from the archives of Carla (Nelson) Berg and the original bouncingbrains.com


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   This material in this presentation was adapted from Carla's  original monograph of this title
    published in January 1996; also  condensed in the book Think Fast (Underwood-Miller, 1996)

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Hearts & Minds

Towards a Unified Theory
of Attention Difficulty?

by Carla (Nelson) Berg









Strip off the clinical labels, look beyond the symptom checklists, and most of the talk about what is an attention deficit - and what is not - boils down to two critical elements: arousal and focus.

Without a source of keen stimulation to keep arousal raised, people with an attention deficiency cannot consistently concentrate.

Thus to see the whole of what we call "ADD", we must look not just at what it takes to focus, but what it takes to activate. Every person with an attention difficulty finds their lives defined by a tortuous struggle to keep these two elements synchronized. Yet most discussions consider arousal and attention separately - if the former is mentioned at all - as if the two factors were independent rather than linked.

Prevailing models of ADD sort clinical symptoms into two functional clusters: physically hyperactive and/or mentally inattentive, as reflected by the slash in its formal name: AD/HD. But the wider spectrum practitioners see and patients report defies this implication of a divided body and mind and its suggestion that "hyperactivity" can only be of a kinetic, physical kind. Those who understand this struggle up close know that one can be "hyper" in thinking or feeling or doing, or some of each combined.

It has been suggested many times that the division between physically hyperkinetic and mentally innatentive be even more firmly drawn with the latter, non-hyper, kind placed in a  separate diagnostic category apart from AD/HD. My paradigm takes a different stance: that the most accurate view requires more synthesis, not more splitting.

Scores of respected experts have written about AD/HD, and parts of the puzzle have taken shape, including possible links to various neurobiological irregularities and neurochemical deficiencies, and differences in blood flow and anatomical structures. We even have  leads to some potentially wayward genes. But despite all that has been studied and speculated, we still lack a box top for this puzzle, a sketch of the larger picture, a vivid impression of the entire syndrome.

How might it look if all the pieces were placed together? Can all the symptoms and subtypes these experts describe, some of them polar opposites, ever rest side-by-side? I believe they can, but only if we look at arousal and attention together and at the same moments in time.

It is to that end this heuristic has been designed.

Three Types in Nine Degrees
How well we attend and how much we engage are separate, but interactive, variables. One can have too much action, but not enough focus, or too much focus but not enough action, or too much of both at once, each creating a different set of challenges in life. But at root, it is this continual flux between extremes of attention and arousal, and their impact on each other, that I believe frames the whole of what we are calling

No fixed list of symptoms can depict all these ups and downs or the many ways they can combine. But if attention and arousal are plotted as axes on a chart, each from abnormally low to abnormally high, a much different picture takes shape, a dynamic portrait of shifting states that vary with time in response to stimuli.

The result, as presented within, is a matrix of inattentive states in three types and nine degrees, a multidimensional continuum that progresses in length and strength of attentiveness along a spectrum that shades from underfocusing low arousal with sporadic hyperactivity to hyperaroused hyperfocusing with its flooding of sensory overwhelm.

With such a model we can, in fact, make space for all the puzzle pieces that have been called ADD, not only to coexist, but to connect into a larger whole that makes practical sense, even to a non-specialist.


This presentation was obtained from the Internet beginning at http://www.hyperthought.net/PS/HH1.htm
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