Anyone who has been touched by ADHD considers US-based Dr Hallowell as something of a guru. And, on the eve of ADHD Awareness month, the Crossley Family managed to persuade him across the pond to talk to those affected by ADHD in the UK. An author of 20 books, a self-professed ADHDer himself, with dyslexia, and a father to two ADHD boys – Ned Hallowell also runs a psychiatry practice in New York, and advocates what he calls a “strength-based” or positive approach to the condition.
At 64, he has some 25 years of experience under his belt, he refuses to see the complex neurological “disorder” as a disability – instead insisting that if he had a choice to have ADHD or not have it, then he’d keep it. Despite dishing out scripts for medication from his psychiatry practice in New York and being a great advocate of ADHD medication for adults and children (“People ask me if I believe in medication – I reply ‘it’s not a religion’, and I know in 80% of people it works”) – he controls his own symptoms with…coffee. Yep, he can’t take medication himself for medical reasons, so uses coffee as a stimulant to help him focus. He also uses coffee as an example of how dangerous most of the stimulant medication for ADHD is, in his opinion. With no affiliation to any drug companies, the psychiatrist debunks the myth of its addictive hold (apparently it requires significant amounts of amphetamine to become addicted) while assuring us that stimulant medication enters and leaves your system as quickly as a Starbucks. Just fifteen minutes to make a difference to a life.
He also refers to ADHD as a number of “traits”, rather than a disorder, and while this upsets people that have been seriously impaired all through their lives by the condition – it is his way of positively reframing the different neurobiological wiring.
So meeting him and his wife, who conducted an intimate workshop of around 30 adults in London in a conference organised by a new organisation ADDSpark – was an important day for many of us in the left-behind UK. ADDSpark are an outfit primarily made up of a concerned family, the Crossleys, with an ADHD son and an American mother, who went to a conference in Michigan in the US to meet Dr Hallowell when they couldn’t find support in the UK. The result was a connection and now they have helped him to straddle the Atlantic and bring his knowledge here.
So what was the message? The message was the good sense that has always been advocated, but that ADHDers often find quite hard to follow. If it could be summed up in just SEVEN Words by him it would be: Sleep, exercise, meditation, nutrition, and positive human contact. In between that we have to work, play, manage a family and life – all of which is not as easy as it sounds. But his bonhomie and good humour immediately take away the stigma out of it all – none of us are alone…
Hallowell is also a great advocate of the “Connected Life” – and this above all he sees this as the best Long Term approach to managing ADHD. That means connected to family, friends, outside of work life, inside of work life, anything but social isolation. “Social isolation is as dangerous as cigarette smoking”, he offered up.
And certainly the real value of the day, as he himself realised by how much time he gave over to introductions, was the connection that was made there, in that room, between us all. In the cleverly designed horse-shoe formation, between the adults there themselves, we sat and discussed various coping strategies. Whether it was “High Stim” [stimulation] accidents that had occured (one adult had had 12 car crashes before diagnosis), or failed marriages, or dealing with doctors that told parents to “get a grip”, it was laughter through tears. The usual emotional rollercoaster that these days often inspire.
So, overall, a brilliant day, with great characters in the room, and lots of hope for the future. Now we just need to connect all the organisations: whether ADDSpark, ADDISS or the International Society for Neurofeedback and Research or the Adult ADHD organisation or the UK Adult Adhd Network or the US Children and Adults with ADHD (CHADD) under one Great Big Umbrella, so that they are all connected and working together for everyone’s benefit. Now that really would be a Long Term solution for a Connected Life.