Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Reaching Out to Your Community

How can we best reach adults with ADHD who have no idea they have it? Based on my 12 years of advocacy, I'd say it is through people with ADHD talking about it openly and honestly with others in their day-to-day communities. In this way, others hear the facts about ADHD from people they already know instead of thinly drawn profiles in the media.

I jokingly refer to our Adult ADHD CHADD group in Palo Alto as  "ADHD without Borders," because the meeting routinely draws transplants from many countries, including China, India, Vietnam, Israel, Germany, and Brazil.

These people often express great relief to finally find a group who understands them, because their friends and family back home typically do not. Realizing the genetic connection, they cannot accept that ADHD is an "American invention." They clearly see that extended family members also have ADHD and they need to be educated. They vow to take the message back home and put ADHD in a context their friends and family can understand.

So, how do you reach out to your  community?  I offer an example from a friend in Maryland who wrote this piece for a magazine serving his local Jewish community . From this, he gathered enough interest to start a monthly discussion group affiliated with CHADD in Maryland. I'll let him tell the rest of the story.

Adult ADHD, the Jewish Community, and Me

by Shlomo Dovid Freedman

Just over two years ago, I became aware that I have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: ADHD or, more colloquially, ADD.

There – I’ve said it. I’ve “gone public.”

Why would I do such a thing?

I’m writing this article because I feel driven to spread the word about the prevalence of ADHD in adults, particularly in our community, and to explain why it matters. I also feel compelled to address the many misconceptions that are held about ADHD. 

The truth is that this condition can devastate the lives of individuals and families; it impacts every area of life that our community cares about. Yet it is very treatable, and it deserves to be understood. ADHD is not trivial, but neither is it crippling or hopeless – unless it is not addressed.

In addition to writing about ADHD, I am training to become an ADHD coach so I can help individuals address their ADHD challenges. I’ve also organized a monthly CHADD support group in our community where interested individuals can get together. To help spread the word, I recently organized the showing of a popular and important documentary, ADD & Loving It?! at our local Jewish Community Center. This film has been shown widely on PBS television and has been seen by literally millions of Americans.

My Story

I never suspected that I had ADHD, and I wasn’t looking for a diagnosis. I had done well in school and have two graduate degrees. More to the point, I have never been accused of being hyperactive – if anything I was plagued by fatigue and was always working on ways to keep myself awake and alert.

My ADHD is referred to as the “inattentive” subtype – ADHD without the “H,” you might say. Kids and adults with this subtype tend to go undiagnosed.

My journey began in 2008, when my wife and I met with an educational-testing specialist to discuss the results of our child’s evaluation. I told her that I recognized myself in many of the symptoms that she described as ADHD. She recommended that I look into this further with someone who deals with ADHD in adults.

My search ultimately took me to a prescription of a stimulant medication. Twenty minutes after taking the 10 mg tablet, I began what in many ways was the first day of the rest of my life. I came to realize that I had been living in a kind of fog. My mind had been so active, so focused on itself and an overabundance of ideas that my ability to connect to the world around me had been dulled and compromised. Suddenly I was much more in the world. It was an amazing transition.

I started seeing things, or rather, noticing and being aware of more things than I had been able to previously. My wife noticed I was more reliable and more able to focus on getting things done. During the ensuing three years I read books, studied my own experiences, listened to lectures, and attended support group meetings. I gained a deeper understanding of the nature of ADHD, and especially of the toll that undiagnosed ADHD can have on a person’s life. Like others in my situation, I experienced a brief period of grief that I had learned about my condition only in middle age. Why did I have to suffer with a treatable, undiagnosed condition most of my life?

What I Have Learned

While most people with ADHD struggle with a similar set of core issues, everyone’s ADHD is different, and not everyone will react to the medication as I did. Nor will they share my same symptoms. For newly diagnosed adults, ADHD is a voyage of self-discovery. This is the challenge and the reward.

The underlying symptoms of ADHD are, officially, inattention, distractedness, impulsivity, and restlessness (hyperactivity). I’ve learned that people with ADHD generally lack a sense of time passing, can’t estimate time requirements, and find it difficult to motivate themselves. They tend to struggle with procrastination, deadlines, clutter, completing projects, staying on task, forgetfulness, and/or overwhelm.

There are many misconceptions about the ADHD, the most common one being that people with ADHD can’t focus their attention. (After all, don’t they have an “attention deficit”?) The truth is that people with ADHD generally are unable to control where their minds are focused. It’s as if they don’t care what has their attention. Understanding the difference between not being able to focus (attention deficit) and not being able to control one’s focus (better described as a deficit in volitional attention) makes all the difference in understanding people with ADHD.

I encounter this misconception all the time, when people say something such as “Moishe" (even "Rabbi" or "Dr." Moishe) can’t have ADHD because he can interact with a computer, work on a project, or even learn gemara for hours, if he wants to.” This statement is simply untrue. As difficult as it may be for ADHDers to sustain attention on a task they should be doing, at other times it will be difficult for them to stop focusing on what they are doing in order to do something else, such as be on time for a meeting or start a high priority task. In some people, it is almost physically painful to tear themselves away from what has their attention.

