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So really, rather than being defective, apparently I am a "Hunter living in a Farmer's World"

By Andrew Pollack on 12/20/2004 at 11:11 PM EST

I've been reading a fantastic book by Thom Hartman called "Attention Deficit Disorder: A Different Perception". Originally written with the central metaphor describing the traits of the person who as this "disorder" as Hunter/Gatherer living in society set up by and for Farmer/Agrarian types; years later its turned out that the science is showing that's actually fairly accurate.

What most people don't know about A.D.D. is a key indicator is the opposite -- "HYPER-FOCUS". Once engaged in "the hunt" an A.D.D. type can spend hours, days, or weeks in single minded intense persuit of the quary (like a programming problem).

As I'm using information from the book here, PLEASE BUY THE BOOK. Maybe they won't be so mad if I'm promoting it.

Here's a chart showing the comparison. The first column is the trait we consider "a problem" the ADD person has. The second column shows how it fits a "Hunter" type (remember, it was originally a metaphor). The third column shows the opposite trait in a "Farmer" society. The reason why something is seen as "a problem" is that the traits are so diametrically opposite.

After the chart, I've included a description of the typical characteristcs of an ADD type person -- and then last a list of the actual diagnostic guide for it.

Remember, everyone has SOME of these traits, the diagnostics insist you have most, that they have always been there (noticed before age 8) and that they are more pronounced that others in the same age group. If you'd like to compare, I hit 14 of 14 on the diagnostic table at the end -- and not a single one has any gray area at all.

A new view of ADD, as a natural adaptive trait

Trait as it appears in the
"Disorder" view

How it appears in the "Hunter" view: they're...

Opposite "Farmer" trait: they're...


Constantly monitoring their environment.

Not easily distracted from the task at hand.

Attention span is short, but can become intensely focused for long periods of time.

Able to throw themselves into the chase on a moment's notice.

Able to sustain a steady, dependable effort.

Poor planner: disorganized and impulsive (makes snap decisions).

Flexible; ready to change strategy quickly.

Organized, purposeful. They have a long term strategy and they stick to it.

Distorted sense of time: unaware of how long it will take to do something.

Tireless: capable of sustained drives, but only when "hot on the trail" of some goal.

Conscious of time and timing. They get things done in time, pace themselves, have good "staying power."


Results oriented. Acutely aware of whether the goal is getting closer now.

Patient. Aware that good things take time; willing to wait.

Doesn't convert words into concepts adeptly, and vice versa. May or may not have a reading disability.

Visual/concrete thinker, clearly seeing a tangible goal even if there are no words for it.

Much better able to seek goals that aren't easy to see at the moment.

Has difficulty following directions.


Team player.


Bored by mundane tasks; enjoy new ideas, excitement, "the hunt," being hot on the trail.

Focused. Good at follow-through, tending to details, "taking care of business."

Acts without considering consequences.

Willing and able to take risks and face danger.

Careful, "look before you leap."

Lacking in the social graces.

"No time for niceties when there are decisions to be made!"

Nurturing; creates and supports community values; attuned to whether something will last.
Attention Deficit Disorder: A Different Perception, by Thorn Hartmann

Attention deficit disorder: A Different Perception

Placed along the spectrum of ADD individuals you will find people who typically exhibit some or all of the following characteristics:

* Easily distracted. ADD people are constantly monitoring the scene; they notice everything that's going on, and particularly notice changes or quickly changing things in their environment. (This is the reason why, for example, it's difficult to have a conversation with ADD people when a television is on in the room; their attention will constantly wander back to the television and its rapidly-changing inputs.)

* Short, but extraordinarily intense, attention span. Oddly enough, this isn't definable in terms of minutes or hours: some tasks will bore an ADD person in thirty seconds, other projects may hold their rapt attention for hours, days, or even months. ADD adults often have difficulty holding a job for an extended period of time, not because they're incompetent but because they become "bored." Similarly, ADD adults often report multiple marriages, or "extremely intense, but short" relationships. When tested for attention span on a boring, uninteresting task, ADD people tend to score significantly lower than others.

* Disorganization, accompanied by snap decisions. ADD children and adults are often chronically disorganized. Their rooms are a shambles, their desks are messy, their files are incoherent; their living or working areas look like a bomb went off. This is also a common characteristic of non-ADD people, possibly related to upbringing or culture, but something usually separates messy ADD folks from their non-ADD counterparts: non-ADD people can usually find what they need in their messes, while ADD people typically can't find anything. An ADD person may be working on a project when something else distracts him, and he makes the snap decision to change priorities and jump into the new project- leaving behind the debris from the previous project. One ADD adult commented that "the great thing about being disorganized is that I'm constantly making exciting discoveries. Sometimes I'll find things I didn't even know I'd lost!"

* Distortions of time-sense. Most non-ADD people describe time as a fairly consistent and linear flow. ADD individuals, on the other hand, have an exaggerated sense of urgency when they're on a task, and an exaggerated sense of boredom when they feel they have nothing to do. This sense of boredom often leads to the abuse of substances such as alcohol and drugs, which alter the perception of time, whereas the sense of fast-time when on a project leads to chronic impatience. This elastic sense of time also causes many ADD adults to describe emotional highs and lows as having a profound impact on them. The lows, particularly, may seem as if they'll last forever, whereas the highs are often perceived as flashing by.

* Difficulty following directions. This has traditionally been considered a subset of the ADD person's characteristic of not being able to focus on something they consider boring, meaningless, or unimportant. While receiving directions, conventional wisdom has it that ADD people are often monitoring their environment as well, noticing other things, thinking of other things, and, in general, not paying attention. In other words, ADD people frequently have difficulty following directions, because the directions weren't fully received and understood in the first place.

