information including sound, textures, light, images, and even movement. Although the concept of neurodiversity is associated with a particular view of autism, it applies as well to intensity.

Excerpted from The ADD Myth by MARTHA BURGE. Copyright © 2012 Martha Burge. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Martha Burge is an ADHD coach, mother to two sons diagnosed with ADHD, and a very intense person. She holds a BA in Psychology, an MA in Organizational Development, and coaching adults with ADHD, gifted adults and parents of intense and gifted children. She speaks to groups including the Celebrate Your Life conference in Chicago in June, 2012. She is active in the Mensa community and is a trusted coach to Mensa members. She lives in Orange County, CA.

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The ADD Myth: How to Cultivate the Unique Gifts of Intense Personalities 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've to thank Ms. Burge for writing this book. As a person with intensity, I was diagnosed with ADHD by the doctors -- which was no more than said intensity. I didn't know at the time what it was, but after reading this book I couldn't but feel more empowered with evert page I read. The main premise of the book are the intensities -- sensual, psychomotor, intellectual, creative, emotional -- five in all. She goes through each in detail; however I feel she can explain them better than I. Besides, by reading you'll learn more about them. That'll be a guarantee. For sure. Now what I like most are the exercises -- especially the meditations. This should help you develop the intensities further than if you take medication (which seems more of a cry for help than a solution). Of course... Burge doesn't consider this book as the end all to be all like religion. You still have to grow -- it's just that the book gives you s guide. Kinda like an RPG game: you have to have the right guide to win (or in the game of life -- guides). D.K. Perry