ADD/ADHD: Like a Runaway Train

By Bob Ossler and Janice Hall Heck

Once people find out that I talk and write about ADD/ADHD, they want to talk. (ADHD is the official term for this disorder generally associated with children–attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. ADD, attention deficit disorder, is more commonly associated with adults, but in everyday conversation, people use and recognize the term ADD.)

A woman came up to me after church the other day and said, “I heard you were writing a book on ADD.”

“Yes,” I said, “I am working on a book with my coauthor Janice Hall Heck, a former teacher of children with special needs and an educational administrator.”ADHD signs

“My nephew has been diagnosed with ADHD. Can you tell me in five minutes what that means?”

“In my case, it means that my brain and my body are constantly on overload. It’s like having a runaway freight train in my head…it’s constantly needs to blow off steam and race down the tracks, skipping stations as it goes. I have a hard time putting on the brakes.

I’m a guy on a unicycle doing a high wire act while balancing and juggling a chainsaw, a ball of fire, a beehive, and a porcupine. High risk activities fall in my bailiwick.

I have difficulty with focus and attention. I see, hear, smell, and sense everything going on around me. My brain doesn’t filter out all these extraneous things, but treats them all with equal attention.

It’s like the computer analogy: garbage in, garbage out. Because my brain doesn’t filter out extraneous information, everything gets thrown into the hopper and ends up in a jumbled, tangled mess up there. This problem slows me down as I have to work harder to sort things out and figure out what is important to pay attention to and what I should ignore. That’s actually hard work.

As a child, I tuned out and went off on my own daydreams. Teachers called me a space cadet. Classmates called me stupid.

As an adult, I’ve learned to pay attention to what is happening around me. I have trained myself to focus in on our conversation, for example. I work hard to shut out all those other conversations going on around us,  as well as the actions, and other distracting elements in the environment so I can focus on you and our specific conversation.

A child with ADHD does not understand why this bombardment of competing distractions happens, why he seems to be so different from other children, or why other children seem to learn things faster. It takes wise parents and wise teachers to understand the dilemma the child faces every minute of his life. Overstimulation does not go away, so the child has to learn to manage it. The teacher and parents need to assist.

Bob and runaway freight train...

“My nephew has ADHD. Tell me in five minutes what that means.”

Parents need to be the child’s advocate and develop a friendly, working relationship with school personnel. By working together, the ADHD issues can be tamed but never eliminated. It’s a constant, ongoing battle.

Parents need to read everything they can get their hands on to learn about this learning difference. (I prefer to use the term learning difference, rather than learning disorder.)

 “I think I understand a little better now,” she said. I hope I didn’t overwhelm her.

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ADD/ADHD: Misbehavior or Undiagnosed Learning Disorder?

I admit it. I was a naughty boy. But, I wasn’t bad on purpose. I just managed to get myself in hot water just about every day. Daydreaming. Constantly up and out of my seat. Excessive talking. Unfinished work. Totally cluttered desk. A few well-deserved pokes at other kids here and there. Goofy faces and silly voices at the wrong times.

I guess you could say I was inattentive, distracted, and hyperactive.

Because my reading and math skills were poor, I was retained in second grade. I’m not sure I learned much more the second time around, but they passed me on to third grade.

In second grade the second time, I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was embarrassed at my failures and had no idea how to manage or change my learning or my behavior. Nowadays, my reading problem would be identified as dyslexia, and I would be offered assistance at school in learning how to read.

The teasing I had experienced previously expanded to torment when I repeated the grade. Former classmates, now in third grade, taunted me with calls of “dummy,” “retard” in the hallway. Now with me having to wear glasses, classmates added “four -eyes” to the name calling. My new classmates quickly picked up on the teasing and had a field-day themselves.

My difficulty pronouncing the letter L gave evidence to their dim view of me. I couldn’t even talk properly. When in the spotlight, as in oral reading, I goofed off, used silly voices and distorted facial expressions to avoid demonstrating my speech problem.

