Educators educating Educators

Jan 19

Ed Hallowell

Edward M. Hallowell, M.D.


Ed Hallowell:  A great site for ADHD.  The author of the expression explains ADHD as “having a brain with a Ferrari engine but with bicycle brakes.”

Dr. Hallowell on You Tube

Founder of The Hallowell Center in Sudbury, MA and New York City, both outpatient clinics

Having AD/HD himself, having two children who have it, having treated it in children and adults for 25 years, Dr. Hallowell is uniquely qualified to discuss both the clinical, personal and human aspects of living with AD/HD 

He has authored 15 books including Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most Out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder 

Hallowell lives in Arlington, MA with his wife, Sue, and their three children, Lucy, Jack, and Tucker 

On the faculty of Harvard Medical School from 1983 - 2003, Dr. Hallowell now spends his professional time seeing patients, lecturing, and writing


 The problem for people with AD/HD is not that they do not pay attention. The problem is that they pay attention to everything 


They do not suffer from a deficit of attention but a wandering of attention 

Their mind does not go empty; it goes elsewhere 

The term attention deficit disorder completely misses the point 

It is not a deficit of attention, it is attention likes to go where it wants to and AD/HD people cannot always control it 

AD/HD is a name for a collection of traits, tendencies, and symptoms (some positive, some negative, some glory, and some pain) that define the way a person is in the world 

People with AD/HD get wrapped up in one project but forget who and where you and they are

AD/HD is a trait, a way of being in the world 

Not a disorder until it impairs the way a person functions in their world

People with AD/HD hop from stimulation to stimulation, and do not want to wait



A person with AD/HD has a brain with a Ferrari engine but with Model T brakes


Having AD/HD is like having a turbocharged racecar brain. Your brain goes faster than the average brain 

Your trouble is putting on the brakes 

You get 1 idea and have to act on it. Then you get another idea before you are finished the 1st idea, and act on the 2nd idea 

But of course, a 3rd idea interrupts the 2nd idea before you are finished the 2nd idea

They do not want to linger over anything. Savoring the moment is not something that comes naturally 

Thrill must leads thrill, whether golf, business, conversation, or romance 



Positive side of AD/HD


The positive side of people with AD/HD includes originality, creativity, charisma, energy, and an unusual sense of humor, spunk, and areas of intellectual brilliance.


Negative side of AD/HD


If the negative becomes disabling, then this way of being in the world can become a disorder


The point of diagnosis and treatment is to transform the disorder into an asset




A comparison can be made with depression


Everyone has been sad, not everyone has been clinically depressed 

The difference lies in the intensity and the duration of the sadness. So it is with AD/HD 

If you are intensively distractible, and have been forever, you MAY have AD/HD




Listening to a radio and having AD/HD


Having AD/HD is like listening to the radio with a lot of static 

The harder you strain to hear what is going on, the more frustrated you get 

Occasionally you hear clearly and you can focus 

But then the static returns 

AD/HD is like being left-handed; it is part of who you are, not how you are




Wearing eyeglasses and having AD/HD


A comparison with wearing eyeglasses and AD/HD 

It does not make you smarter, and it does not make you quiet 

It allows you to focus better on what is going on 

That often results in performing as if you were smarter, or behaving in a quieter, more organized way 

Wearing eyeglasses = Increased performance 

Eyeglasses can make you perform at a higher level and behave in a quieter, more organized manner 

You would not wait a year of squinting or doing eye exercises before you tried eyeglasses




“Just try harder?”


Do not tell an AD/HD student to try harder; it is similar to telling someone who is nearsighted to squint harder 

Old days, “If you try hard enough, you can do anything. Good old hard work conquers all.” 

You can work hard banging your head against a brick way all day and the brick way will not fall 

They are trying as hard as they can




The Conductor of the Band


The front of the brain (Frontal lobe) is the conductor of the band; the back of the brain (Temporal lobe) is the band 

AD/HD kids the band director is drunk 

For LD kids, IQ is not a problem, they can read but they do not know what they read and they forget to turn in their work




Symptoms of AD/HD


Symptoms occur over a prolong period of time and are present at an early age, although they may not be evident until a child is pushed academically 

Does not appear until the correct academic and/or environmental factors stressors and/or situations occur 

The brighter the child, the later s/he is diagnosed 

The time that problems occur often relates to intelligences and the school setting 

Having AD/HD is not a sign of poor IQ




Someone once said, “Time is the thing that keeps everything from happening all at once.”

