Attention Deficit Disorder Can Mean Creativity -- and Chaos Workers with Condition Struggle with Lateness, Forgetfulness

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Have you ever telephoned someone, been put on hold, and had the person you called never return to the line?

It might have been a technical malfunction. But perhaps the person who answered the phone was like Mary Jane Johnson or Jo Dee Robertson and had attention deficit disorder. They simply forgot you had ever called.

Johnson and Robertson don't make those mistakes anymore. But until they received treatment, their work and personal lives were chaotic, and they were convinced they were just stupid. The characteristics of ADD, sometimes termed attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, are well-known to elementary school teachers but are only slowly being recognized among adults. However, the disorder is among the disabilities employers can be r equired to make special accommodations for under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other laws protecting the handicapped. The traits, similar to depression, are enough to make most employers cringe: habitual lateness, forgetfulness, procrastination, disorganization, messiness, difficulty planning and making decisions, impulsiveness, distractibility and a tendency to start but not finish projects. Some people have a strong tendency toward hyperactivity. Everyone experiences some of the attention deficit disorder's cluster of characteristics sometimes. But a diagnosis requires many of those traits to be more prevalent than normal, and long-lasting. That's not to say people with the disorder can't be successful; many are, particularly if they have chosen work in which they have an intense interest or talent, and an environment they can manipulate to accommodate their weak points. "One of the keys of career consulting is it's very important to find something to do that fascinates you, because attention is not under one's voluntary control," says Kathleen Nadeau, a Bethesda, Md., psychologist specializing in the disorder. People with the disorder often bring an abundance of energy to the job along with creativity, intelligence, vision, an ability to see the big picture and to think on their feet, Nadeau said. They can be gregarious "people persons." Nadeau figures one out of six or seven people in the United States may have the disorder, and as many as 5 percent of people are affected so severely that it interferes with their lives significantly. …