ADD: the three most important characteristics and how to deal with them

ADD: the three most important characteristics and how to deal with them
Everyone suffers from poor concentration from time to time. However, some people have structural concentration problems and suffer from this a lot. They may have ADD. In this article, Gabor Maté (an ADD person himself) explains the three most important characteristics of ADD with associated properties. At the end of the article, you will find a list of positive characteristics and articles about ADD.

Three characteristics of ADD

ADD has three main characteristics, two of which you must have to be diagnosed with (via a psychologist or psychiatrist):

  1. Poor concentration (being easily distracted)
  2. Poor impulse control
  3. Hyperactivity

1. Poor Concentration

The main characteristic of ADD is the automatic ‘falling away of attention without your will: the frustrating absence of the mind. You suddenly find that you haven’t received anything you’ve been listening to, seen nothing you’ve been watching, you don’t remember anything you’re trying to focus on. You miss information and clues, put things back in the wrong place and have trouble following conversations. You may also feel that you are cut off from reality as if you are not completely in your body here and now.

Chaos in the house and head

ADD: the three most important characteristics and how to deal with them

Being easily distracted creates chaos. You may be able to imagine what a tidy and organized room looks like, but you don’t have the right mindset to do the required work. If you do succeed every now and then, then you know very well that the order you have created is transient. Soon you’ll be throwing things around again, as you’re looking for some important thing that you’re sure you saw lurking in some obscure nook or cranny a while ago.

Problems with coordination

Some people with ADD are very mechanically skilled and can take apart and put together complex objects, machine parts, and the like almost intuitively. Most other people with ADD have problems with coordination, especially with regard to their fine motor skills. They drop things, they step on other people’s feet, they throw balls the wrong way.

Poor spatial awareness

Like many people with ADD, I (Gabor Maté) is not very good at imagining things in three dimensions or judging the spatial relationships of things, no matter how well it is explained to me. If someone with ADD asks for directions, he won’t know what the other person has said until he’s only halfway through his first sentence. The poor visual-spatial awareness of people with ADD, together with the fact that they are easily distracted, means that order simply doesn’t stand a chance.


You don’t see that easily distracted with ADD in all activities. Many parents and teachers are a little misled in this regard: with some activities, a child can if at all, be almost compulsive and very concentrated. The hyperfocus. Hyperfocus is often accompanied by what you might call passive attention. Passive attention allows the mind to operate on autopilot, eliminating the effort of the brain. Active attention, where the mind is fully engaged and the brain is fully engaged, suits special circumstances when you are super motivated. People with ADD do not have this ability when they have to do organized work, or when they have to focus their attention on something they are not interested in.

Selective focus

In order to concentrate, someone with ADD needs a much stronger motivation than other people. ADD is situational: the expression of ADD can differ greatly from circumstance to circumstance. For example, there are certain school subjects that children with ADD are remarkably good at, while others are distracted, unproductive, and perhaps even disruptive. Teachers might then think that the child consciously decides when to make an effort or not to do his best. These children are not intentionally distracted or disobedient. This involves emotional and neurophysiological factors that actually make this decision for them.

2. Impulsivity

ADD: the three most important characteristics and how to deal with them

The second feature of ADD that occurs in nearly all patients is impulsivity with regard to what they say or do, accompanied by poorly controlled emotional reactivity. Adults and children with ADD find it very difficult not to interrupt others. This impulsivity can also cause them to buy things they don’t need at all on a whim, without considering the costs or consequences.

3. Hyperactivity

Hyperactivity is the third salient feature of ADD. This manifests itself most clearly in the constant need to move, but it can also be less perceptible and not immediately obvious. Sometimes hyperactivity is completely absent. Some children can be easily distracted and often absent from school, but because they don’t cause any problems in class, they just pass every year. While hyperactivity is not a requirement to be diagnosed with ADD, it can be a real drama for some patients.

Talk fast

Hyperactivity can also manifest itself in a lot of talking. I have heard from some adults with ADD that they speak quickly because there are so many words and sentences in their heads that they are afraid they will forget the most important ones. So they blurt it out as soon as possible.


Restlessness is accompanied by long periods of procrastination. The threat of failure or the promise of a reward must be there immediately or the motivation center in the brain will not be activated.


People with ADD regularly experience frustrating memory loss every day. The key word here is a distraction. The infamously poor short-term memory of people with ADD is due in large part to being easily distracted, semi-dissociated, and internally occupied with other things.

Unfinished Projects

When you look back on your life as an adult with ADD, you remember all kinds of plans that you never quite realized and all kinds of resolutions that you didn’t follow through. “I am someone with eternal potential,” a patient once told me. Swells of enthusiasm soon fade away.

Social skills

Social skills are also sometimes a problemSomething about ADD makes it very difficult to notice boundaries between people. Some children with ADD approach other children with a naive openness, which is often rejected. Because they are not very good at interpreting social cues, they are sometimes rejected by their peers. While many people with ADD have poorly developed social skills, not all ADD patients do. For example, there is a type of ADD child that is very social and very popular among peers.

Adults with ADD may come across as aloof and arrogant or other people may find them less talkative and a bit rude. They often make forced jokes, talk busy and fast, and jump from one topic to another seemingly randomly and aimlessly. Another characteristic is that they need a lot of words to express an idea.

Furthermore, when adults with ADD participate in conversations, they can quickly become bored because their conversation partners exaggerate about things that are very superficial to someone with ADD.

The common thread is that on all days, whether good or bad, they have the nagging feeling that they have missed out on something important in life.

Positive qualities

ADD: the three most important characteristics and how to deal with them

ADD also brings many positive qualities. For example, if you’re interviewing adults with ADD, you can expect all kinds of jokes. With unexpected turns of phrase and absurd associations, they intersperse life stories that are not so laughable in themselves. Furthermore, the following positive characteristics also belong to ADD:

  • charismatic
  • Charming
  • compassionate
  • Creative
  • Empathetic
  • Energetic
  • Enthusiastic
  • Passionate
  • Sensitive
  • Well-developed intuition
  • hardworking
  • Intelligent
  • Out-of-the-box thinking
  • Loyal
  • Multi-talented
  • Curious
  • open-minded
  • Optimistic
  • Able to think and switch quickly
  • Quickly see connections
  • Spontaneously
  • Strong adaptability/flexible
  • Resilient
  • Visionary
  • Warm personality


How do you make sure that it becomes less busy in your own head? The answer to this is simple: by making your life less busy! These tips can help you on your way:

  • It may be an open door; remove distracting apps from your phone. Instagram, Facebook and the like are built to distract you. Almost everyone has trouble dosing time on these apps, so your easily distracted brain certainly does. Do it for a few days if necessary and enjoy the peace .
  • Chop tasks into small pieces and reward yourself after you finish something. No matter how ‘small’ the result is.
  • Do the task you dread the most first (and reward yourself), then at least you won’t have to do it again.
  • Self-esteem is a difficult issue for ADD’ers. Be aware for a day of what your inner critic is trying to tell you. Would you also say those things to people you love or would they accept such things from you? New? Then why do you accept that from yourself?
  • Stop comparing yourself to other people. Their brains are shaped differently; everyone is unique and different. You have your qualities and lesser qualities and so do they.

Good luck!



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