Tuesday, December 20, 2005

AD/HD: Speaking without Thinking

I would like to thank Blogger for selecting my column as a Blog of Note.

I am thrilled to find so many like minded individuals making the comments section an intellectual treat. Curse you! I haven't been able to get anything done for a whole week.

One of the comments from last week's column was a terse reprimand by a woman (I assume) who urged me to not think so much and do instead. Ignoring the fact that her short comment judged my life by only the words of a humorous column I write each week, she also showed a lack of understanding of the AD/HD mind. Not think so much? If there is any one defining aspect of AD/HD it is the lack of contemplative thought before action is taken. We are masters of the instantaneous impulse. Take today's subject matter for an example.

There you are, grieving family members around you, the organ plays in the background, and you've got this really funny joke to tell. Happen to you? No, me neither, but I do know a guy who apparently has that problem.

The fifth symptom in Hallowell and Ratey's Diagnostic Criteria for Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults is foot-in-mouth disease.

5. Tendency to say what comes to mind without necessarily considering the timing or appropriateness of the remark.Like the child with ADD in the classroom, the adult with ADD gets carried away in enthusiasm. An idea comes and it must be spoken—tact or guile yielding to childlike exuberance.

My dalliances with gaucherie usually involve sexual matters. Not sure why. I get these amazing insights/tidbits/anecdotes/wordplays that are just bustin' to be shared. I'm the intellectual knucklehead. Thankfully, I have been fearful enough in polite company to not let that particular foot get moving at high velocity towards my mouth, but I can't say the same when in the presence of friends and family. I'm more relaxed then and they pay the price.

These painful moments stand out in complete contrast to my usual gentlemanly decorum. There was this time I stood up in front of my anime fan club and described the more alarming contents of a certain catalogue that somebody mailed to me as a prank. Not sure to this day why I didn't just shut up and sit down, but off I went, lips a flappin' in front of a bug eyed audience. That was over fifteen years ago and I'm still embarrassed about it. I wish I could say I've improved, but then I'd have to not tell you about the French AIDS PSA I shared with my friends two weeks ago. Seemed like a good idea at the time to show the cultural difference in attitudes about sexual matters and cavalier treatment of STDs. Besides it was animated, but then as I watched them squirm and squiggle in their seats I realized perhaps it wasn't such a good idea after all. I asked myself, "What were you thinking?"

That's the problem. I wasn't! Most people learn over time to suppress these anti-social urges, but adults with AD/HD tend to have the occasional misfire, some more so than others.

It seems there are three driving forces behind foot-in-mouth disease. One is general cluelessness—a complete lack of awareness or sensitivity to the ebb and flow of conversation around us. Another is a fear that the idea will be forgotten in as quick an instant as it was born if it is not blurted out or jotted down at that moment. The third is simple selfishness. We share this in common with everybody from time to time, but the first two forces are usually the culprits for the AD/HD mind. Both betray a complete lack of control over impulses. Both are born of intensity. The thought is delivered to the mouth with the pressure of a fireman's hose and spoken at such velocity that all those in the room had better duck for cover or be bowled over. Things usually get awkward after that.

There is only one way to fight it: practice. First, you need friends, associates, or loved ones who can gently remind you with a two by four to stop discussing during the office meeting that really cool web site you found... to wait a week or two before letting your new boss know everything he's doing that is wrong and how he can fix it... or to stop changing the subject while your mother-in-law discusses the family vacation. Second, learn to jot down your ideas without interrupting the conversation. Third, with or without external intervention, you are on your own. They don't call it the School of Hard Knocks for nothing. Embarrassment is a cruel but effective teacher. The trick is to learn from your mistakes without hating yourself. Don't buy into the excuses, either. Don't push this off on a diagnosis. Nobody's going to smile patiently after the third time you shanghai the conversation and take it off in an unrelated tangent just because you have Adult ADD. Nobody really appreciates your non sequitur jokes during Sunday School. You need to reign this in. Save your pride some bumps and bruises and save everybody else's sanity.

Once you can control it, however, you can use your free firing neurons to your advantage. Random thoughts and inspirations are a godsend to problem solving, humor, and creativity. Who knows? You might even find yourself being relevant and witty. You just need a bit of effort, a lot of tact, and a truckload of premeditative thinking.