Time parcels out moments into separate bits so we can do one thing at a time.


In AD/HD, time collapses, making life fell like everything is happening all at once. 


This creates panic 

One loses perspective and the ability to select what needs to be done first, what needs to be done second, and what can wait for another day 

Instead, you are in a world always on the go, always trying to keep the world from caving in on top of you 

It is Now, and not now

People with AD/HD hop from stimulation to stimulation, and do not want to wait



Computer Analogy


In order for a computer to run correctly, it must have enough RAM (disk space), and processing speed 

Its hardware (the brain) must be sufficient to run the software/programs

For many people with AD/HD do not have enough RAM (short-term memory), disk pace, or processing speed 

Why? Under activity in the prefrontal cortex and the temporal lobes 

The Result? 

Many people with AD/HD are never able to run the programs (memory) because of their hardware (brain) problems



Six Hallmark Characteristics of AD/HD


1. Short attention span


Short attention span for regular, routine tasks and sustaining effort over prolong period of time 

However, they do not have a short attention span for everything 

If things are new, novel, highly stimulating, interesting, or frightening 

They provide intrinsic stimulation/adrenalin that activates the brain functions that help AD/HD focus and concentrate 

People with AD/HAD are good in emergencies 

They are on. The mundane is terrible for them and not by choice




2. Distractibility


Differs from a short attention span 

Not an inability to sustain attention, but a hypersensitivity to the environment

Most people can block out unnecessary environmental stimuli but AD/HD people can’t

People with AD/HD are hypersensitive to their senses due to an under active prefrontal cortex 


The prefrontal cortex has inhibitory cells that signal other areas of the brain to settle down 


Signals to the parietal lobe/sensory cortex to settle down 

Prefrontal cortex also settles down the limbic system, our emotional centers, home to our internal thoughts and feelings 

People with AD/HD often complain of tags on their clothing, do not like to be touched, see everything around them, are bothered by sounds around them/chewing gum, and sensitivity to taste and texture of food




3. Organizational Problems/Time and Space/Long Term Goals


Disorganization is seen early in their lives 

Rooms, closets, dresser drawers, desks, and book bags are a disaster 

They follow the second law of physics, entropy, in which things degrade from order to disorder 

Type 3 AD/HD people appear organized on the outside




4. Time organization


People with AD/HD end to be late; they agree to do too many things, not realizing the time commitment involved in projects/tasks/chores 

They take a haphazard or disorganized approach that increases the time it takes to complete them 

People with AD/HD also take a disorganized approach to life 

No long-term goals, tend to live from crisis to crisis or problem to problem




5. Difficulty with Follow-through & lack of staying power to see project through to the end


They continue with project as long as there is intense interest 

In addition, they put things off until the last minute; the deadline creates enough stress to entice them to finish the project 

They will finish 50 to 80% of the project and go off to something else because they have many different interests




6. Poor Internal Supervision


Forethought is a major problem due to the under activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) 

PFC neurons are our interface with the world and they are highly adaptable 

The PFC is the brain’s chief executive. It is involved in forethought, planning, and impulse control, problem-solve, learn from your mistakes, and decision-making 

The PFC helps a person to think about what you say or do before you say or do it 

A normal PFC means you will not make the same mistakes repeatedly 

The moment is what matters 

It is natural for a person with AD/HD to act out what is important to them at the immediate moment, not 2 moments from now, or 5 moments from now, but now





“My thoughts are like butterflies. They are beautiful, but they fly away.”


After treatment he said, “Now I can put a net around the butterflies.” 

A little boy after successful AD/HD treatment



“If we can control the attention of the child, we solve the problems of education.” Maria Montessori

This month Ed Tip will examine how to improve students' learning by activating their attention.