Learning to ADD

Writing a blog post is quite a challenge for me. Having the ideas isn’t an issue: my mind is full of them. Sitting down and beginning to write isn’t the problem either: here I am. The difficulty comes in staying focussed on the job in hand and seeing it through to completion. I was never diagnosed with AD(H)D as a child but the more I read and understand it, the better it seems to describe how I function in day-to-day life.

The H is Optional


Optional makes it sound like a choice – which it certainly isn’t – but attention deficit disorder doesn’t automatically come with a free helping of hyperactivity. As a child I don’t think I was especially badly behaved in school. I had the same amount of energy as my friends and could cope with sitting still in lessons. Primary school worked well for me: reading and writing simple stories, solving maths problems and drawing very badly. I do remember some confusion in the early days of secondary school and two particular examples still stand out in my mind. Firstly, a subject called RE where the teacher described stories involving people I’d never heard of, yet everyone else in the class understood what was going on. (My parents aren’t religious so I had never heard any Bible stories before.) And French. Learning lots of different words for things that already had perfectly good words. I had no concept of it being another language, spoken by other people in a different country.

Maths, on the other hand, made sense. There were rules to follow and problems to solve. I enjoyed that. By the time I was in Year 8 or 9 the other subjects began making sense, too. (I think I developed a form of meta-understanding: in subjects you learn ‘things’ and in exams you need to reproduce variants of these ‘things’.)

Being an ADDult

I only really considered the possibility of ‘being a bit ADD’ when a close friend of mine half-jokingly suggested it 7 or 8 years ago. I bought the book Delivered from Distraction on Amazon based on its reviews, and dove straight in to chapter 4.

The book contains a 128-question quiz, essentially there to reassure you as you respond ‘yes’ to more and more items. Here are few of my favourites:

  • Q1: Did you turn to this chapter right away, before you read any of the other chapters in this book?
  • Q19: Do you go off on tangents easily?
  • Q20: On the other hand, do you get really annoyed when other people go off on tangents, wishing they’d hurry up and get to the point?
  • Q25: Although you may be quiet and reserved, does your mind go a mile a minute most of the time?
  • Q26: Are you more of a child at heart today than other adults your age?


  • Q104: Are you thinking about many other things in the back of your mind as you read through this quiz?

The quiz spans several pages and I’m sure many people could agree with many of the statements presented. I have to admit that my life isn’t hugely impacted by being ADD, or at least that I have found and learned strategies that keep me on track.

There is no squirrel

A lot of the ADHD memes (which, incidentally, I find pretty funny and not insulting) finish with distraction-by-squirrel or some other animal but that doesn’t really ring true for me.


My distractions are just all the internal thoughts in my mind: essentially the jobs that need doing. The bills, the chores, the hobbies, the work, the daily functioning in life. Once something comes to the front of my thoughts, I have an impulse to act on it. If I feel thirsty mid-conversation, I won’t be able to focus on the rest of the conversation until I get a drink. If I’m playing the piano and remember a bill needs paying, I’ll stop mid-bar. Just about any activity can be interrupted by a need to do any other activity, although typically it’s when I’m more relaxed that my mind wanders.

Amusingly, one of my infamous triggers is tying a shoelace. Almost every day I will do something wearing just one shoe before I go back to putting the other one on!

Teaching with ADD

I actually think teaching is an ideal job for me, and not just because of how much I enjoy sharing my subject with each year’s students. I have a timetable structure for my day, I have a scheme of work structure for my term, and I don’t have to decide when to take annual leave. Moreover, mathematics intrinsically engages me and so I’m unlikely to wander far off topic. I even reserve a bit of space at the edge of the whiteboard for ‘things I’ll come back to in a minute’ as a preventative measure.

Departmental meetings, report writing, tasks allocated to me in passing conversations – that’s a different matter. I need reminders. Frequent, supportive reminders.

I even get a particular benefit from ADD:


Hyperfocus is essentially the antithesis of boredom. It’s the feeling of flow. Usually for me, this comes with tasks that involve working at a computer: programming projects, creating databases or websites, or even just preparing documents. It’s not a conscious act or decision, I just become deeply focussed and highly productive. Again, this means teaching is well-suited to me. I can happily and rapidly prepare resources and activities for my students and I can write large sets of reports (after leaving them until the last minute, of course). Hyperfocus also gives me the sticking power needed to engage with difficult mathematical problems and the assignments for my MSc course.

My most recent example of hyperfocus was the website I made for Teaching and Learning books. Essentially a Saturday afternoon to create a dozen webpages and build in several Google forms.

Making the most of it

As with most situaitons in life, there are ways I’ve adapted to ensure I am generally successful. Simple things like putting bills on to direct debit means no more red letters. My desk is a mess with piles of papers but I have a half-termly clear out to keep it manageable. Friends, colleagues and even students know to politely remind me about any things I’d said I would do. And, above all else, I surround myself with friends who don’t take offence when I interrupt conversations with a bit of Beautiful South or Chopin on piano.


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