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Is There a Positive Side to ADD?

Are more of us showing the symptoms of attention deficit disorder because modern life encourages, even demands, those traits? Maybe ADD confers some sort of adaptive advantage in today’s world.

OMG, do u have ADD??? If we were more into texting than talking, that’s how my friends would tease me. I don’t mind. I know where they’re coming from.

A recent conversation pinballed from the AL East pennant race to the midterm elections to the season premiere of Glee to the fun and inspiring home blog Design*Sponge to the chipotle pork cheeseburgers I was making for dinner to how we’re turning into our moms. (Of course, my friend kept up with me so maybe she has ADD too.)

Seriously, though, so many people, both children and adults, are being diagnosed with ADD these days that I looked up the symptoms. I don’t have problems concentrating or the emotional difficulties associated with adult attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (that’s the technical term). But some of the other symptoms sounded familiar.

Hyperfocus (paradoxically, people with ADD can get so zoned in on tasks they find interesting that they’re oblivious to what’s going on around them). Just ask my co-executive editor Rick how he’s startled me so badly that I jump out of my chair simply by walking into my office and saying good morning when my eyes are glued to my computer monitor and I’m deep into editing a story. Disorganization? Have you seen my desk lately? Impulsiveness? I’ve been working to curb my tendency to talk over people. Hyperactivity, as in fidgeting and trouble sitting still, talking too much and too quickly, doing a gazillion things at once? Check, check and check.

Was this something I should worry about? I asked my brother, who’s a school psychologist. “You don’t have ADD,” he assured me. Most of us exhibit some of these symptoms some of the time, he explained. It’s only when you have many of them most or all of the time and they get in the way of living a productive life that a diagnosis is warranted. “But if you were a kid with those symptoms,” my brother admitted, “you’d definitely be brought in for an assessment.”

Hmm. ADD is an increasingly common diagnosis. Is that due to greater awareness, or is there something else at work? Let me be clear: I don’t mean severe ADD/ADHD, which can lead to difficulty holding on to jobs, serious financial problems, ruined relationships.

But I wonder if more of us are showing the symptoms listed above because modern life encourages, even demands, those traits. We’re constantly bombarded with stimuli. Maybe jumping from one thing to another, skipping over what doesn’t grab us and zoning in on what’s rewarding are ways to cope with information overload. Doing a gazillion things at once…isn’t that also known as multitasking, which is a requirement for most jobs? Maybe ADD confers some sort of adaptive advantage in today’s world, and the traits associated with it have positives as well as negatives. Maybe they aren’t symptoms but survival skills. Something to think about, isn’t it?

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