31
Jan
12

Attention Disorder? Felicitous Flaw

Steve was not a kid. He was a middle-aged Professor in some arcane scientific field, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, an international scholar. He was getting depressed because he couldn’t master some coursework in mathematical computations he had been trying to learn.

Steve’s IQ turned up at the 150 mark, higher than 99.9% of the adult population, far into the exceptional range. But measures of attention were peculiarly lower, not dismal, just too low for such an otherwise gifted person.  No history of psychiatric disorder or  recent trauma could account for these low scores.

But in discussion with him, he recounted how hard he had to work in school, how he spent so much time on homework, especially with foreign language work (“I hated French!  Math was hard too, until I got to calculus and statistics.  They were easy.  I don’t why,” ).  He told me how he had to double- even triple-check his work and still find mistakes, how he had to re-read everything. He said he got good grades because he worked much harder than his classmates. He figured he was just average but did well because he just spent all his time with schoolwork.

I reported to him the results of my testing, his exceptional scores, his singular intelligence. He stared at me as I reported these facts to him. Then he began to cry, just for a short period, quite against his will. He was embarrassed: “I’m sorry. But this is a real shock!  All my life, I just thought I was, you know, sort of slow and certainly not smart.”

Steve had been laboring, all those years, under the adverse effects of a rather severe Attention Deficit. He had been young when he could handle all the re-reading and double-checking that his deficit demanded of him. But now, in this current coursework which required strict attention, he was unable to generate the extra energy and effort  necessary to learn the material.  And it was demoralizing and depressing him.

We discussed the benefits and liabilities of medication, among other treatment options. In a subsequent conversation, he reported that he had tried the medication – on an as-needed basis – and had found it “incredibly helpful”. “I could concentrate!”, he exclaimed.

But then something really odd happened.

For when I said, “It’s a shame this medication wasn’t available to you when you were younger”.  He replied: “I’m glad it wasn’t.” A bit stunned, I asked why. “Well,” he said, “over the years, I learned to learn in different ways, ways that made the job easier though it  never became really easy.  But these “different” ways led me to think about things from original or unconventional points of view.  And that’s what won me all the accolades and honors I’ve enjoyed over my professional career, my ‘unusual’ ways of looking at things and all the discoveries and insights those ‘ways’ generated.  IF I’D TAKEN MEDICATION I WOULD NOT HAVE LEARNED THESE WAYS AND I DEFINITELY WOULD NOT BE WHERE I AM TODAY!” 

Steve made me think, hard and long.  And I realize now, as I’ll report in future posts, that there are real advantages to having an Attention Deficit, that strengths of enormous amplitudes can spring from that “deficit”.  He taught me a deep respect for the legitimacy and dignity of all learning types and styles . . . . if I would only take the time to look for them. Needless to say, I have.  Thanks to Steve.

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