Is it Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Difference Disorder?

By Jeff Copper, MBA, PCC, PCAC, CPCC, ACG – February 13, 2023

Many with ADHD are stuck applying the obvious solution as if they are the same as everyone else. The bottom line is this: Those who are diagnosed with ADHD have brains that are just wired differently.

By the same token, we need to think differently about ADHD, to look at strengths and what’s right or natural for those with ADHD. It’s not always a deficit in attention, but it is always a difference, and that’s the main thing.

For more information on the subject, watch my video, “Is It Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Difference Disorder?” using an analogy of those with ADHD being left-handed in a right-handed world. Here’s the link:



Jeff Copper: Welcome everybody to this edition of Attention Talk Video. I’m your host, attention coach Jeff Copper. And with us in our makeshift studio is psychiatrist, Kenny Handelman. Kenny, welcome to the show.

Dr. Handelman: Thank you very much for having me.

Jeff Copper: Kenny, he wrote a book called Attention Difference Disorder. I’m intrigued by that title. What inspired it?

Dr. Handelman: Well, the idea of attention deficits, of course, that’s the term, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but so many times working as a psychiatrist with kids and teens and sometimes adults, I would say, “Your child or teen has an attention deficit,” and one of the first things parents say is, “How can you say there’s an attention deficit when my son can play Xbox for 12 hours?” Or, if he loves reading, he can read for eight hours, or if he loves music or art, he does that for so many hours. And the issue is it’s not always a deficit in attention, but it is always a difference. So, that’s one of the main things.

A second point to that is I want people to think differently about ADHD. We have a medical model, we have a deficit-based model, and, actually, it’s helpful to let people know this is real, that it’s brain-based, there are genetic aspects to it, but it can also put people down. It can lower self esteem. It can make people feel that they are bad on the inside. There’s something critically wrong with them. We need to think differently about ADHD and we need to look at strengths, we need to look at what’s right, and we need to build people up.

Jeff Copper: Actually, what’s interesting is, Attention Talk Radio actually got its name because I felt like many people pay attention to things a little bit differently. And I think when you’re working with somebody with ADHD, you actually have to look at them differently. That’s what I’m so impressed by the title of the book is because, as I say regularly, “If the obvious solution isn’t working, then you’re paying attention to the wrong thing,” and so many times people are paying attention as if everybody’s the same when in fact they’re slightly different. Now, in the book, you give a couple of tips and strategies and stuff, I think there’s seven of them, to look at it differently. Do you want to just speak to that a little bit?

Dr. Handelman: Sure, yeah. I developed a seven step system, the idea being to put a framework in place so people don’t get caught up in the crisis of the day, but rather step back, take a bird’s eye view and look at everything. So the seven steps are number one, get educated about ADHD. You need to know its impact. You need to know how it’s affecting people. Step two is make sure you have a proper assessment. Can’t get these five minute diagnoses. Step three is parenting strategy for parents of kids and teens so they can help to set the structure for kids and teens. Step four is school strategies. Step five is a medication. It’s not the first step. It’s not the only step. It’s the fifth step. It’s part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Step six are alternative treatments because there’s research behind things like omega-3 fish oils and even diet change and other lifestyle things and other alternatives. And step seven is treatment integration, which is looking at coexisting conditions, depression, anxiety, learning, and behavior. It’s also looking at how things change over time because the issues of for an eight year old are different than the issues of a 12 year old and a 16 year old.

Jeff Copper: And how you deal with that is different based on those.

Dr. Handelman: Absolutely, you have to adapt.

Jeff Copper: Now, you practice up in Canada, right?

Dr. Handelman: Yes, I do.

Jeff Copper: Whereabouts in Canada?

Dr. Handelman: Just outside of Toronto.

Jeff Copper: Okay. I’m just curious, do you find the Canadian culture with ADHD to be any different than the U.S. culture? Is it relatively the same?

Dr. Handelman: I think it’s pretty much the same. We may not be quite as enthusiastic about diagnosing and prescribing. Probably, there are lower rates of diagnosis and prescription. However, the same issues exist. There’s this paradox of over-diagnosis and under diagnosis so some places people are getting diagnosed too quickly without a thorough assessment, and other places, people really desperately need the right assessment and diagnosis and aren’t getting it. So the issues are more or less the same.

Jeff Copper: Interesting. Well, this is a relatively short segment, but, again, I love the name of your book, the title.

Dr. Handelman: Thank you.

Jeff Copper: It really reaches out to me and I can’t help it but I always say that paying attention to ADHD differently is like, I like to think, ADD-ers, they’re born left-handed in a right-handed world and they grew up and everybody’s trying to give them right-handed strategies, and the moment that they pay attention that they’re left-handed, then it’s obvious, play golf with a left-handed set of golf clubs. And that is paying attention to what’s different and it creates some of the obvious things that you should point to from a diagnosis perspective, and also from a support perspective. So with that, Dr. Handelman, thanks for coming on the show.

Dr. Handelman: Thank you for having me. Great job. Great show.

Jeff Copper: Take care.

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