Is ADHD a Deficit or an Abundance of Attention?


ADHD is a mix of assets and liabilities and there are those who believe that the name is inaccurate and perhaps even unfair. When referred to as a deficit disorder, ADHD is a disease. Dr. William Dodson claims that someone with ADHD does not have a disease and does not have a deficit of attention but rather an abundance of attention. The challenge is controlling that attention.

Dodson coined a new name for ADHD that he believes is more accurate, VAST or variable attention stimulus trait. The symptoms of VAST can of course have a negative impact on a person’s life, relationships and work performance. Individuals are used to getting negative feedback in their academic, professional and personal lives. As such, they may experience extreme emotional sensitivity and feelings of rejection, shame and guilt. Criticism, whether real or imagined, gets caught in the Default Mode Network of the brain that is active when the person is not focused and creates negative feelings that spiral in to what is called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria.

With VAST there are always pairs, at times hyper focused and then lacking focus; distractible and then curious. So, the Default Mode Network can have the opposite effect when positive recognition is perceived by someone with VAST. This positivity and encouragement super-charges the VAST brain with the same intensity with which negative feedback defeats it. This is referred to as Recognition Responsive Euphoria.

Often someone with VAST is embarrassed to ask for encouragement and so we must remember to give positive reinforcement and praise for all advancements in the right direction. We cannot wait to offer a compliment for a complete or perfect job but we must trigger the Default Mode Network with praise along the way which will lead the individual to success and happiness.

A dose of negativity can lead to anxiety and panic and a drop of positive feedback and praise can spiral into much hope and motivation. Key traits of VASTERS or individuals with ADHD- whatever language you choose- are determination not to give up and resilience.

(The content is a summary of a webinar by Hallowell and Ratey, “The Flip Side of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria: How to Tap into ADHD Energy and Motivation.”)

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