pensive male

People with ADD are hypersensitive. That is not a fault or a weakness of theirs, it is how they were born.

— Dr. Gabor Maté, “Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It”

I highly recommend the book “Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It” by Dr. Maté, if you have questions about ADD. I’m learning so much as I read it.

What I found particularly interesting was the tie-in with high sensitivity. Since many introverts have high sensitivity, I thought it would be helpful to look at the effects that arise in ADD because of it. I wonder how many introverts or HSPs (highly sensitive people) have ADD?

Sensitivity, we’re born with it

Dr. Maté says in most cases, ADD is caused by the impact of the environment on particularly sensitive infants. Some children’s nervous systems are always in a state of high alert. Five-month old babies have been shown to have such nervous systems.

High sensitivity is innate. It makes us acutely aware and often highly aroused to stimuli in the environment. Something that stuck out to me is that people with high sensitivity are not only aroused by physical environmental factors such as temperatures, lighting or sounds, but also by the emotional atmosphere in a room.

Emotions stimulate

Dr. Maté gives the example of a sensitive child feeling like her father yelled at her when he did not even raise his voice. She could sense the tension and controlled impatience in his voice, which made his words feel stronger and more severe, as if he yelled them at her. She felt fear and outrage at the level that another child would feel if a parent truly yelled at them.

Both HSPs and people with ADD are more likely to suffer from colds, upper respiratory infections, ear infections, asthma, eczema and allergies. Both external physical stimuli, such as allergens, and emotional stimuli, such as tension, cause physiological reactions in the body.

How we react

Kids and adults with ADD may react strongly to stimuli. They may feel fearful or anxious and “tune out”. Tuning out, which may even result in yawing and getting sleepy, gives them temporary relief from the arousing stimuli. Their brains do this automatically.

They may do the opposite and become hyperactive. They are keenly aware of their environment. If they become aroused by someone else’s emotions (sadness, sternness, joy, etc.) or changes in the environment, they may over-react, causing them to be labeled disruptive or too sensitive.

Attention is not the issue

It may be said that they can’t pay attention. Attention is not the issue. The difficulty lies in regulating the internal emotional environment. For example, if a child is low on human connection, they may talk incessantly to kids in their classroom. They can’t stop until their feelings of loneliness are quelled, but often because of their over-the-top approach, other kids do not want to listen to them, thus perpetuating their need for connection.

A calm or emotionally encouraging environment can keep a sensitive person/someone with ADD in a steadier and more relaxed state of arousal.

Not meant for this world?

Although we think of attention as a function of the intellect, its deepest roots are in the subsoil of emotion. — Dr. Gabor Maté

Dr. Maté is careful to point out that sensitivity itself is not a disorder. Sensitivity has been passed down for many generations. It has served as a boon to our evolution, hence its continued survival. It only becomes dysfunctional when the world is unable to heed the finely tuned physiological and psychic responses of the someone highly sensitive.

Do you know someone with ADD? Would you consider them very sensitive? Are you highly sensitive? If so, are physical or emotional stimuli more arousing? 

I will be taking a break from the weekly posts for the following two weeks. I get married the weekend of the 20th and will take a honeymoon after that. I will miss you. I’ll post pictures! 

In the meantime, if you miss me you can check out my online classes at 


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