Another theory to explain this is that ADD people are very independent, and tend to dislike being told what to do. They prefer to think for themselves, and may therefore place less importance on other's directions. But the most likely explanation for this, according to some authorities in the field, is that people with ADD have difficulty processing auditory or verbal information. When you say to a "normal" person "Go to the store and pick up a bottle of milk, a loaf of bread, and some orange juice, then stop at the gas station and fill up the car on die way home," the "normal" person will create a mental picture of each of those things as they hear them described. They picture the store, the milk, the bread, the juice, and the gas station. This congruence of verbal and visual images makes for high-quality memory. But an ADD person may only hear the words- without creating the mental pictures so vital to memory. They drive off to the store, repeating to themselves, "Milk, bread, juice, gas; milk, bread, juice, gas ..." until something distracts them and they lose the entire memory.

This problem with auditory processing is fairly well documented among children with ADD. However, the percentage of its prevalence among the general, non-ADD population is unknown. It may be that ADD people are only slightly more likely to have this problem, or it may be a cardinal symptom/problem. One ADD adult described it this way: "I find my comprehension of long chains of words is improved, vastly, by a picture. That way my brain can directly absorb the pattern. If you un-pattern it and translate it into a linear string of words, then I'm forced to absorb the string and reconstruct the pattern."

This may also account for the so-very-common reports from parents of ADD children that their kids are television addicts and hate to read. Reading requires the processing of auditory information (words sounded out within the brain into internal pictures), whereas television is purely external visualization. At the residential treatment facility I ran in New Hampshire, we found it useful to remove the televisions altogether from the residences of ADD children. After a few months, the kids began reading, and the habit persisted after the reintroduction of television.

There's also a debate about the cause of the ADD/auditory processing problem. One camp says that it's the result of a hard-wiring problem in the brain—the same mis-wiring problem that causes other ADD symptoms. The other camp theorizes that converting auditory information to visual information is a learned behavior, acquired by most people about the time they become proficient with language, between ages two and five. Because ADD people "weren't paying attention," they may be more likely to have simply missed out on learning this vital skill. Since the skill of converting words to pictures can be taught to ADD people with relative ease, the latter theory appears probable. Just say to an ADD child, "Will you please visualize that?" and watch for the characteristic movement of their eyes toward the ceiling, which usually means they're creating an internal mental image. If this is done each time instructions are given to an ADD child, eventually (often in a matter of weeks) the child will learn this basic skill of auditory processing and it becomes second nature. (For ADD adults, Harry Lorayne's Memory Book is wonderful, with its heavy emphasis on several methods to teach this skill, along with what Lorayne calls original awareness, which is merely a painless method of teaching yourself to pay attention.)

* Exhibit occasional symptoms of depression, or daydream more than others. ADD individuals who are relatively self-aware about the issues of sugar and food metabolism often report that depression or tiredness follows a meal or the consumption of sugary foods. This reaction may be related to differences in glucose (sugar) metabolism between ADD and non-ADD people, which we'll discuss in more detail later. Another possibility is that ADD people are simply bored more often by the lack of challenges presented by our schools, jobs, and culture, and this boredom translates for some people into depression.

*Take risks. ADD individuals seem to have strong swings of emotion and conviction, and make faster decisions than non-ADD types. While this trait often leads to disaster (I've spoken with several psychiatrists who suggest that, in their experience, American prison populations may be up to 90 percent ADD), it also means that ADD individuals are frequently the spark plugs of our society, the shakers and movers, the people who bring about revolution and change. ADD expert Dr. Edna Copeland, in a 1992 Atlanta speech, referenced a recent study which indicates that about half of all entrepreneurs test out as being ADD.
Evidence is strong that many of our Founding Fathers were also ADD (see the chapter titled Hunters Who Have Changed the World). If they hadn't been, the United States of America might never have come into being. ADD risk-takers may have predominated in the early Americas because those were the people best suited to undertake the voyage to this continent and face the unknown.

* Easily frustrated and impatient. To "not suffer fools gladly" is a classic ADD characteristic. While others may beat around the bush, searching for diplomacy, an ADD individual is most often direct, to the point, and can't understand how or why such blunt-ness might give offense. And when things aren't working out, "Do Something!" becomes the ADD person's rallying cry- even if the something is sloppy or mistaken.


The American Psychiatric Association's DSM III-R defined a person as having attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) if they meet eight or more of the criteria paraphrased here. As of this writing, this is the only "official" method for diagnosing ADHD, in children or adults:

1. When required to remain seated, a person has difficulty doing so.

2. Stimuli extraneous to the task at hand are easily distracting.

3. Holding attention to a single task or play activity is difficult.

4. Frequently will hop from one activity to another, without completing the first.

5. Fidgets or squirms (or feels restless mentally).

6. Doesn't want to, or can't, wait for his or her turn when involved in group activities.

7. Before a question is completely asked, will often interrupt the questioner with an answer.

8. Has problems with job or chore follow-through, and this difficulty doesn't stem from some other learning disability or defiant behavior.

9. Can't play quietly without difficulty.

10. Impulsively jumps into physically dangerous activities without weighing the consequences. (This is different from garden-variety thrill-seeking, and more accurately characterized by a child running into the street without looking first.)

11. Easily loses things such as pencils, tools, papers, etc., which may be necessary to complete school or other work.

12. Interrupts others inappropriately, butting in when not invited.

13. Talks impulsively or excessively.

14. Others report that the person doesn't seem to be listening when spoken to.

The three caveats on these diagnostic criteria are that the behaviors must have started before age seven, not represent some other form of classifiable mental illness, and occur more frequently than the average person of the same age. The term ADHD-RS, the RS representing Residual State, is used to describe this condition in adults.

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