Re: E: ADD/ADHD Problems and Tech Writing/Editing Careers

Subject: Re: E: ADD/ADHD Problems and Tech Writing/Editing Careers
From: Dick Margulis <margulisd -at- comcast -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 16 Jun 2004 05:35:43 -0400

tom -dot- green -at- iwon -dot- com wrote:

In reading these shared experiences with ADD/ADHD, I can only say that I have had these same issues such as, lots of paperwork, time management, concentration and missed details but I don't think I need to be diagnosed with some sort of mental condition that qualifies me for some new drugs. I do believe in "better living through chemistry" but I also believe that just a little more discipline on my part will help get my job more organized. I am probably minimizing someone's truly bonifide condition and for that I apologize, but I just don't see how lack of concentration can be a medical condition.
Now, you may ignaite the flames.


There are a couple of major concepts to get across here.

In the first place, we humans like to classify stuff in general. It's one of the major techniques we use to make sense of the world, and we're hard-wired to do it. We see patterns even where there is randomness. We like to classify people, in particular. This leads to all sorts of interesting social phenomena, including things that fall in and out of fashion, such as racial discrimination, religious intolerance, educational tracking, etc.

One thing that is _in_ fashion these days is categorizing people according to how they perform certain kinds of tasks. This kid is dyslexic; this one is autistic; this other one has Apsberger Syndrome; this other one is ADD; etc.

In the second place, our brains do differ. We can, in fact, characterize people based on differences in brain chemistry. Some of these differences are evolutionary and adaptive (someone mentioned a model that invokes hunters vs. farmers earlier in this thread). This is analagous to the story of sickle cell disease--where a gene that confers resistance to malaria can, if present in both parents, lead to some offspring with sickle cell disease--and many other genetic "diseases." Other brain differences wax and wane over time and are more closely associated with fetal and early childhood environmental factors (drug use by mothers, chipping lead paint in the home, time spent in front of a television--name that tune).

So it is possible to classify people into groups and assign labels to those groups. Right now in our society it is also acceptable to many people to do so (I'm not one of those many, by the way; but that's just my political view). A lot of people don't like to have labels attached to themselves, and they organize politically to get people to stop thinking of them as having a disability (the "differently abled" model). Others are reasonably comfortable with thinking of the label as applying to a condition rather than to themselves as individuals. Others embrace the labels as ways of explaining their behaviors and abilities.

All this labeling, however, cuts two ways. On the one hand (cuts two ways; on the one hand--I probably should have made some coffee before I started this sentence, huh? Oh well, too late now) having a way of identifying people who share certain brain characteristics means that researchers can focus on those people and develop appropriate strategies. These can simply be coping strategies the members of the group can apply. For example, many of the posts in this thread refer to books that teach an adult with ADD ways to approach situations successfully when the approach taken by other people--those who are not in the ADD group--doesn't work well for them. They can also be strategies that involve directly compensating for chemical differences in the brain.

It's fine, if you are a member of some identified group and have a longing to be more like people who are not members of the group, to adopt these strategies as you see fit. It's also fine to celebrate the differences in the world and embrace yourself as you are. If your goal in life is not to "fit in" in a cubicle farm but you'd rather pursue your dream of being a concert pianist or a jockey, or a performance artist, then there may be no reason for you to adopt any of the mitigating strategies. Instead, whatever "condition" you have may be just the ticket to make you a success in your chosen field.

On the other hand, having these labels floating around tends to medicalize the distinctions between groups of people into "diseases" that we "have to treat" so that everyone can enjoy the social benefits of being "normal." This tendency of the American medical establishment is a transitory social phenomemon if we take the long historical view, but it is affecting generations of people in modern society, because we're in the midst of it. One of the side effects of this medical model is that certain groups of people fall into regulatory categories that entitle a person to government services or benefits. If you are a member of such a group and life before you were diagnosed was difficult for you, the idea of getting help from the government might be quite seductive. Accepting it can be a Faustian bargain, of course; and many people choose not to go that route. Other groups are not entitled to government services or benefits (Apsberger "Syndrome"--a term that makes it sound like a disease even though it isn't--is not legally a disability); so it is harder to gain access to information about or assistance with coping strategies that might help people in such a group get through life a bit more gracefully.

So, to address the issue you raised, Tom [Dick's coping strategy: before clicking the Send button, go back and read the original post you're responding to; Dick should do this more often], ADD/ADHD is a medical condition because mainstream physicians see the world in terms of disease and treatment. There is nothing inherent in the condition that defines it as a disease other than the tendency of a lot of doctors to view it that way.

Anyway, bringing this back momentarily to tech writing and to the world of highly intelligent and skilled technology workers in general, the consensus around our office is that the majority of us would have been classified as ADD or ADHD had anyone been looking for those "conditions" when we were kids and that having such labels probably would have affected our self-esteem so negatively that we never would have ended up in the software business. To the original poster in this thread: aside from all the other great advice you've gotten, consider the notion of looking at the people around you--including your boss--and asking yourself if you're really that different from most of them. You might find that you have a lot in common with virtually everyone there.


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RE: E: ADD/ADHD Problems and Tech Writing/Editing Careers: From: tom -dot- green -at- iwon -dot- com

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