Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It

Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It

by Gabor Mate MD


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In this breakthrough guide to understanding, treating, and healing Attention Deficit Disorder, Dr. Gabor Maté, an adult with ADD and the father of three ADD children, shared the latest information on:

·         The external factors that trigger ADD
·         How to create an environment that promotes health and healing
·         Ritalin and other drugs
·         ADD adults
…and much more

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) has quickly become a controversial topic in recent years. Whereas other books on the subject describe the condition as inherited, Dr. Maté believes that our social and emotional environments play a key role in both the cause of and cure for this condition. In Scattered, he describes the painful realities of ADD and its effect on children as well as on career and social paths in adults. While acknowledging that genetics may indeed play a part in predisposing a person toward ADD, Dr. Maté moves beyond that to focus on the things we can control: changes in environment, family dynamics, and parenting choices. He draws heavily on his own experience with the disorder, as both an ADD sufferer and the parent of three diagnosed children. Providing a thorough overview of ADD and its treatments, Scattered is essential and life-changing reading for the millions of ADD sufferers in North America today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780452279636
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/01/2000
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 106,259
Product dimensions: 5.26(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.78(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Gabor Mate, M.D., is a physician with a family practice in Vancouver, where he lives. He has written a widely-read medical column for The Globe and Mail and currently writes on medical issues for The Vancouver Sun.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

So Much Soup and Garbage Can

Medicine tells us as much about the meaningful performance of healing, suffering, and dying as chemical analysis tells us about the aesthetic value of pottery.

   — IVAN ILLICH, Limits to Medicine

    Until four years ago, I understood attention deficit disorder about as well as the average North American doctor, which is to say hardly at all. I came to learn more through one of those accidents of fate that are no accidents. As medical columnist for The Globe and Mail, I decided to write an article about this strange condition after a social worker acquaintance, recently diagnosed, invited me to hear her story. She had thought I would be interested—or more likely she sensed it, with a gut-level affinity. The planned column became a series of four.

    To dip my toe in was to know that, unawares, I had been immersed in it all my life, up to my neck. This realization may be called the stage of ADD epiphany, the annunciation, characterized by elation, insight, enthusiasm and hope. It seemed to me that I had found the passage to those dark recesses of my mind from which chaos issues without warning, hurling thoughts, plans, emotions and intentions in all directions. I felt I had discovered what it was that had always kept me from attaining psychological integrity: wholeness, the reconciliation and joining together of the disharmonious fragments of my mind.

    Never at rest, the mind of the ADD adult flits about like some deranged bird thatcan light here or there for a while but is perched nowhere long enough to make a home. The British psychiatrist R. D. Laing wrote somewhere that there are three things human beings are afraid of: death, other people and their own minds. Terrified of my mind, I had always dreaded spending a moment alone with it. There always had to be a book in my pocket as an emergency kit in case I was ever trapped waiting anywhere, even for one minute, be it a bank lineup or supermarket checkout counter. I was forever throwing my mind scraps to feed on, as if to a ferocious and malevolent beast that would devour me the moment it was not chewing on something else. All my life I had known no other way to be.

    The shock of self-recognition many adults experience on learning about ADD is both exhilarating and painful. It gives coherence, for the first time, to humiliations and failures, to plans unfulfilled and promises unkept, to gusts of manic enthusiasm that consume themselves in their own mad dance, leaving emotional debris in their wake, to the seemingly limitless disorganization of activities, of brain, car, desk, room.

    ADD seemed to explain many of my behavior patterns, thought processes, childish emotional reactions, my workaholism and other addictive tendencies, the sudden eruptions of bad temper and complete irrationality, the conflicts in my marriage and my Jekyll and Hyde ways of relating to my children. And, too, my humor, which can break from any odd angle and leave people laughing or leave them cold, my joke bouncing back at me, as the Hungarians say, like "peas thrown at a wall." It also explained my propensity to bump into doorways, hit my head on shelves, drop objects and brush close to people before I notice they are there. No longer mysterious was my ineptness following directions or even remembering them, or my paralytic rage when confronted by a sheet of instructions telling me how to use even the simplest of appliances. Beyond everything, recognition revealed the reason for my lifelong sense of somehow never approaching my potential in terms of self-expression and self-definition—the ADD adult's awareness that he has talents or insights or some undefinable positive quality he could perhaps connect with if the wires weren't crossed. "I can do this with half my brain tied behind my back," I used to joke. No joke, that. It's precisely how I have done many things.