I am aware that this lack of control looks more like a moral failing than a medical condition. Can’t the person with ADHD just try harder or stay focused on priorities? Anyone who is skeptical that ADHD is a real disorder, though, should know that there is no such doubt in the scientific and medical world. Thousands (yes, thousands) of studies have been performed without the involvement of the pharmaceutical industry, and every major relevant organization recognizes ADHD as a legitimate disorder.

Not only is ADHD a real disorder, but also except in rare cases it is something that one is born with. No environmental factor can cause it – not bad parenting, bad middos (character traits), food additives, sugar, or lifestyle. All these factors can aggravate symptoms, but addressing these factors cannot alleviate the underlying condition.

What’s at Stake?

Why is it important to identify and treat adult ADHD?

Simply put, untreated ADHD damages lives. ADHD can cause impairments to every area of life that our community cares about: It elevates the likelihood of divorce, job instability, and financial difficulties. Impulsivity and inattention in our youth lead to driving accidents, the leading cause of death in adolescents, and increases the incidence of dropping out of yeshiva and seminary.

The impact of ADHD on parenting is particularly significant. The crucial ingredient in parenting – consistency – is the bugaboo for parents who have ADHD; they often struggle mightily to remember the rules they set and enforce them consistently. Without awareness of this issue and outside reinforcement, consistency is impossible for the ADHD parent.

What Can Be Done?

The good news is that ADHD is very treatable. Many individuals are only a step or two away from significantly improving their lives. Medication can be very helpful, but it is important to know that it is not sufficient in itself, and it is possible to achieve good results without taking medication at all. Lifestyle changes, such as sufficient sleep and exercise, are crucial, although they are difficult for the individual with ADHD to maintain. ADHD coaches are of great help for people dealing with personal organization, productivity, clutter, and feelings of overwhelm. Diet, nutritional supplements, and meditation also help. Counseling is useful for addressing career, relationship, financial or other issues that may have arisen as a result of one’s unrecognized ADHD.

Are You One of the 2,000?

Extrapolating from epidemiological data, approximately 2,000 people reading this issue of our magazine have ADHD (five percent of its 40,000 readers). The great majority of them have undiagnosed ADHD, and some of those who are diagnosed are not being treated, or are not being effectively treated. If you are one of these people, or think you might be, I urge you to take the important next steps of educating yourself and seeking advice from someone who specializes in adult ADHD. If you procrastinate, you may face the additional task of repairing the damage caused by years of lack of awareness.

The most important thing to realize is that ADHD need not hold anyone back from accomplishing life goals. There are many examples of people from all walks of life who have overcome the challenges of ADHD and lived wonderful, accomplished lives. Like anyone else, the person with ADHD must identify personal strengths and minimize the impact of weaknesses. We can learn to manage our ADHD, live our dreams, and even achieve greatness.

To reach Shlomo Dovid Freedman, please send an email to  this address.

ADAD & Loving It?!

To increase awareness of ADHD in our community, our CHADD chapter screened the documentary ADD & Loving It?!  at our local Jewish Community Center (see a clip of the film below). This Canadian-made film, which became a surprise hit last year in the U.S., follows actor and comedian Patrick McKenna as he gets his own diagnosis of ADHD. It also features many of the world’s leading ADHD experts.
    Interestingly, our Maryland affiliate was the first PBS station to air the documentary, which it used during its fundraising drive. The film generated the greatest pledge results in the station’s history. ADD & Loving It?! has since aired on more than 78 PBS stations, to millions of viewers, and spawned the popular website TotallyADD.com.

                                                          –S. D. Freedman

Please note: Written permission to screen ADD & Loving It?! must be obtained from the producers. You can use this contact form.

There are several options for purchasing and even renting the film. Learn more at the TotallyADD shop.


  1. Very interesting! I love you post!

    Greetings from a Dutch ADD mom with a ADHD daughter ;-)

  2. Hi Gina,

    So glad I found your blog! I'm 33 and was diagnosed with ADHD two years ago. Gaining understanding of what's "wrong" (I no longer see it that way ;)) has been empowering, to say the least. I have a question that's a bit off topic.

    Have you addressed sleep difficulties and adult ADHD? This is a challenging area for me and, it appears, a fairly un-researched and common ADHD complication. I'd appreciate any insight you can offer. Regardless, thanks for the work you do!

  3. Hi there,

    Yes, sleep can be a big challenge for people with ADHD. In fact, I am working on a short book on the topic -- a practical, research-based guide.

    In the meantime, I have written a few posts on ADHD and sleep:



    If you're looking for other topics, just enter the keyword in the search box on either blog (this one or ADHDRollerCoaster).


  4. Many adults doesn’t know that they have ADHD. Thus, it is very important to have it diagnose properlyto come up with the right help .


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