ADD Diagnosis Raises Questions of Accuracy

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Webster’s New World Medical Dictionary defines Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), as, “an inability to control behavior due to difficulty in processing neural stimuli.” If you have no idea what that means, my guess is you’re in the majority.

At the risk of getting all “Health Corner” on you, I did a little research and learned that neural stimuli are hormones released directly due to stimulation of the endocrine gland by nerves.

Basically, when you can’t process neural stimuli, it translates to an inability to concentrate and/or focus.

I never had much of an interest in ADD or what it does to people until I went to Kaiser for a physical in early January. I talked to my doctor about losing my focus easily, and apparently I said some things that triggered ADD testing.

I laughed it off and agreed to take the test, confident that if I were to be diagnosed with ADD it would have happened about 17 years ago.

According to my physician, well over 70% of those diagnosed with ADD are diagnosed during childhood.

I had no idea that agreeing to this testing meant sacrificing an entire Saturday, the only day of the week that I have to myself. I was hooked up to machines, asked to write sentences, played some puzzle games, and went through several one-on-one interviews with different doctors. Anyone who has gone through this testing knows what I’m talking about. I went in feeling like a patient, and came out four hours later feeling like a lab rat.

I went through an initial interview during which I was asked basic questions such as age, education, family background, etc.

Then I went through a second interview during which I was asked to describe specific instances when I felt like I couldn’t focus or felt restless.

After that, the real testing began. I sat in front of a computer screen with a set of headphones on and was asked to press a button each time I heard a noise or saw a letter appear on the screen.

There were roughly 20-30 seconds between each sound and letter, and my guess is that, if I had ADD, my mind was supposed to wander so far off that I wouldn’t catch the sound or the letters.

Feeling like I had outsmarted the testing, I told the doctor that I had figured it out but she just smiled at me and told me to finish it. This took about half an hour.

Then a screen came up with a list of about 30 words, and I had 2 minutes to memorize as many words as I could and then another two minutes to write them down. I did this same test with different word groups more times than I can remember. Next, I had to memorize a pattern and fill in the blanks in the pattern. At the end of all three of these tests, about 2 1⁄2 hours had gone by.

Then I went to my third and final interview that was more like the verbal section of the SAT.

The doctor would ask me to define words and use them in sentences. Then she gave me a puzzle in which I had to connect dots with lines without overlapping lines or making too many.

She asked me if I had any other questions, and then the testing was done. I walked out of there four hours later.

I drove home by myself in silence, wondering what it was that I had just gone through. It was the same silence and thought I broke into when I got test results back, telling me that I had been diagnosed with “mild ADD,” whatever that means. I was caught somewhere between confusion and laughter.

How could I be diagnosed with ADD after 22 years? How could so many doctors miss it?

I always thought that all of my insignificant, weird idiosyncrasies were just things that made me who I am.

The excessive counting, identifying patterns in random places, and spacing out in class is Nicholas being Nicholas. How much of it really is just me being me? One of the biggest problems with ADD is over-diagnosis, according to the American Academy of Neurology.

A lot of this has to do with the medication involved. There are many people who feel like they benefit from the effect of adderall so much so that they’re willing to trick a few doctors to get it.

There is a debate within the AAN as to whether or not ADD/HD is diagnosable. Consequently, there are different ways doctors diagnose it.

There are other USF students diagnosed with ADD/HD that went through different testing than I did.

I decided that after 22 years, I’ve done just fine for myself without medication.

Whether I have ADD or not, my habits have become part of who I am and how I live my life. Spacing out in class isn’t that bad; sometimes it’s just too boring.

Nicholas Mukhar is senior media studies major and journalism and legal studies minor.

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