    My path to diagnosis was similar to that of many other adults with ADD. I found out about the condition almost inadvertently, researched it and sought professional confirmation that my intuitions about myself were reliable. So few doctors or psychologists are familiar with attention deficit disorder that people are forced to become self-cultivated experts by the time they find someone who can make a competent assessment. I was fortunate. As a physician, I could negotiate the medical labyrinth and seek the best sources of help. Within weeks of having written my columns on ADD, I was assessed by an excellent child psychiatrist who also sees adults with the disorder. She corroborated my self-diagnosis and began treatment, at first by prescribing Ritalin. She also spoke with me about how some of the choices I was making in life reinforced my ADD tendencies.

    My life, like that of many an adult with ADD, resembled a juggling act from the old Ed Sullivan show: a man spins plates, each balanced on a stick. He keeps adding more and more sticks and plates, running back and forth frantically between them as each stick, increasingly unsteady, threatens to topple over. He could keep this up only for so long before the sticks tottered and the plates began to shatter, or he himself collapsed. Something has to give, but the ADD personality has trouble letting go of anything. Unlike the juggler, he cannot stop the performance.

    With an impatience and lack of judgment characteristic of ADD, I had already begun to self-medicate, even before the formal diagnosis. A sense of urgency typifies attention deficit disorder, a desperation to have immediately whatever it is that one may desire at the moment, be it an object, an activity or a relationship. And there was something else here too, well expressed by a woman who some months later came for help. "It would be nice to get a break from myself at least for a little while," she said, a sentiment I fully understood. One longs to escape the fatiguing, ever-spinning, ever-churning mind. I took Ritalin in a higher than recommended initial dose on the very day I first heard about attention deficit disorder. Within minutes, I felt euphoric and present, experienced myself as full of insight and love. My wife thought I was acting weird. "You look stoned" was her immediate comment.

    I was not an undereducated teenager eager for kicks when I self-administered the Ritalin. Already in my fifties, I was a successful and respected family doctor whose columns of medical opinion were praised for their thoughtfulness. I practice medicine with a high value on avoiding pharmacology unless absolutely necessary, and needless to say, I have always advised patients against self-medicating. Such striking imbalance between intellectual awareness on the one hand and emotional and behavioral self-control on the other is characteristic of people with attention deficit disorder.

    This plunge into impulsiveness notwithstanding, I believed there was light at the end of the tunnel. The problem was clear, the remedy elegantly simple: certain parts of my brain were dormant half the time; all that needed to be done was to rouse them from slumber. The "good" parts of my brain would then take control, the calm, sane, mature, vigilant parts. It did not work out that way. Nothing much seemed to change in my life. There were new insights, but what had been good stayed good and what had been bad stayed bad. The Ritalin soon made me depressed. Dexedrine, the stimulant I was next prescribed, made me more alert and helped me become a more efficient workaholic.

    Since being diagnosed myself, I have seen hundreds of adults and children with attention deficit disorder. I now think that physicians and prescriptions for drugs have come to play a lopsidedly exaggerated role in the treatment of ADD. What begins as a problem of society and human development has become almost exclusively defined as a medical ailment. Even if in many cases medications do help, the healing ADD calls for is not a process of recovery from some illness. It is a process of becoming whole—which, it so happens, is the original sense of the word healing.

    There is no disputing the malfunctioning neurophysiology in what we call attention deficit disorder. It does not follow, however, that we can explain all the problems of the ADD mind simply by referring to the biology of out-of-balance neurochemicals and short-circuited neurological pathways. A patient and compassionate inquiry is needed if we are to identify the deeper meanings manifested in the crossed neural signals, troubled behaviors and psychological tumult that together have been named ADD.

    My three children also have attention deficit disorder—not diagnosed by me but according to evaluations at a hospital-based clinic. One has taken medication, with clear benefit, but none do so at the present time. In light of such a strong family history, it may seem surprising that I do not believe ADD is the almost purely genetic condition many people assume it to be. I do not see it as a fixed, inherited brain disorder but as a physiological consequence of life in a particular environment, in a particular culture. In many ways one can grow out of it, at any age. The first step is to discard the illness model, along with any notion that medications can offer more than a partial, stopgap response.

