October 4, 2013

Driven to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell M.D. - Book Review

I just finished reading Driven to Distraction (Revised): Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder by Edward M. Hallowell M.D. and John J. Ratey M.D. a couple of days ago. I wanted to write a review of this book, not only because I enjoy writing reviews, but also because I was going to use this as an opportunity to talk about Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.

Growing up in a Christian, Regular-Church-Attending Culture, different psychological challenges like Attention Deficit Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, have tended to all fall into one category: The category of excuses.  For many in this culture, the attempt to label and understand these issues looks like an excuse for bad behavior. They might say that hyperactive kids or distracted kids are just in need of stricter discipline.  According to some, they haven't been properly trained, and when these kids get into high school, they are told that they just need to try harder. Some people on this side of the fence can even go as far as to say that, "...well, everyone has attention deficit disorder! Your challenges are no different than mine, you just need to buckle down like I have."

Besides the fact that an opinion like that is just arrogant... in the words of Dr. Hallowell, "Telling someone who has A.D.D. to try harder is like telling someone who is nearsighted to squint harder.  It misses the biological point."

This book helped drive that point home for me.

Please understand though, I did not read this book simply as a person trying to understand Attention Deficit Disorder in order to help others, students for example, but I read this book as one who has struggled my entire life with A.D.D. Really... I have been diagnosed as an adult by a physician with this condition.  For me, this book was personal.

Previously to reading this book, I have explored this topic from the Biblical Perspective point of view on more than one occasion.  I have heard the arguments and the considered the treatments from the Biblical Counseling (National Association of Nouthetic Counselors) Training that I have received, but I had never really attempted to listen to the other side. Through this book, I have found that the other side has quite a bit to say, and what they are saying is not, "take this magical pill and you will be all better!"

Sure, medication is discussed in this book, but it is definitely not the centerpiece. The core of treatment is through learning strategies and getting a better foundational knowledge of the challenges that go along with this disorder.  There is also a personal aspect that is encouraged.  The treatment includes people and relationships, whether it be "coaches" or "groups" or just the people in your life, there is a human side to the treatment. Near the end of the book he goes into detail on several different structural strategies that have proven to be helpful to those with A.D.D., but even in these strategies, that personal aspect is emphasized.

Most of the book teaches through the use of case studies.  The names have been changed, but the situations are real. This makes it possible for the author to deal with all of the different ways that A.D.D. manifests itself, whether in children just learning to deal with it or in adults that have spent a lifetime trying to cope. It discusses people with the Hyperactivity element (A.D.H.D.) and people (like me) without the hyperactivity element (A.D.D.).

What I found most intriguing in this book was the discussions dealing with all of the secondary issues that so often go hand-in-hand with A.D.D. Issues like depression, anger, abuse and self-medication that are a secondary consequence of the A.D.D.  Many of these secondary issues are a result, not of the A.D.D. itself, but from years of believing that the reason you aren't a better person is because you aren't trying hard enough.  Those of us with A.D.D. have believed that if we could just get an ounce of the will power that others have, we wouldn't be losing our keys or forgetting important dates. If we actually loved the people that we were talking to, we wouldn't be distracted by what is out the window. If we were just better people, we wouldn't take 10 years and 5 schools and 4 majors to graduate with one 4-year degree. Hearing this inner commentary on your life... for your whole life... can drastically alter your perception of yourself.

Whether you are dealing with A.D.D. yourself or with someone you know and love, and if you are looking for a book that does an excellent job in outlining the reality, diagnosis, and treatment of A.D.D. from a current educated, psychological viewpoint, then this is the book for you. If you are looking for a book that balances this perspective with an accurate Biblical understanding of this topic, then you will need to look elsewhere. I have yet to find a book that balances these two realities. I could always give you my perspective, as someone who is attempting to bring these two viewpoints together into a more accurate understanding of what is actually going on in one who has A.D.D., but I haven't written a book yet, and to be honest, I will probably never get around to it anyway. It was challenging enough just to write this book review!