What is ADD / ADHD?

In the previous column, we spoke about why folks with Asperger's tend to correct people. In essence, they process words in an unnaturally fussy manner. This is similar to how eighteen month olds process words. They feel compelled to repeat them precisely, and they have no real awareness of how this feels to a person on the other end of this.

The key to understanding people with Asperger's then lies in the phrase, "compulsive verbal precision forced on others." Folks with Asperger's literally cannot stand to hear to vagueness, especially conceptual vagueness. Hence their compulsion to correct anyone whom they hear speaking vaguely, or imprecisely, or with anything less than professorial comprehension. Fussy. Fussy. Fussy. Anything less is simply a waste of time and unacceptable.

In this column, we're going to look at the people who, by nature, lie at the other end of the fussy / fuzzy continuum. These folks rarely correct people; they know all too well what this feels like. They also often feel like being asked to find the right words is boring, or a waste of time, or next to impossible. Thus they tend to be the folks Aspie's correct the most. Of whom am I talking? Why the unnaturally fuzzy minded people of the world, of course. The folks who have ADD.

What exactly is ADD? Word wise, it's an acronym for Attention Deficit Disorder. Or as fussy minded folks out there refer to it these days, ADHD; attention deficits with or without hyperactivity.

Please realize these words in no way offer us any real clues as to what underlies this condition. In fact, the only way to get a real sense of what underlies ADHD is to set aside the "hyperactivity" part while at the same time, doing your best to disregard any and all images which may pop into your head as to what "attention deficits" may look like.

Let me get right to the point. Not everyone with ADHD is hyperactive. More important, this should tell you something about the ADHD label. We all have attention deficits, even Aspie's. Thus defining ADHD as an attention deficit sometimes accompanied by hyperactivity does more to confuse the issue than to help. And yes, I know what I've just said is anathema to many in the medical community especially when, from the outside, folks with ADHD do appear to have attention deficits. In reality though, defining ADHD as attention deficits is more like defining manic depression as mood swings. Duh! Of course this is true, but so what. My point is, defining ADHD as attention deficits is next to useless, as it does nothing to define the actual underlying condition.

What is ADHD then? ADHD is an unnatural state of mind and body wherein people instantly and compulsively digress. These folks literally try to pay attention to too many things at once. They then get lost and end up either sinking into an inner mental labyrinth of blankness or they seek escape by blurting out the first words that come to mind.

Why do they blurt out the first words which come to mind? Because blurting out these words feels better than standing there looking like an idiot. Doing this quickly also satisfies the educational world's misconception that quick answers imply learning. It also resembles the quick mindedness we think makes us clever or sly, as well as being a doable way to escape the pain of being lost in a wordlessly amorphous state of mind.

Now take a moment to take all these images in. Can you picture what it feels like to have ADHD? You get asked a question. Then you stand there, blank and stuck, hoping to out wait the questioner until they give up and just move on. Know how many wives misread this as that their spouse doesn't love them enough to talk? Or parents that their child doesn't care about learning? And when I suggest to these wives or parents that this is not the case, they say things like, "then why don't they answer me?" Why? Because this person has ADHD.

Sometimes, too, the person answers but only after what feels like a long time to the questioner. To which the questioning wife responds with that the husband's answer isn't sincere. He's saying it only because it's what she wants to hear it. Or if it's a child being helped with homework and she answers after a time, then it's assumed she could be finding the answers more quickly if only she would try harder. Not really. But it does look like this.

Most important of all, can you imagine how bad it feels when even simple questions evoke this kind of pressure in a person? Perhaps this why folks with ADHD prefer having the wrong words to no words. And why quickly spitting out the first words which come to mind feels better than being slow to respond with the right words. Now add to this that when people with ADHD can't answer quickly, they hear things like, "come on now, you can do it if you try" or worse; "did you forget to take your medication again?," or "quit stalling and just spit it out." Really makes a person feel like talking is going to be fun, don't you think?

What about you? Have compulsive digressions been a way of life for you? If not, then please allow me to offer you a few brief visual insights into what is really happening here. Why visual? Because insights make sense only to those who can visualize them, which is why we call them "in - sights" rather than "in - logic" (sigh).

What does someone with ADHD look like then? How, in fact, can you know if you have ADHD?

