"You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! A Self-Help Book for Adults With Attention Deficit Disorder" Kelly and Ramundo

Pros: Enlightening; practical; supportive; positive; LOTS of information
Cons: Published in 1996–some info will be out of date
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 7/18/2003

It’s amazing what stress can do to people. In my case, it left me completely restless, constantly in motion, unable to settle down or stick with a task. I walked endless loops around the ground floor of my house, thinking “I’ll check my email,” or “I should get a drink of water,” and somehow ending up wasting hours walking in circles, usually without even realizing it. Then one day I happened to remember something. When I was a child I was told I was hyperactive. This was before ADD (attention deficit disorder) and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) were quite such popular terms, and we controlled my symptoms with diet rather than medication. When I hit high school the symptoms seemed to fade away, so I forgot all about it.

When I remembered all of this, I wondered if maybe my symptoms hadn’t gone away as permanently as I thought. I poked around a bit, but most of the ADD resources out there are for parents of kids with ADD–popularly ADD is thought of as a childhood disorder. Finally I found Peggy Ramundo and Kate Kelly’s “You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid Or Crazy?! A Self-Help Book for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder.” In it the authors point out that oftentimes a child’s ADD doesn’t actually go away; it just changes and becomes a bit more subtle. So there are plenty of adults who think they got better (or who were never diagnosed as children) who suffer from ADD.

The Authors’ Qualifications

Both authors have been involved in studying ADD for quite a while. Kate Kelly has a background as a psychiatric nurse, therapist, and clinical coordinator for psychobiological research. Peggy Ramundo is a teacher with a background in learning disabilities and behavior disorders. Both women have also been diagnosed with ADD, so they speak from personal experience as well as the experience of others.

The Information on ADD/ADHD

Because of the popularity of ADD/ADHD as a diagnosis for rambunctious kids, many people believe that it’s a diagnosis given to troublesome kids who really just need some strong parenting. As someone who had ADD as a kid, I can guarantee you that there’s more to it than that (I’m told that from 9 months of age to 15 months of age I slept for literally one hour out of every 24. Pity my mother). The authors explain that “Some experts consider ADD an extreme in the range of normal temperamental differences.” These behaviors are a continuum, so it can be difficult to tell the difference between a child with ADD and a child with some other sort of “issue.”

ADD is “a disorder of the central nervous system (CNS) characterized by disturbances in the areas of attention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity.” It can cause problems like difficulties in filtering sensory input, or reading people’s body language, or recalling memories when put on the spot. People with ADD might be afraid of talking on the phone or participating in social events, or they might be pushy and constantly talkative. Many of them believe themselves to be lazy or stupid because they have such trouble concentrating and focusing (when you can’t easily filter extraneous sensory input, staying focused on one thing can be extremely difficult).

Don’t worry, though. While the authors stress that your symptoms are not your fault, they also stress that it’s important to develop coping mechanisms, learn to compensate for your deficiencies, and get treatment. This isn’t some “it isn’t your fault so go relax and tell other people to take care of you” kind of thing. There’s a difference between finding out the reasons behind what you do so you can deal with it, and using those reasons as excuses.

And it’s important to realize that these things aren’t your fault. Because while you’re constantly beating yourself up for being an idiot, it’s awfully hard to concentrate on coping strategies.

Coping Strategies

I was dreading these. I fully expected the authors to tell me that I was just going to have to sit down and do those things that I hated over and over so that I’d feel more comfortable with them–and believe me, I’ve already tried that with bad results. I cannot describe the intense feeling of relief I felt when I discovered that the opposite was true. The authors instead suggest that where possible, you avoid doing the things that your disorder makes difficult. After all, doing them causes you a great deal of stress, and stress worsens your ADD symptoms. The authors instead suggest that you work hard to figure out what you are good at and get creative about finding ways to use those skills to your advantage. Besides, the assertion that people with ADD should just “buckle down” and do the things they have trouble with rests primarily on the assumption that they really are just lazy, whereas they’ve actually come to fear these activities because of particular difficulties in dealing with them.

Note that I say “where possible” in reference to avoiding things you have trouble with. The authors recognize that you can’t always choose not to do things. So they fill a great many pages of this fairly long book with creative coping strategies.

They’ll teach you to study your own work patterns to discover when you are most attentive and focused, and they’ll help you develop a realistic schedule for yourself. There’s plenty of material to help you with those slippery areas of communication (like phone calls and social events). Hints range from writing down a script before you make a phone call to putting a brightly-colored piece of poster-board behind something that you’re trying to focus on (the better to draw your attention to it).

There are plenty of tips for getting organized (both in a space-and-clutter sort of way and in a time-and-events sort of way). In many cases these are somewhat standard hints, but they’ve been customized to account for some of the particular needs of people with ADD. For instance, the authors mention that one suggestion they’ve seen is to put a sort of “hot file” of important things that need to be done in a file cabinet where you can go back to it often. However, they make the point that for people with ADD out of sight is usually out of mind, and you should keep those important things somewhere where you can’t help seeing them every day.

They even deal with family dynamics. After all, it’s believed that ADD may be largely hereditary, and when you team up an ADD parent or two with an ADD child or two, things can really get out of control! They talk about mealtimes, outings, boundary issues, family contracts, and so on. And as always, they take the particular needs of people with ADD into account.

They also delve into memory. How does memory work? How does memory work for people with ADD? And what can you do to try to improve your memory?

The Down-and-Dirty

The authors start off with a bit of a chat about neurochemicals, brain systems, and theories about how ADD works in the brain. It’s kept simple and interesting (the little cartoons don’t hurt). There’s even some information on the ways in which ADD can be easily confused with (or found bundled together with) other disorders.

Later on there’s also a discussion of medications and therapies (both standard therapies and a few alternative therapies). Obviously some of this information is out of date now (the book was published in 1996), but on the other hand, it isn’t meant to be a comprehensive analysis of medications to enable you to decide on one. It’s meant instead to be an introduction to the various issues you need to be aware of with respect to medication–how long it takes to work, when and how it might wear off, the kinds of side effects you might encounter, the different types of drugs, the arguments for and against medication, and so on. It’s meant as a key to help you know what questions to ask your doctor–not as “the answer.” And in that, I think it succeeds despite any out of date information.

The Attitude Clinches It

What really sold me on the book is the attitude of the authors. While they don’t downplay the seriousness of ADD and the struggles of people who have it, they do take care to point out its strong points (such as a tendency toward creativity) and to share stories of various people with ADD who’ve found success in their lives by making use of their own unique skills and interests. They also share plenty of information about the symptoms and possible effects of ADD. You might be surprised to find out that things you thought were simple laziness on your part, or stupidity, could be effects of your illness.

Reading this book has been very enlightening for me. Whether or not I have ADD (and I understand that I can’t determine that from a book–you need to actually see a professional familiar with ADD to find out) this book has done me a lot of good. It’s taught me a number of coping mechanisms that will make things easier, and it’s eased a lot of the guilt for the things that aren’t entirely under my control. I have no doubt that anyone with ADD or ADD-like behaviors could learn something useful from this book.

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