The following is an un-edited letter I sent to a friend, similar to the one on Processed Foods. It represents a set of personal beliefs developed through experience, failure, and success. While I believe much of this to be dead-on there is much to disagree with. I welcome an open debate:)
For thousands of years humans lived easily without ADD and ADHD “diseases.” It’s not that these symptoms didn’t exist rather it is that our lifestyles have changed. There is an increasing focus of daily life on controlled seated conditions for an ever increasing amount of people. This is a relatively new environment for humans and our culture has not yet learned how to function in it.
There are basic skills one can learn to alleviate the symptoms of ADD and ADHD, that if not taught by adulthood lead to destructive habits. The foundation of these skills is helping the individual to become self aware. Creating a sense of when things are normal and when they are not. Once that recognition can happen a series of coping mechanisms can be put into play. More on that later, but first some more background.
ADD as a problem (and not a disease) has been studied and worked on for decades in the field of education. The Montessori school system has developed a method of teaching that they believe is superior to public education, while also helping to alleviate the problems of ADHD. Of course their schools are only as effective as the parents allow it to be. Parents are a major problem in education because they often endured harsh conditions without learning these skills and expect their children to endure as well, though for much longer (college and graduate school).
The real battle in our public schools is not over testing but over new teaching styles. To improve the quality of our education we need to teach our students better. School testing is only a measure of how effective these new styles are. The most effective styles to date ironically focus on alleviating the root causes of ADHD, things like group work, outdoor activities, large projects with structured tasks, etc.
Understanding this history in American education helps explain some key issues involved with ADHD, namely culture, environment, and adults. For a child we can help to control all three and make the process of dealing with ADHD easier. For an adult the process is like hardened cement, only making progress through blasting old concrete and recasting new pieces.
Back to the original “cure.” The first step is to become self aware. Doing this often requires a trusted friend. One who can tell the person that they are exhibiting the behavior. It is hard on both parties to develop this routine since ADHD manifests itself in many ways, through boredom, anxiety, depression, over-excitement, and most importantly the individual is unaware of their own behavior. With practice and experience this becomes easily explained and noticed.
The second step is to develop a range of support tactics to employ when suffering an attack. This involves the individual being self aware of the issue and then selecting the right tactic, or trying several until one helps. The tactics can be anything from taking a long walk to reading a magazine. They are entirely situational and often require a fair amount of practice. They act like a bridge where one side is normal and the other side is normal. ADHD acts like the river in the middle always ready to sidetrack and take you away through panic, anxiety, or whatever. Having a bridge allows one to cope during the attack, let it subside, and then safely arrive at normal again.
ADHD is not the scourge of the modern world. It is a problem in our society that only a few truly understand, the rest suffer from it. To fix it requires a simple yet focused set of skills applied over time with another trusted individual. For children this trusted individual is often the parents or a teacher. For an adult it is a boyfriend, friend, or coworker. For those without any of these people it is a drug addiction.