  • The easiest way to test people for ADHD is to ask them a question then notice what happens to their eyes. The simpler the question, the better. For instance, asking people what their favorite color is can be a good ADHD test. As can asking them what they'd like for lunch, or what they ate last night.
  • What do the eyes of folks with ADHD look like when they are being asked a question? Before I tell you, I first need you to know that in order for this look to make sense, you need to see it as being on the opposite end of the spectrum from what the eyes of folks who have Asperger's look like. The core requirement one needs to know in order to accurately gauge this test then is how folks with ADHD look when being asked a question as opposed to what folks with Asperger's look like.
  • Let's do the Aspie's first. What do folks with Asperger's look like when they're being asked a question? If you watch closely, you'll feel like their eyes are reaching out into the world, often with a sense of positive anticipation. Their eyes will literally widen a bit, sometimes quite a bit, and if you are an intuitive type, you can almost feel they are reaching out toward you, wanting to give you their answer.
  • This look is very similar to how the eyes of eighteen month olds look when you ask them a question; widened with positive anticipation. The eyes of folks with ADHD will appear to be the exact opposite. The eyes of folks with ADHD will appear to be receding inward, often in a suddenly blank and or guarded manner and with an overarching air of negative anticipation.
  • Know this look resembles children at an early age too, in this case, the look two and a half year olds give you when you ask them something. Thus if you contrast and compare the eyes of eighteen month olds being asked a question with the eyes of two and a half year olds, you'll have a good basic sense of what to look for.
  • Now try visualizing what I've just said about ADHD. Eyes which appear to be receding inward, often in a suddenly blank and or guarded manner, with an overarching air of negative anticipation. This look closely matches the annoyed eyes of a two year old being asked to pay attention. Or being asked to learn something, or shown something, or being told to answer a question.
  • These pictures are a good way to begin to assess someone for ADHD. They can also be used to infer what is happening inside of the minds of folks with ADHD. Withdrawing in a guarded manner versus the positive out reaching of Aspie's. Big difference, right? More important, this happens to people with ADHD even when they are being asked simple questions.
  • Thus were you to watch a film in slow motion of their reaction to being asked a question, you'd realize the blunt "get away from me" part of their response is actually their secondary response. Their primary response is actually that they feel compelled to find the right answer and so, digress into blankness. Realize too that this response is so much a part of their nature that it happens to them even when the question being asked is something they readily know, like what they ate last night.
  • This in fact is what makes this test for ADHD so revealing. These easily observed responses are involuntary responses. Thus they offer us the best clues to the true nature of people with ADHD.
  • What about their motives for not answering? Can't you logically infer their motives from observing them? In truth, if they're going blank, they cannot be choosing to do anything. You cannot chose what you cannot see, and all motive assumes mental access to choice.

How are you doing so far? Feeling any scientific skepticism right now? If so, good for you. Nothing truly new ever becomes intuitively obvious until much debate has passed. For now, I merely ask that you allow me to try to teach you something about the nature of discovering new ideas; the idea that all new discoveries are rooted in learning to recognize a previously unseen visual pattern. Einstein, Newton, Descartes, whomever. It doesn't matter. They each discovered previously unseen visual patterns.

The thing that's especially important to know is that, with all natural things, these patterns are always fractal in nature. Including the patterns which define ADHD as ADHD. How do I define patterns as being "fractal patterns?" They are "recognizable visual patterns which always repeat differently." As opposed to the holy grail of the today's statistically based sciences, wherein the only acceptable test for truth is "recognizable numeric patterns which always repeat identically." The closer to identical, the better.

Did you notice that the difference between these two ways of evaluating things? For the most part it lies in the last word; repeats "differently" versus repeats "identically." This is what makes using lists of symptoms to evaluate someone for ADHD fail. Despite the statistical evidence behind each of these symptoms, at the single person level, each symptom may or may not be present. Why not? Because ADHD never repeats identically. Not even in the same person on different days.

Contrast this way of knowing things with how we might determine if a leaf is an oak leaf. And yes, oak leaves are simpler than people. Still, the method we'd use to identify them both, in theory, should be the same. Right? Good science should be good science regardless of what we're testing for, yes? Surprisingly, most people would not use science's chosen method though. We'd intuitively use the very opposite method. We'd look for recognizable patterns which repeat differently, as opposed to patterns which repeat identically. Identical patterns appear only in artificial oak leaves, right? Real ones always repeat differently.

This simple test for truth is how a nine year old can so readily identify a leaf as an oak leaf. How? He recognizes the visual pattern which always repeats differently. This is why the differences we see between oak leaves never really matter, and why once we learn what an oak leaf looks like we know this pattern for life. The differences we see never matter, because we are not cross checking against a list for what we are supposed to see. We are looking only for a recognizable visual pattern.

Now consider how this concept holds true for identifying all natural objects, clouds to snow flakes, smiles to yawns. In each case it's the visual pattern we learn to identify, not a list of conditions. Moreover once we learn this pattern, we then recognize this thing for life. Easily, and with one hundred percent certainty.

Imagine being able to diagnose ADHD with this much ease and degree of certainty? How much more could we help people with ADHD. In effect, we'd be diagnosing them with one hundred percent certainty. Moreover, unlike cross checking people's behaviors against written lists of possible symptoms, wherein folks are considered to have ADHD merely because they appear to have more of these things than chance would allow, with fractal patterns, what you see is one hundred percent true. Either a person has ADHD or they do not. It's this simple. Can you imagine?

