Is it ALWAYS a Negative?
One of the ways Susan “compensates” for her
deficits is to make them work for, rather than against,
her. She does not have ADD (attention deficit disorder)
or ADHD (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder) and
has never been diagnosed with either problem. Indeed, she
focuses well, better than “normal” folks, on
the things she is capable of focusing on.
But on the surface there are things about her that one
might mistake for ADD: She loses things (particularly small
things, like keys). Her purse is a mess. Her desk is a
mess. She doesn’t notice “details” in
the environment that others grasp with ease. As a consequence,
she bumps into things, spills and drops objects and is
forever getting lost.
Because the “details” are hard for Susan
to handle, she has learned to block them out. She got through
school by learning not to pay too much attention to all
the “pieces,” “all the little bits of
information.” She doodled a lot, talked to classmates,
skipped classes, refused to do piece-work assignments and
let the big picture come to her. She learns best when her
mind is relaxed and she is not “forcing” herself
to concentrate too hard. Forcing concentration on the pieces “hurts
She does not have attention deficit disorder, but she
has trained herself not to pay attention to the stuff that
will confuse and distract her. And she gets the big picture
faster and better than others this way. Once the big picture
is in place, she can go back and pick up all the pieces.
She now has some place to put them, a framework into which
they will fit and make sense, be a part of the larger whole.
She got to Yale, and got through it, because she realized
that paying attention to the “inchy-binchy” way
that others think and talk only creates confusion in her
mind. She got to, and through, Yale by learning how to
let the details float by. Maybe teaching people NOT to
pay close attention is as important as teaching people
to pay better attention. By characterizing ALL “poor
attention” as a failing, we may be overlooking a
strategy that sometimes helps people succeed.