Geeks, Dweebs and Nerds Grow Up, Too


By Gary E. Dudley, Ph.D.

As a Psychologist, I am often asked to evaluate (and treat) 
children who are affected by the syndrome of Attention Deficit 
Disorder. This problem is characterized by an assortment of 
bothersome behaviors including distractibility, fidgetiness, 
blurting out answers to questions before they have been completed, 
difficulty following through on instructions, failing to finish 
chores, shifting from one uncompleted activity to another, talking 
excessively, interrupting, not listening, losing things and not 
being able to play quietly. Does this sound like your child? All 
children display these behaviors some of the times - it is the 
nature of the beast! But, somewhere between 3% and 7% of kids have 
persistent problems in these areas, which do not seem to be 
controllable with normal disciplinary approaches. These behaviors 
understandably cause problems at school in the primary grades, 
which leads to negative feedback from teachers as well as peers. 
By the time they reach adolescence, these children are having 
great difficulty with peer relationships and are frequently 
labeled as geeks, nerds and dweebs. Life becomes a succession of 
horrible, terrible, no good, very bad days. 

Treatment is fairly simple, and has conservative goals. The 
goal is to salvage the child's fragile self-esteem which is being 
hurt every day by the negative feedback, rejection and labeling 
which these kids experience. Often stimulant medication (such as 
Ritalin, Cylert, etc.) is used, and counseling interventions are 
used to help the child establish habits of impulse control, 
following through on tasks, and personal organization. 
Interpersonal relationships will also benefit from training these 
youngsters to notice and respond to interpersonal cues and to 
interpret others' intentions towards them accurately. 

If not treated, however, these children grow up anyway! Look 
around you - some of these "children" are your co-workers today. 
You may notice some of the symptoms mentioned above as you work 
with certain people in your office, factory, or other place of 
business. Ever notice the guy who goes like the proverbial house 
afire? He goes from project to project, and leaves pieces of each 
one in common work areas, on your desk, in the lunchroom, in the 
copy machine and anywhere that has a flat surface. He's often a 
big talker, too, full of plans, schemes, and glorious 
accomplishments. The problem is, though, that many of these 
"accomplishments" are recollections of projects he may have 
started, but never finished. He always seems to exaggerate about 
the things he has undertaken, and seems unaware that everyone 
knows he is exaggerating. He's the guy who is always re-inventing 
the wheel - protocol and procedures are never quite followed, he's 
always running into roadblocks and delays, and he spends an 
inordinate amount of time trying to finish tasks that everyone 
else seems to be able to do in their sleep. 

So, how do you deal with these deficits in a co-worker? Well, 
we tell parents of ADD kids to keep cool and stay focused. You 
may find yourself humoring or patronizing the ADD adult. Unless 
you are this employee's supervisor, it is not your place to 
correct the behaviors, so to a certain extent you must learn to 
live with them. The over-talking, for example, may have to be 
tolerated or ignored. Depending on the individual, you may be 
able to discuss specific events in which he or she did not follow 
through and request that they do so. But, if you have the 
unfortunate luck to be assigned to work on a project with such a 
co-worker, you will have to be the one who tracks the overall 
progress of the project - structure and prioritization are not 
this person's strong suit, and you will have to bring your 
"normally developed" playfulness to bear in order to get things 
finished. You may also need to "assist" this person in 
periodically gathering all the scattered bits of the project back 
together. 

If you are this person's boss, why even bother with all of 
this - why not just give him or her the axe? This does happen 
more often to ADD adults than to others, but you should remember 
that ADD people are often bright and creative, so in firing this 
person you may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If 
you could just harness all of this person's energy and get it all 
going in a single direction, there is potential for him or her to 
become one of your best workers. An assessment by a psychologist 
who is familiar with adult ADD, and a few structured supervisory 
counseling sessions, may be well worth your while, especially when 
you consider the direct and indirect costs involved in hiring and 
training a new employee. By cultivating better, more efficient 
organizational behaviors these individuals can boost their 
productivity significantly while reducing your frustration by an 
equal measure. 

Copyright 1996, Gary Dudley, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.