The other day I sat next to someone with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) for several hours, and it was a fascinating experience. I mean that in a respectful way -- it was kind of startling to observe at first, but mostly I was impressed with the coping mechanisms that this person, who is an adult and a successful scientist, has developed.
We were each working on something different, each on our own laptop. At first, I wasn't really paying attention to my companion, as I was deep into editing a manuscript. Although there are times when I skip around from project to project, there are many times when I focus intensely on writing or editing or reading or thinking for a long period of time without interruption.
After I was finished editing, I glanced over to see what my companion was doing. He had said that he was going to work on a manuscript, but when I glanced at his laptop, he was reading a political blog. Seconds later he went back to his manuscript, wrote a sentence, then checked some news headlines -- then he went back to the manuscript to write another sentence or two, then he checked the weather online, then he went to some journal websites to scan the tables of contents, then he wrote a sentence, then he jumped up to get something to drink, came back and wrote a sentence, and so on. It was amazing. In the course of a few hours, he made progress on the manuscript, and entertained me with pieces of information gleaned from his internet expeditions.
Having ADD has long been a source of frustration for this person. There are times when it has made him extremely upset and angry with himself. The medications that he has tried over the years worked in that they helped him focus, but they also kept him awake for days on end and had other side effects that scared him. So now he just lives with it and, although he hates his inability to focus, if he keeps going back to his original activity, even if he can't sustain that activity for more than a few minutes, he gets things done. In fact, he gets a lot done. He published 10 papers last year and wrote at least 2 successful grant proposals. And he is very well informed about the news and weather.
8 years ago