    A certain mystique has recently evolved around ADD, but—despite what many people think—it is not a recent discovery. In one form or another, it has been recognized in North America since 1902; its present pharmacologic treatment with psychostimulants was pioneered more than six decades ago. The names given to it and its exact descriptions have gone through several mutations. Its current definition is given in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, scripture and encyclopedia of the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM IV defines attention deficit disorder by its external features, not by its emotional meaning in the lives of individual human beings. It commits the faux pas of calling these external observations symptoms, whereas that word in medical language denotes a patient's own felt experience. External observations, no matter how acute, are signs. A headache is a symptom. A chest sound registered by the doctor's stethoscope is a sign. A cough is both a symptom and a sign. The DSM speaks the language of signs because the worldview of conventional medicine is unfamiliar with the language of the heart. As the UCLA child psychiatrist Daniel J. Siegel has said, "The DSM is concerned with categories, not with pain."

    ADD has much to do with pain, present in every one of the adults and children who have come to me for assessment. The deep emotional hurt they carry is telegraphed by the downcast, averted eyes, the rapid, discontinuous flow of speech, the tense body postures, the tapping feet and fidgety hands and by the nervous, self-deprecating humor. "Every aspect of my life hurts," a thirty-seven-year-old man told me during his second visit to my office. People express surprise when after a brief exchange I seem to be able to sense their pain and grasp their confused and conflicted history of emotions. "I'm speaking about myself," I tell them.

    At times I have wished that the "experts" and media pundits who deny the existence of attention deficit disorder could meet only a few of the severely affected adults who have sought my help. These men and women, in their thirties, forties and fifties, have never been able to maintain any sort of a long-term job or profession. They cannot easily enter meaningful, committed relationships, let alone stay in one. Some have never been able to read a book from cover to cover, some cannot even sit through a movie. Their moods fly back and forth from lethargy and dejection to agitation. The creative talents they have been blessed with have not been pursued. They are intensely frustrated at what they perceive as their failures. Their self-esteem is lost in some deep well. Most often they are firm in the conviction that their problems are the result of a basic, incorrigible flaw in their personalities.

    I would want any doubting Thomases to read and consider the autobiographical sketch submitted to me by John, a fifty-one-year-old unemployed single man. With his permission, I quote it exactly as written:

Had Jobs work Do my Best I could never good enough, when people Talk to me they ask me if I Listening or I seem Bored. Shown emotion or I drift off or when I get to do Something can't finish it or start doing Something then eye start Something else. when I sometimes most of the time wait till Last minite To do things. Get a anxous feeling got to do it or else. feel pressured. Seem to mindwonder or daydream. for ever misplacing, loosing things, can't remember where I put Something away. "forgetful" confused, jumbled thinking. get mad about nothing people ask me whats wrong I say nothing. I can't seem to get what people want from me can't understand. when I was a kid. couldnt sit still figety. Report cards in school would always have something like doesn't pay Attention in class, doesn't sit still took me longer to Learn or understand. Always was in trouble was stuck sitting in front of class or in back of class or principal's office (strapped) been tied down in chair, always seeing counsellors, teachers always saying sit still be quiet. Sent to sit out in hall my dad was always telling me to sit still what lazy bum I am my room. was always yelling at me.

John's speech is far more articulate than his writing but no less poignant. "My dad," he said, "always rubbed my nose in it, that I should have been a doctor or a lawyer, or else I wouldn't amount to anything. After my parents divorced, the only time they would talk to each other was when my mother called my dad to say 'give him heck.' ... I saw a video last week," he added. "Its title expressed how I feel: I Am Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired."

    Patients are graphic about their feeling states, often almost lyrical. "Ah," a forty-seven-year-old man said with a discouraged wave of the hand and a smile that was resigned and mischievous at the same time, "my life is just so much soup and garbage can." What those words mean exactly, I could not say. Like poetry, they convey their meaning through the feelings and word associations they evoke. "Landed in the soup." "Fog as thick as soup." "Soup kitchen." "Treated like a piece of garbage." "I feel like garbage." Images of distress, loneliness and confusion, presented with a tinge of humor. The strangely dissonant imagery tells also of a troubled soul who found reality harsh—so harsh that the mind had to be fragmented in order to fragment the pain.

