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Living with ADHD

From sports celebrities like Ian Kinsler to business leaders and psychologists, adults with ADHD learn to channel their disorder and achieve success.
By Karen Nielsen |
photography courtesy of Getty Images

When Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler spoke openly about his attention deficit disorder last fall, he wasn’t concerned about public perception or the stigma that often comes with the diagnosis. As a child, he struggled with paying attention and talking too much in class. In eighth grade he began taking Adderall, a medication that helped him focus better, and he hasn’t looked back.

“I think if it’s affecting the people around you and they notice it, you need to check yourself out and look in the mirror,” Kinsler said in an interview with D on opening day of Rangers baseball. “It’s absolutely OK to get help, and no one is going to make fun of you.”

About 9 million adults have ADD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but nearly 90 percent of them don’t even know it, says Koy Roberts, Ph.D., a child, adolescent, and family psychologist in Coppell.

“I was really excited when Ian Kinsler came out about it,” Roberts says. “You look at how successful he is and what a nice guy he is. When he says I have this [disorder], it really gives people permission to talk about it.”

Other celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher and Michael Phelps and businessmen Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s, and David Neeleman, founder and CEO of JetBlue Airways, have spoken frankly about their ADHD. Clearly, they’ve found ways to successfully channel the disorder, and their message is that others can, too.

ADHD is a neurobiological disorder that affects the parts of the brain that control attention and activity. Despite the name, ADHD is not just about hyperactivity, it’s more about struggling to stay focused.

Roberts points out that most ADHD people are highly intelligent, creative, and innovative, and once they learn to manage their symptoms, their “unlimited energy and laser focus on important goals can be a secret weapon that most ordinary folks like me can only envy.”

Those who come out on top typically pick a profession or career about which they’re passionate. Because they are easily bored, a job where they’re sitting in a cubicle all day isn’t a good career choice.

The Real Deal
Most of us have joked one time or another about having ADHD. Being tired or stressed out from overscheduled lives, too little sleep, and lack of exercise can trigger ADHD-like symptoms. But those don’t hold a candle to the real deal. The disorder is characterized by difficulties following directions, concentrating, organizing tasks, remembering information, controlling behavior, and hyperactivity.

Not every person has all of the symptoms, but not addressing these difficulties can lead to problems at work, with relationships, addictions, and underachieving.

Mike Garza knows that story all too well. He was held back in the fourth grade because of hyperactivity and immaturity and was constantly in trouble at school. He flunked out of college three times before finally graduating at age 26.

“All the way through school I hardly passed anything,” says the 71-year-old. “I couldn’t get myself to study or sit down and I was never on time. In high school, my self-esteem was zero. I thought I was stupid and there something wrong with me. My parents kept saying ‘try harder.’ ”

An avid tennis player, Garza received several college scholarships and once stayed with a family who “were on my case all of the time” and helped him bring his grades up.

“I never took any medicine along the way,” he says. “I got a Day-Timer and I got really good with my calendar, and that was only way I succeeded. I fell in love with psychology and made good grades.”

Garza went on to earn a master’s degree in counseling and a doctorate in psychology and worked in private practice for 25 years in Dallas. He has also taught at the Dallas County Community College District for the last 30 years.

He has always struggled with relationships. Garza’s fifth wife, a psychology student who later earned her licensed professional counseling license, spotted his ADD symptoms and encouraged him to seek help for it at the age of 62.

Shortly thereafter, he founded the North Texas Chapter of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), whose mission is to improve the lives of people with ADHD. He now serves on the national CHADD board.

“I wanted to start a group in Dallas,” he says. “If I would have had help in grade school, my life would have been so different.”

“Aha” Moment for Parents
Parents of children with ADHD often have an “aha” moment in realizing they, too, were considered lazy, disruptive, or unmotivated in school. Not as much was known about ADD or ADHD, as it’s now called, 20 years ago, and little was done to treat it.

“There’s been more assessment and a lot of teachers notice the symptoms in school,” Roberts said. “But for Gen X people like me and above, there wasn’t much knowledge and know-how about it.”

photography by Aggie Brooks
In his family practice, Roberts primarily works with children and adolescents, but because ADHD is “highly inheritable,” many of the parents find out they have it as well. “I’m seeing a patient today who is a mom in her 50s who wants an evaluation,” he says, noting that difficulties in her career signaled her interest.

