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Attention Deficit Disorder -
Not just for kids
By Teresa Peneguy Paprock

Maybe you know him. He might be the guy in the cubicle next to yours at work, the fellow who has lots of great ideas but never sees them to fruition. His notes get lost in the mounds of paper on his desk; he’s late to meetings and often seems to have his mind on something other than the topic at hand. Yet, he’s an asset to the company – because when he’s at the top of his game, he produces like no one else.


It’s possible that he has Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD – that’s right, the condition that so many kids today take Ritalin for. But isn’t ADD a childhood thing? Actually, no. While many children with ADD (or its whirlwind cousin, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – ADHD) eventually develop coping mechanisms to improve their performance and appear to “outgrow” the condition, the disorder usually persists throughout one’s life. It’s estimated that between one-half to two-thirds of children diagnosed with attention deficit will still have significant problems as adults.


And since it wasn’t until 1978 that the medical community recognized that adults could have ADD, many adults who are frustrated by behaviors such as forgetfulness, procrastination, disorganization, inability to concentrate, and difficulties in relationships and on the job may well have a diagnosable (and treatable) neurobehavioral developmental disorder and don’t know it.


Adults don’t “get” ADD. In fact, to be diagnosed with the condition, adults must have had symptoms since childhood. ADD is recognized as a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act. But it’s not a disability many adults want to cop to. While many are relieved to have a diagnosis, “Getting diagnosed as an adult can be a very emotional experience,” says Kristin Fleming, moderator of the Madison Area CHADD Parent Support Group.


Adults worry about the stigma of being diagnosed with a “children’s” disorder – a disorder that some people believe doesn’t really exist at all. An article in the ERIC (Education Resources Information Center) Digest says, “Fear of stigma, shame, and denial can interfere with seeking help.”


The national organization, CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), provides specific information for adults at; topics include functioning in the workplace, in the military, and as a parent.


Because ADD appears to have a strong genetic component, many parents of children with ADD contact the Madison CHADD chapter for help only to “recognize themselves in the literature and go out and get diagnosed as well,” says Fleming. “I think the CHADD Parent Support Group's biggest strength is offering a judgment-free environment where parents can come and talk about their lives. Living in an ADHD household is stressful.  It doesn't matter if the house is two adults, a single parent and children, or two parents and children, it's not easy.”


Unfortunately, she says, “There isn't a Madison area group specifically for ADHD adults. This is really a need here; it would allow adults to talk only about the issues facing them, issues at work, issues at home, issues in their relationships.”    


So what signs and symptoms might lead an adult to seek a diagnosis? According to CHADD:


  • Poor attention; excessive distractibility
  • Physical restlessness or hyperactivity
  • Excessive impulsivity; saying or doing things without thinking
  • Excessive and chronic procrastination
  • Difficulty getting started on tasks
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Frequently losing things
  • Poor organization, planning, and time management skills
  • Excessive forgetfulness


A diagnosis; then what? The best results come from a combination of medication and therapy. ADD is generally treated with a stimulant; several are available and, as with any psychotropic medication, people may need to experiment a bit to see which one is right for them.


Then there is the “talk” aspect of the treatment. Catherine Enos Mandt, M.S., M.A., provides ADHD “coaching” at Elkhart Psychological Services in Monona. With ADD in her family, and her husband Dr. Larry Mandt specializing in adult ADHD treatment, “It seemed like a natural thing to do, and I got into (the field) just when it was beginning, about seven years ago.”


Unlike conventional psychotherapy, coaching is “more directive, more hands-on, and deals with the practicality of daily life,” she says. “We work on organizing, procrastination, follow-through and time management.” Enos Mandts’ clients range in age from the late teens to their mid-60s. Coaching does not take the place of medication, she says, but is considered a complementary therapy.


At DeanCare, says Dr. Leslie Taylor, treatment consists of medications coupled with “counseling to learn strategies, ideas and coping skills training to learn to better prioritize, organize and complete tasks.”

Taylor wants adults with ADD to know: “That there are thousands of others like them in the Madison area only who are struggling to deal with ADD.  Effective treatments can make a huge difference in someone's ability to get things done efficiently both at work and at home.  There is really no reason not to seek help!”


Teresa Peneguy Paprock

This article originally appeared in Wisconsin Woman. Teresa Peneguy Paprock / words & stuff freelancing retains the copyright to this article and it may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without express permission. For reprint rights, contact Teresa Peneguy Paprock at or P.O. Box 5207, Madison, WI, 53705.

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