A.D.H.D. and proud of it!


By Eli Zaret, New Oakland Community Liaison

I traveled with the Pistons for many years as a TV reporter and was taken aback one day when our brilliant conditioning coach, Arnie Kander, casually mentioned that most great NBA players were A.D.H.D., (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and that it actually helped them achieve and maintain their amazing focus and skill.

Frankly, that made no sense at all to me.

I was sure that A.D.H.D. meant an inability to focus and stay on task. I’d assumed that a player with A.D.H.D. would be dribbling and suddenly remember they forgot to lock their car and would probably throw the ball away. Obviously, I had more to learn.

A staggering 11% of kids and 5% of adults are believed to have A.D.H.D. and are prescribed Ritalin and Adderall by the millions. People with A.D.H.D have sluggish reward circuits that make adhd2normally interesting activities seem dull and would explain, in part, why people with A.D.H.D. find repetitive and routine tasks unrewarding and even painfully boring.

Psychostimulants like Adderall and Ritalin help the disorder by blocking the transport of dopamine back into neurons, thus increasing its level in the brain. Dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter which plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior.

Dr. Richard A. Friedman, writing in the New York Times, notes that recent neuroscience research shows that people with A.D.H.D. are actually hard-wired for novelty-seeking — a trait that until relatively recently had a distinct evolutionary advantage. Compared with most people, people with A.D.H.D. have sluggish and underfed brain reward circuits, so much of everyday life feels routine and under-stimulating.

They get impatient and restless with the regimented structure that characterizes our modern world. In other words, people with A.D.H.D. have a set of behavioral traits that don’t match the expectations of our contemporary culture.

“From the standpoint of teachers, parents and the world at large,” states Friedman, “the problem with people with A.D.H.D. looks like a lack of focus and attention and impulsive behavior. But the real problem is that, to their brain, the world they live in essentially feels not very interesting.”

That perfectly describes why I hated so much about school, as well as why I never believed I was A.D.H.D. I would to fight to stay awake in classes I found boring. My college economics class was a 45-minute nap. I remember walking in and hoping that I wouldn’t snore if I did fall out. But in classes I liked, like those in the broadcast department, I was a focused killer. Didn’t that mean that I wasn’t A.D.H.D.?

Friedman describes a patient who was taking Adderall. “She hankered for exciting and varied experiences and resorted to alcohol to relieve boredom. But when something was new and stimulating, she had laser-like focus. I knew that she loved painting and asked her how long she could maintain her interest in her art. ‘No problem,’ she said.’  I can paint for hours at a stretch.’”

adhd1Before we invented agriculture 10,000 years ago and started living more sedentary (and boring) lives, we were on the move: hunting, gathering and on the lookout for danger. The environment was as unpredictable as our next meal. Having a rapidly shifting but intense attention span and a taste for novelty was an advantage, as it is today for the painter and the NBA player, who, quite likely, would have been pre-historic success stories.

I was that way too. I could research baseball statistics for hours; wrote 3 books and did thousands of sportscasts with pretty consistent concentration.

As an adult, I learned to fight my A.D.H.D by constantly reminding myself to stay on task. As I began the unsavory task of paying bills online today, I heard a text come in on my phone. As I reached for the phone I reminded myself it can wait, and stuck my face back in the bills. A minute later I remembered I’d forgotten to put the milk away, and after getting halfway out of my chair, reminded myself it could wait. Two minutes later I saw a letter on my desk I’d forgotten to mail, and as I started to rise, reminded myself that the mailman won’t be here for hours.

New Oakland’s founder, the late Dr. Ismail Sendi, was appalled at the over-prescription of drugs for kids with A.D.H.D. The condition is real, but so many factors may add to a child’s being distracted. It could be from stress at home, a learning disability, an unstimulating learning environment and many other factors. If you have any questions about A.D.H.D., please call New Oakland.

Finally, as for my day described above, fifteen minutes later the bills were paid, and even though my bank account had just become considerably smaller, I felt quite good that I’d resisted flitting from one thing to another, having successfully combated yet another bout with my A.D.H.D.