Driven To Distraction
Adults are as scatterbrained as kids. And the disorder may be rooted in basic biology
Which is the point, says Hallowell, of the group format for couples with ADD. "Medication is only the beginning for adults with ADD, and many of them decide not to take it," he says. "What people with ADD need are concrete coping strategies for organization, time management, and procrastination. And we hope that people come away with some understanding of what life is like for the other. And some ability to laugh at the stuff that is hard."
Today, one need only look at Eric Johnson for proof of this. Tall and powerfully built, with a long dark ponytail and a level gaze, he is one of the 50 percent of children who did not outgrow ADD. College graduation and the official transition from childhood to adulthood came as a shock to his system. All the organizing constraints were removed, and he became totally disorganized, a poster child for the unique demands and complexities of having the disorder as an adult. "I basically had to figure out where I would fit in the adult world, and I hadn't thought about it," he says. His inability to organize himself, to somehow avoid the impulsive first remark, to simply pay attention, had messed up more than a few job interviews before he finally landed a job at a printing company six years ago. He continues to draw, freelances, and plans to go to graduate school to study illustration, a uniquely appropriate job for a mind able to make associative leaps most people can't.
Then there is his personal life, happy now as he lives with his girlfriend, Laura Kleinman, in a tiny apartment on Boston's Beacon Hill. All this despite a disastrous first meeting with Laura's parents in which he spent most of the time with his back turned to her father while checking out the books in the bookcase. "It was," Kleinman says, laughing and shaking her head, "a ludicrously painful experience."
It is this humor, this resiliency, this ability to turn the symptoms of ADD into something other than an indictment that is the key to managing ADD as an adult. Kleinman knows that Johnson's ADD tendencies camouflage his blazing intelligence, great artistic talent, and wild sense of humor.
For all the life problems and grim statistics surrounding ADD, the disorder has many positive elements. "I tell patients that if you are going to have anything, this is the disorder to have," says Brian Cohen, a therapist at the Hallowell Center who also has ADD. "It is like training a dragon on a leash. It may drag you around for years, but once you get it under control, you own all the magic and energy, and it's yours forever."