Table of Contents

Author's Note

PART ONE: The Nature of Attention Deficit Disorder

1 So Much Soup and Garbage Can
2 Many Roads Not Traveled
3 We Could All Go Crazy
4 A Conflictual Marriage: ADD and the Family (I)
5 Forgetting to Remember the Future

PART TWO: How the Brain Develops and How the Circuits and Chemistry of ADD Arise

6 Different Worlds: Heredity and the Environments of Childhood
7 Emotional Allergies: ADD and Sensitivity
8 A Surrealistic Choreography
9 Attunement and Attachment
10 The Footprints of Infancy

PART THREE: The Roots of ADD in Family and Society

11 An Utter Stranger: ADD and the Family (II)
12 Stories within Stories: ADD and the Family (III)
13 This Most Frenetic of Cultures: The Social Roots of ADD

PART FOUR: The Meaning of ADD Traits

14 Severed Thoughts and Flibbertigibbets: Distractibility and Tuning Out
15 The Pendulum Swings: Hyperactivity, Lethargy and Shame

PART FIVE: The ADD Child and Healing

16 It Ain't over Till It's over: Unconditional Positive Regard
17 Wooing the Child
18 Like Fish in the Sea
19 Just Looking for Attention
20 The Defiant Ones: Oppositionality
21 Defusing Counterwill
22 My Marshmallow Caught Fire: Motivation and Autonomy
23 Trusting the Child, Trusting Oneself: ADD in the Classroom
24 Always on My Case: Teenagers


25 Justifying One's Existence: Self-Esteem
26 Memories Are Made of This
27 Remembering What Didn't Happen: The ADD Relationship
28 Moses Saved by the Angel: Self-Parenting (I)
29 The Physical and Spiritual Environment: Self-Parenting (II)
30 In Place of Tears and Sorrow: Addictions and the ADD Brain

PART SEVEN: Conclusion

31 I Never Saw the Trees: What Medications Can and Cannot Do
32 What It Means to Attend


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Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do about It 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Rasharami More than 1 year ago
I am probably not an unbiased reader. I was an adult in my forties and in Medical School when I discovered I had ADD. The author was a Medical Doctor in his fifties when he discovered he had ADD. ADD is a learning disorder that can obviously be compensated to some extent, but I am telling you it is much HARDER to compensate when you are not informed about this disorder and not treating it. This author answered questions I have asked myself about how I got to this point and how to identify changes in my environment and the environment of my own children (who are technically undiagnosed ADD but have many traits of the diagnosis). The book talks about the emotional and biological effects of stressors present in upbringing that can amplify or induce the disorder and this information helps me to find solutions. It also helps with the emotional effects of living life with a disorder that can sometimes be shameful. The author is brutally honest about his own struggles and for this I can't be grateful enough.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This phenomenal book, Scattered, by Dr. Gabor Mate, goes beyond causing us to totally rethink anything we thought we knew about Attention Deficit Disorder. Dr. Mate introduces us to an eye- opening concept that the cause of ADD is that children (he explains that it's due to what is called a lack of attunement between parent and child) are often not registering and processing the love of even the most caring parents. The author does a masterful job of explaining why this is so. Suddenly, one appreciates just how much knowledge and awareness must go in to the complex job of parenting. Dr. Mate truly has a gift for sharing this information in a way that will mesmerize readers of this inspiring book. After reading Scattered, many will no doubt come to the realization that they, or someone they love, may suffer from ADD or Adult ADD. I owe Dr. Mate a debt of gratitude for clarifying why so many people are experiencing such hurt and pain. Needless to say, I recommend this book as being crucially important for anyone who has reached a point of desperation in terms of understanding the cause of their emotional problems. This book should be mandatory reading for every teacher ¿ for anyone who works with children. Thank you, Dr. Mate for his groundbreaking work that could change the world by impacting on all the generations to come.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Every parent with an ADD or ADHD child should read this book. It opened new ideas for us to explore with our child. We took him off Ritalin over a year ago and have used info from this book to guide us on a new path of recovery.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gabor Mate has it exactly right. There are reasons children become ADHD. They float in an unconscious world where priorities are upside down. The opposite of scattered is attached. The opposite of asleep is awake. This book reminds us that our love, kindness, compassion, reliability and dependability are solutions of utmost importance to restoring happiness and vitality to children.
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BikeUSA More than 1 year ago
This book provided answers to many questions I had about myself and the way I sometimes behave. While I do not believe am ADD or ADHD, I do believe that some parts of this apply, and the remedies/discussions in this book can apply to understanding anyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Since my son was diagnosed with ADD I have been trying to better understand. This book gives great incite into ADD. Would recommend this book to anyone who has a child or spouse who has ADD. Refreshing !
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