The ADD Developer

I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) when I was in my late 20s. In the course of using this diagnosis to better understand myself and to help foster continuing self-improvement, I've run into all kinds of proconceptions about the disorder - chief among them that it doesn't exist at all, or that it's merely a lack of discipline.

ADD is real.

I have absolutely zero doubt that ADD is real thing. Where I do have my doubts is whether or not it's a "disorder". To me, this is just how my mind has always worked. One misconception I think many people hold is that ADD is merely the inability to focus. They see (and hear about) kids who have been diagnosed with it who spend hours on end in front of a television or computer screen, and fail to understand how someone who can be so engrossed in an activity they seem to enjoy but be unable to spend even a few minutes studying or working without struggling. They see this as a lack of discipline, and in some way they are right - ADD is primarily about the inability to choose one's focus, not the inability to focus, period.

One of the blessing in my life for which I'm very grateful is that learning is something that I've always enjoyed. I can imagine how school would be tortuous for someone with ADD, being required to focus on a single task for hours but being completely unable to. That wasn't the case for me; my distractions in the classroom was usually a book that I'd brought with me, and as long as I glanced up at the chalkboard every so often to see what was being discussed I was able to keep up. I rarely encountered new material in class, and when I did, I caught on quickly and usually found myself drawn in to reading ahead in the textbook.

Medication is a Godsend

I really woke up to what ADD is when I had (of all things) an abcessed tooth. After the root canal I was prescribed hydrocodone, and while on it I sat down and found that I was extremely productive. My mind was clear for the first time I ever recall. I went to my doctor soon afterward and told him about my experience, describing it as if I had walked out of a busy restaurant at dinner into a quiet, snow-covered night. The constant stream of conversation in my head that was just outside the threshold of constant thought was quieted. I told him that it seemed obvious to me that an opioid habit wasn't a reasonable price to pay for that, but if it was possible with them then it seemed like a good idea to ask if there was something less potentially harmful that would act similarly. This lead to my diagnosis, and I was ultimately prescribed Vyvanse. Vyvanse metabolises into Adderall, which is nothing more than an amphetamine salt.

On Vyvanse I might say that I feel like a different person, but that's not precisely true. I feel like myself, only more fully. I'm more personable, less prone to frustration, and most important of all, am largely able to make myself focus on a topic of my choosing. That's HUGE for me as a developer. Before, my work was very periodic and unpredictable. I would commonly spend a few days or more basically staring at the screen trying to get a handle on a fairly simple problem, until I was able to get myself to achieve "flow state", at which point I'd stay there as long as possible and knock out days or weeks worth of work in a single sitting. Any interruption during my flow state would be a major setback. After taking Vyvanse, I can enter flow state with a few minute's effort. That meant that someone coming by my desk to ask a question isn't anywhere near the setback it was before, and that I am far more productive. More importantly, I am more consistently productive

It is without question that I am a more valuable employee when taking Vyvanse. It concerns me somewhat that I'm basically taking a drug to enhance my performance, and that's something about which I've given a great deal of thought. In the end, it is a tradeoff that I'm willing to make. I'm an adult makign an informed decision. If anything, I believe that such drugs should be more broadly available even to those without ADD and similar disorders.

Another thing that has surprised me is that a large number of IT professionals regularly take amphetamines, prescribed or illicit. Since "coming out" about my use of Vyvanse, over half of the programmers I know have told me that they take Ritalin, Adderall, or Vyvanse. Almost all of them use caffeine for the same purpose, which when you think about it really isn't all that much different.

Medicating Children

I see these tendencies in my oldest daughter as well. Yesterday I told her to clean her room, which she began to do earnestly and without argument. That lasted all of sixty seconds or so, before I saw that she was watching a cooking show on the television in the living room. I reminded her again to clean her room, and off she went... for another couple of minutes, when the sounds of activity from her room ceased. I poked my head in and found her reading a book about horses. "Clean you room Lynzy." Back to work. I remember interactions with my parents just like this with great clarity. I don't recall them ever getting angry with me for it, but they were certainly frustrated. I know that I never meant to get distracted, but it happened nonetheless. Likewise I do my best to not be angry with my own children for doing the same thing. They truly can't help it.

So far Lynzy seems to be much like me in this regard. She respects her parents and wants to please us, but often falls short when tasked with a multi-step process. We correct her as patiently and as gently as we can, and try to help her develop the mental discipline necessary to do well in life.

Neither of my children have been diagnosed with ADD, and I don't intend to have them speak to a doctor about it for a few years at least. Instead, I want them to be aware of their own personalities and character traits as God created them. If inability to hold focus becomes an issue that bothers them or holds them back in the future, then by all means I will fully support them seeking help. For the time being, I would prefer that they be able to follow their passions and interests and simply experience the joy of being a child and learning about the world.

Lynzy has been spending a lot of time playing Star Stable recently. My first instinct as a parent was to restrict her playing time, especially in light of my own addiction to EverQuest in a dark time in my life. Instead, I gave it a couple of weeks and observed. The biggest thing I noticed was a substantial improvement in her reading ability; she went from halting every couple of words to reading most sentences without stopping and understanding the text. I attribute this to her questing in the game. She likes to play Star Stable, and in order to progress she had to complete quests. In order to complete quests, she had to understand the requirements. In order the understand the requirements, she had to read them. In light of this, instead of imposing strict limits on her play time I bought her a premium membership.

As for medication... well, when Lynzy wanted her ears pierced I had a single, simple requirement: that she convince me that she understood the consequences of the decision. It was going to hurt when they did it, be sore for a while afterward, and it would be her responsibility to care for them so they didn't become infected. Every time she said she wanted to get it done, I asked her to tell me about what would happen. For a long time, her response was that it was going to hurt when they did it, and then she'd be able to wear real earrings. After a while, she was able to tell me about how it would hurt a little afterwards, what infection was, and how she was going to have to take care of her ears to keep that from happening. Once she did that, I took her to the mall and let her get them pierced. I think she was four at the time. She winced when the first one was done, and I saw a single tear welling up in her eye. She took a moment to compose herself, smiled at me, and turned her other ear to face the girl doing the piercing.

I see medication a lot like that. There are positives and negatives, and if my girls are mature enough to understand them and want to try it, then I fully support that decision - but it is not something that I'm going to pressure them to do.

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