Al Heisley was smart. Everyone told him he was smart, but his
report cards were dismal.
All he wanted to be was a good guy, but he was labeled a bad
boy, an under-achiever, a discipline problem.
His mother turned to military school; Heisley turned to alcohol.
He remembers the first night he went drinking. He was 14. He
and a friend went into the Pennsylvania hills and got drunk on
hard apple cider. The alcohol brought up anger.
"Walking home, I punched every stop sign," Heisley remembers.
At 16, his father kicked him out of the house.
His life has been a roller-coaster ride of success and failure.
A natural salesman, Heisley built businesses from scratch and
then walked away. At times he earned six-figure salaries, but he
was always broke.
He ruined two marriages and alienated two children and countless
friends. Afraid to commit suicide, more than once he asked God
to kill him.
Now, at 47, Heisley has sobered up, and through personal growth
work and therapy is sorting out the confusion of his life.
Through therapy he has discovered that he has Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder, a physiologically based behavior
disorder. Heisley said the medication he started taking in
December has changed his life.
ADHD and its cousin Attention Deficit Disorder have long been
considered a children's disorder, but in the last decade they
have increasingly been diagnosed in adults.
Scientists are not entirely sure what causes the disorders, but
the problem seems to be focused in the frontal cortex of the
brain, the center of attention, inhibition and motor control.
About 80 percent of the cases are genetic.
Increasingly, it is being diagnosed in adults: College students
who have trouble studying, paying attention and doing things on
time. Employees who chronically blow up at the boss, or can't
do paperwork, or can't organize their time. Or, people with
problems with chronic unemployment, substance abuse, impulsive
behavior or managing money. Spouses in troubled relationships
because they can't express their thoughts and feelings.
Sound like you?
Odds are you may have what Boston psychiatrist Edward Hallowell,
author of Driven to Distraction, calls pseudo-ADD, or socially
"The core symptoms of ADD -- restlessness, impulsivity,
distractability -- describe urban life," Hallowell said.
In a high-speed and high-tech environment, everyone is
over-stimulated and pulled in a thousand directions. Just
because you are distracted and restless it doesn't mean you have
ADD. Everyone experiences the symptoms of ADD from time to
time. In true ADD, they are a subtle but definite part of who
they are, Hallowell said.
"There needs to be a careful evaluation. You can't make this
diagnosis by reading a magazine," Hallowell said. "With a quick
glance at the symptoms, you'll diagnose the entire city of
Hallowell facetiously suggests the Aruba Test. Send the person
to Aruba. If within 24 hours they are relaxing on the beach and
enjoying themselves, they have pseudo-ADD. If they plug their
fax machine into a palm tree and set up shop, they have the real
Diagnosis involves a physical and psychological assessments,
observation, an extensive family history and interviews with
family, teachers and other adults.
The symptoms -- hyperactivity, impulsivity or inattention --
need to have been present since about 7 years of age, said John
Lucas, a neuro-psychologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. …