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Book Review: Answers to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell, MD, and John J. Ratey, MD

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Having ADD is not all fun and games. You knew that already? Did you know there are actually advantages to having ADD? In Answers to Distraction, Drs. Hallowell and Ratey address many of the questions and dilemmas facing those who have ADD or who live with someone who does. And, yes, they even list advantages of the disorder; they include creativity, resourcefulness, tenacity, flexibility, and a good sense of humor.

Hallowell and Ratey wrote Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood. After a lecture in Wilmington, Delaware, a woman approached Dr. Hallowell and suggested that there be a follow-up book. Her idea was that he should take the hundreds of index cards on which audience members submitted questions and use them as the basis of another book, using a question and answer approach. Dr. Hallowell proposed the idea to Dr. Ratey and Answers to Distraction was conceived.

Within the pages of Answers to Distraction, Hallowell and Ratey discuss ADD in both adults and children, and give a number of suggestions to help the person with ADD bring order into his or her life. There is helpful information on what ADD is, how to know if someone has it (or to suspect, leave the knowing to the professionals), and how ADD impacts on the sufferer’s life as well as the lives of those around him or her. There are chapters that discuss the brain and genetics, and the diagnosis of ADD.

There are many, many books available about ADD. There are also a lot of myths. Many people feel that ADD is not a real disorder at all, that it’s just a means of selling pharmaceuticals and sedate lively children. I believe it is over-diagnosed, especially by those not qualified to make a diagnosis. Somehow, “overactive” became synonymous with “hyperactive,” and children get incorrectly labeled. It amazes me, as an adult with ADD, that so many people believe that those with ADD are learning disabled or incapable of learning, or that ADD is always marked by hyperactivity. Answers to Distraction dispels many of the myths. Answers to Distraction also describes ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder), comparing and contrasting ODD with ADD.

Hallowell and Ratey offer concrete solutions to ADD problems. Some may be expensive, involving the hiring of an organizer or a business manager, but when they explain why that step may be necessary it makes a lot of sense. There are also a number of suggestions for doing some of the things a professional organizer would do.

Answers to Distraction offers information on the various drugs available, as well as treating ADD without drugs. There are chapters specifically relating to children and women. The authors explain the effects of ADD on couples and families, and offer coping advice. There are also chapters on “ADD and Addiction,” and “Aggression and Anger in ADD.” Health care professionals have questions about ADD, and those are answered.

Three brief appendixes offer concise tips for managing ADD. A fourth appendix offers “Where to Go for Help” resources. “Fifty Tips on the Management of Adult ADD” offers easy-to-understand advice such as “Let yourself work under whatever conditions are best for you,” and “Know that it is okay to do two things at once.” These are supported with examples and details. Appendix I is broken down into four sections: “Insight and Education,” “Performance Management,” “Mood Management,” and “Interpersonal Life.”

The second appendix is “Twenty-five Tips on the Management of ADD in Families.” It details the strains ADD places on a family and how they can be handled, and emphasizes how important it is to hope. The third appendix is for couples, “Twenty-five Tips for the Management of ADD in Couples.” It outlines the types of relationships that result from ADD, how to have a healthier relationship, how to communicate, and how to balance expectations with reality.
No, having ADD is not fun and games, but understanding its effects can help people focus more on the positive aspects in their lives and not be ruled by the negative. Answers to Distraction is must reading for those who have resigned themselves to a life of chaos, and is a valuable addition to the library of anyone trying to better understand this complex disorder.

Bottom Line: Would I buy Answers to Distraction? Yes. Definitely. I recommend it for anyone who needs easily comprehensible information about ADD.

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