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Part 2.8

Hyperactive Hearts & Minds:
Towards a Unified View of Attention Difficulties?

Adapted from workshops presented by Carla (Nelson) Berg at the Midwinter Brain Sciences Colloquium in Palm Springs, February 1997 and 1998

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AD Types 1 and 3 tend to be "stickers" who bounce in place, while a Type 2 may be a "slipper" who segues from being overfocused one hour to being underfocused the next


An important aspect of my modeling is to provide a way to demonstrate what happens as focus ebbs and flows in response to stimulation, that it may ramp up towards higher frequency or higher amplitude -- or both -- over time, depending on where you start on the chart and what is happening in your life.

Just as a heartbeat will speed up in response to both pleasure and pain, so will the metaphorical "brain beat" we have seen wax and wane in response to the degree of "charge" attached to stimuli.

Stimuli, as I use the term, can be external or internal, an inner thought or feeling that grabs your attention or an external event that propels you to act. Clearly such triggers rise and fall in potency, and hence so do arousal and attention fluctuate. The brain beat model* you saw earlier was created to convey that concept symbolically, as well as to portray in a more graphic way the "attentional inconsistency" of more labile attention spans.

In this paradigm based on a "moveable mind" it is proposed that everyone with an attention difficulty has a default mode, or most common style, but they also state-shift over time as arousal rises and falls, moving up and down the "spectrum of inattention". Thus this spectrum is both a static and a dynamic depiction. It portrays where you stand and where you might go. In static form it suggests dominant mode, but in its dynamic form it also describes how we change over time as we grow more or less aroused.

Consider me, a "hypermental" Type 2 for example, often overfocused around my desk but obliviously underattentive to much that lies beyond it, the archetypal "absent-minded professor." When I was younger, understimulated and too insecure to believe I could change it, I most often looked like a 2.1, a persistently preoccupied procrastinator. Once my career took off, and I found a satisfying source of mental stim to keep me aroused, I shifted into a 2.2, the compulsive creator, where I've remained for decades since. Around intense projects, I may shift again, into a 2.3, an overengaged, yet inconsistent, perfectionist. And there were plenty of times I felt I belonged in the Type 3 band while developing this paradigm, so hyperfocused it was as if the rest of the world had ceased to exist.

The complete set of these whimsical archetypes is portrayed cartoon style in Shades of the Stimulus-Driven. It is a pictorial version of the matrix from "Surviving Sane with a Bouncing Brain," my seminar for layfolk.

Stickers & Slippers
Everyone moves some distance along this continuum as arousal ebbs and flows, but some brains "bounce" more than others. Types 1 and 3 tend to be "stickers" who bounce in place, spending most of their time on the outer sides of the spectrum in prolonged over or underfocusing, while Type 2's tend to be "slippers" who might segue from being overfocused one hour to being underfocused the next. Such differences are often too subtle to be apparent outwardly until it is time to sustain attention to tasks that demand steady persistence but provide low levels of feedback. This is one reason of several reasons why the symptoms may not be spotted until children are old enough to have a heavy amount of homework in school.

Another layer of my paradigm explores these relationships in the context of what I conceptualize as "positive and negative stimulus charge." But, again, today we are only looking at how arousal and attention combine to produce states of AD. As I am sure you have gathered by now, this is my preferred acronym, minus the second D for disorder, since we are clearly straddling the border between what some would call 'disordered' and others would call 'quirky but normal.'

If it weren't for the fact that treatment of attention difficulties may include psychotropic prescriptions for children, we might already have redefined this dialogue as a discussion of "differences" rather than "disabilities." (If that latter distinction is of interest, you may also wish to read "In the Genes or Full of Beans?" an essay from HYPERTHINK/INK which is online at this site.)



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