Please know that fully grasping this point is anything but simple. In effect, I'm saying that we should be using the same method to identify ADHD as we'd use to identify oak leaves and smiles. Moreover, I'm also saying that the only truly scientific way to know the nature of ADHD is to learn to recognize the fractal patterns which define it. Recognizable patterns like eyes reaching out, widening a bit, and feeling positive versus eyes receding inward, narrowing a bit, and feeling squirmy are just such fractal patterns. This makes identifying and learning to recognize these kinds of patterns enormously important in everything from diagnosing and understanding ADHD to knowing how best to help.

Not convinced yet as to the importance of learning to recognize these kinds of patterns? Know you've been using this kind of pattern recognition to test for truth all your life. As babies, we learn to recognize these kinds of patterns in our mother's face within minutes of being born. Moreover, know it or not, we continue to rely on these kinds of visual patterns for the rest of our lives.

Want to experience this for yourself? The next time you meet someone, before you speak one word, take a moment to consciously take in what you see on person's face. Then ask yourself who this person reminds you of. Take your time. This test only works if it's the first thing you do.

Now watch how you feel as the conversation unfolds, paying close attention to how your "first visual impression" sets the tone for what you expect this person to be like. This impression can often lead us to immediately like or dislike a person, including that some of what we expect may eventually turn out to be wrong.

In a way then, what I'm saying here about the eye patterns of folks with ADHD is that these patterns tell us far more than words like "distraction" can ever tell us, including things like that these folks are frequently more motivated to learn than has previously been thought. Unfortunately, our first impressions of people with ADHD appear to make them the very opposite. They often appear to be folks who have no interest in learning when in fact, any teacher who gets an ADHD kid to be interested knows this impression is utter nonsense. When focused, kids with ADHD love learning just as much as the other kids. We think otherwise mainly because we judge what we see on their faces to mean disinterest.

What would you find if you were to spend some time exploring these visual patterns? You'd find a very simple truth. That beneath it all, people with ADHD simply focus too much on escaping their need to have the right answer, and not enough on taking their time, whereas folks with Asperger's focus too much on having the right answer, and not enough on having good questions.

Now picture what I've just described, the basic difference between ADHD and Asperger's. Said more simply, the biggest difference between these two conditions lies in the speed at which these two kinds of folks process words. Now ask yourself how true these two visual patterns of speed feel in your body? Now trust your gut. Attention deficits are not even close to what you see. Digressing into bluntness is the real deal here. And speed is the clue to the underlying problem.

Does it still sound like what I'm suggesting here is more based on vague guesswork than on hard science? If so, then try this. Try watching a foreign film wherein you have no knowledge of the language being spoken. Now turn off the subtitles and continue watching. After a few moments, ask yourself how well you can understand the gist of what is going on just from what you're seeing. You'll be surprised at how much you can sense merely by watching the fractal patterns of body language and such.

Even more to the point, try reading a line of text wherein you cover up the bottom half of the words. You'll be stunned at how much of the gist of these words you can get even from just seeing the fractal visual patterns of the upper halves of these words. Scientists use this test to reveal the underlying nature of learning language, including that much of what we think we read or hear is never actually there. The nature of typos, remember?

Okay, yes. This is a lot to take in. Moreover reading through all this is a whole lot harder to do than if I were to have simply given you a list of the symptoms for ADHD. The thing is, if you've gotten even the vaguest sense of how we learn to identify oak leaves, then you have the first clue as to how best to identify folks with ADHD.

How do we best help people with ADHD? Obviously, it's complicated. What I can tell you at this point though is this. The key to knowing how best to help folks with ADHD has been in front of us all along, right there, in plain sight. Moreover the proof for this being true lies in a single, simple question. The question? Why does taking a medication which speeds up a person's sense of time help people with ADHD to focus? Go slow now and for Pete's sake, don't look for the answer with logic alone.

What does a person's sense of time have to do with ADHD anyway? Remember, you cannot arrive at a truly scientific answer unless you discover the underlying visual patterns which always repeat differently. The Einstein and Newton thing, remember, as in that the underlying fractal patterns are the only real way to scientifically define anything in the natural world.

In the next column, I'll reveal the fractal which underlies ADHD. I'll also show you a simple way to change a lot of this. A clue. It has everything to do with something I've been mentioning here; the person's sense of time. How could knowing this help? I'll tell you next time.

Steven Paglierani is a writer, teacher, personality theorist, and therapist whose work on human consciousness is read weekly by thousands all over the world. He is the author of the first fractal personality theory; Emergence Personality Theory, and his mission is to make the world better for children by restoring and deepening their love of learning.