For Kevin Lofgren, 41, ADHD has been both a blessing and a curse. Although he got on just fine by being entertaining and the life of the party, he wasn’t well respected for his intellect or performance in school. After college, he got a job and later founded Farstar, a technology-based creative marketing firm in Frisco.

“What I found was when I was employed I could get away with doing things half-assed, but when I [started Farstar] and was not quite focused, I was cheating myself,” he says. “I made up for my lack of focus by working more. It would take me eight hours when it should have taken me two, so I worked 80 to 90 hours a week.”

He also recalls drifting off during meetings and not remembering when he promised clients he’d do something.

“It looked like I had a memory problem, but it was a listening problem,” he says. “It shows up like you don’t care or don’t respect them.”

Treatment Options
About half of the people diagnosed as children will outgrow the disorder and may not need treatment for it. Adults are better at developing coping skills and organization and management skills to deal with ADHD and some may not require medication for it.

The 85-90 percent of those who take medications for ADHD say it practically changes their lives. The remaining 10 to 15 percent find the medicine doesn’t work or leads to side effects, such as difficult sleeping, and decreased appetite and emotions.

Although it might seem counterintuitive to use stimulants to treat a hyperactive person, that’s exactly what their brains need to help control impulse behavior or concentration.

“People with ADHD tend to have less neurotransmitter stimulators, so they’re under-aroused and they can’t focus or get much done,” Roberts says. “The medication stimulates the neurotransmitters so they can do their jobs.”

Most of the Class C controlled substances—Ritalin, Metadate, Concerta, Daytrana, Adderall, Desoxyn, Dexedrine, and Dextrostat—used to treat ADHD haven’t changed much in the last few decades. But a handful of nonstimulates, including Stattera, are newer to the scene, as is the use of neurofeedback, which through repetition trains the frontal lobe of the brain to produce the desired brain waves.

Treatment all depends on how significantly ADHD is affecting the adult. Licensed professional counselor Dulce Torres, who offers ADHD coaching and treats patients in her Dallas-Fort Worth practice, says she evaluates the whole picture. Often there is a learning disability such as dyslexia, or an anxiety disorder or depression linked to an individual with ADHD.

Torres knows firsthand how support systems can help a person with ADHD. Her son was diagnosed as an adult and her family created systems at home to help during college. Those needed to be tweaked once he graduated.

Through her practice and volunteer work with the North Texas CHADD group, which offers support groups and programs in Tarrant County, Grapevine/Southlake, and Dallas, Torres helps show people that ADHD is a real condition, but one, like diabetes, that can be managed.

Diet and Exercise
Business owner Lofgren stayed on Adderall for four years until he made some diet and exercise adjustments that he says transformed his life. Two years ago, he kicked his 14-Diet-Cokes-a-day-habit, quit smoking, and eliminated dairy and gluten from his diet. His pants size has dropped from a 34 to a 29, he doesn’t need an alarm clock anymore, and he recently sat through a three-day class without a problem.

“I couldn’t have done that before,” Lofgren says. “Nobody is saying the doctors aren’t saving lives every day, but there are many things we turn to drugs for if we would just be responsible for how we feed ourselves.”

Although Adderall made him productive, he says a “clear mind” now has inspired him to creatively look for ways for his business to make a difference in the world.

Roberts reiterates that ADHD is a brain disorder, but agrees that reducing or cutting out processed foods, junk food, too much sugar and red dye, and stepping up exercise can all help improve ADHD symptoms.

Kinsler of the Texas Rangers says he mainly uses medication to manage his ADHD, but believes that actively exercising all of his life has definitely helped.

Unfortunately, not everyone with ADHD gets to become a professional baseball player or celebrate milestones in their careers or relationships, Roberts says.

“There are so many adults who have been walking around with ADHD their whole lives,” he says. “They managed to get through with a lot of bumps and bruises along the way, but they really just underachieved relative to their ability levels. For a lot of adults, with treatment, life could be a whole lot easier.”

Other Resources
• You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! A Self-Help Book for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder, by Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo
Copy This! by Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s
• North Texas Chapter of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD),
ADDitude magazine,