Tuesday, June 17, 2008

ADD: not just child's play

Imagine you have to do something difficult like translating a document into ancient Greek. Not only that, but you have to do it in a room where the walls and ceiling are covered in television screens, each showing a different programme and on at full volume. At the same time, people are poking you with sharp sticks. When you ask to leave the room, all they say in reply is: "Just try harder."

This is how Garret Smyth, a British novelist with a degree in neuroscience, describes what it is like to live with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) - something he himself suffers from. Unable to concentrate, prone to annoying and impulsive behaviour, and incapable of following the instructions for filling in a tax return, it is, he says, scarcely surprising that many adult sufferers fail in their working or private lives, and succumb to depression. "Everyone knows someone who is late for everything, surrounded by huge piles of paper, who is thinking about 10 things instead of focusing on one. You can take a moral line - this person is hopeless - or you can decide the person needs help."

Between one and four per cent of children are believed to have AD(H)D. Hyperactivity (H) decreases as the brain matures. But the inability to concentrate can persist into adulthood. The idea that adults can have ADD is only just gaining acceptance and, at present, medication to deal with it is only licensed for children. That means treatment often comes to a sudden end at 18, and adults seeking help often report finding their GPs are dismissive. Adult ADD is currently being studied in centres in London, Cambridge, Canterbury and Swansea but elsewhere adults are forced to queue in clinics geared to children, sitting on tiny chairs among finger paintings. "That's humiliating," says Smyth.


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