Until recently, people with ADD were considered stupid and in some cases un-teachable. Famous people including Newton, Leonardo da Vinci and Einstein have been suspected of having ADD or ADHD. ADD is a little-understood but surprisingly common brain imbalance. The disorder is genetic, according to some researchers, and it usually manifests itself first as childhood hyperactivity. But as the physical restlessness wears away during puberty, leaving mainly the attention span symptoms, the syndrome becomes harder to spot.
Adult ADD is marked not only by a short attention span but also by a multitasking mind. ADHD, once called hyperkinesis or minimal brain dysfunction, is one of the most common mental disorders among children. It affects 3 to 5 percent of all children, perhaps as many as 2 million American children. Two to three times more boys than girls are affected. On the average, at least one child in every classroom in the United States needs help for the disorder. ADHD often continues into adolescence and adulthood, and can cause a lifetime of frustrated dreams and emotional pain as well as a distorted self-image.
Isaac Newton entered college at the age of 18 and failed to distinguish himself in any way. He was extremely forgetful, had a habit of working very late and missing his meals, and had trouble controlling his impulsive nature. On the other hand, he did manage to invent calculus and rewrite physics from the ground up, making almost every physicist or mathematician who has ever lived look like a complete simpleton in comparison. The most famous of renaissance men, Leonardo da Vinci possessed great mathematical ability and made innumerable of creative, brilliant observations about the physical world.
He was an underachiever, leaving a body of work that was small in proportion to his ability. He left jobs unfinished, and he moved impulsively from one occupation to another. He was so strongly afflicted as well as inspired that he carried a notebook with him so he could record a reasonable percentage of the ideas that poured into his mind during the course of a day. A more recent scientist, Albert Einstein often lost the key to his apartment and had to wake his landlady in the middle of the night.
In spite of his intelligence, he was denied admission to college because he failed biology and math. He said he had to be very careful when shaving because so many inspirations would come to him at this time, that he worried that the shock of a blast of insight would cause him to cut himself. Hyperactive is a word often used to describe gifted children as well as children with ADHD. As with attention span, children with ADHD have a high activity level, but this activity level is often found across situations (Barkley, 1990). A large proportion of gifted children are highly active too.
As many as one-fourth may require less sleep; however, their activity is generally focused and directed (Clark, 1992; Webb, Meckstroth, & Tolan, 1982), in contrast to the behavior of children with ADHD. The intensity of gifted children’s concentration often permits them to spend long periods of time and much energy focusing on whatever truly interests them. Their specific interests may not coincide, however, with the desires and expectations of teachers or parents. Barkley, R. A. (1990). “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: A handbook for diagnosis and treatment. Guilford Press: New York. Clark, B. (1992). “Growing up gifted. ” Macmillan: New York.
While the child who is hyperactive has a very brief attention span in virtually every situation (usually except for television or computer games), children who are gifted can concentrate comfortably for long periods on tasks that interest them, and do not require immediate completion of those tasks or immediate consequences. The activities of children with ADHD tend to be both continual and random; the gifted child’s activity usually is episodic and directed to specific goals.