I actually learned to read with the patient help of my neighbor, Mrs. Kraus. She knew the key to success with me: bribes, I mean rewards. I struggled through every after-school reading session with her, sounding out words, rereading, and retelling stories.  With a closet full of coke and a freezer full of ice cream bars, she was my savior. One hour of struggling with reading equaled one ice cream bar. That’s good math in my book.

In third grade, Sister Johanna was my teacher, a no-nonsense nun who I called the “Warden.” She would’ve beaten Ali in the ring. She was nice but yelled and was wise to my antics. She ruled with her ruler…not for measuring but for hitting desks and occasional knuckles…the kind of discipline that wouldn’t happen in today’s world.

I tried to match wits with her many of times, arguing and trying to squirm my way out of trouble. She actually let me sound off,  and in the process, let me dig my own grave.

“Bobby, where are your glasses?”

“My doctor said I don’t need to use them anymore.”

“Really, Bobby? I will check with your mother.”

“That’s okay, Sister Johanna, my mom agreed with the doctor. She says I don’t need them.”

“I will check with your mother.”

Of course, my classmates loved that. “Bobby’s gonna get in trouble. Bobby’s gonna get in trouble.”

I hated the kids mocking me for being dumb and having to wear glasses, but I thought I’d rather be blind than be tortured by their comments. I fumed, but I couldn’t do anything about it.

I learned to be a manipulator.  I conned Mike out of his Twinkies or Hostess cupcakes every single day. One day I sold him a red/green inked pen, took it back later and sold it to him again the next day. This happened several times until Sister Johanna caught on and pulled me into the cloak room for a “private discussion.” She towered over me like a gorilla standing over a tiny child and soundly berated me.

“If you don’t change your ways, you’re going to end up in prison one day,” she said.

“I promise never to do anything like that again, ” I told her, crossed fingers behind my back.

Sister Johanna  was right about me going to prison. Years later, I became an ordained chaplain and did prison ministry for five years. Inmates need rehabilitation. They often meet Jesus in prison and attempt to mend their ways with his help.

ADD/ADHD back in PreADD days was seen as a discipline problem, not a diagnosis.


Bob Ossler and Janice Hall Heck are working on a book about ADD/ADHD (as yet untitled) which we hope will be published in 2019. Follow this blog to keep posted on the timeline. Bob tells his stories of growing up and living as an adult with ADD and offers strategies he has learned at each point for coping with ADD.  ADD is no fun, but you can tame it.


Read Triumph Over Terror, a multi-award-winning book about Chaplain Bob Ossler’s interactions with suffering people in New York City’s Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. His stories will touch your heart and fill you with compassion for those emergency services workers, search and rescue workers, recovery workers, construction crews, and volunteers who served there in impossible conditions. #NeverForget this time in US History. Read the message of hope in this book.




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This morning I read an article on the Internet about a middle school student who received an end-of-year award in front of his classmates.

His mother later reported: “He had tears in his eyes. He’s embarrassed because he had to accept it in front of his entire class.”

ADD award 


Most likely to be distracted by…look something shiny!

Having ADD or ADHD is no fun. Classmates label children with ADHD “dumb,” “stupid,” or even more insulting names, usually out of hearing of the teachers or other adults.

Frustrated teachers, tired of the excessive talking or movement of children with ADHD sometimes drop remarks that singe the child’s emotional well-being. Being called a “space cadet” or a “talking machine” invites snickers from classmates. Other students receive the subtle message that it is okay to tease students whose learning style is different.

Educators know that children easily recall those things tied to emotions.

Shame and depression - pixabay

Shame and depression – Pixabay

Negative remarks affect us more than positive remarks. We play them over and over in our heads. We recall the full emotional impact of remarks made to us as children: who said what, where we were, what we were wearing, who was nearby. We can even remember what the weather was like that particular day. Stinging remarks have strong, long-term emotional impact.

Negative remarks ferment in our memory banks. They may be tucked away and forgotten for awhile, but they resurface in inconvenient times, even years later, complete with full emotional impact, when a similar event arouses them out of their reverie.

Facial expressions and body language can be just as bad. A frown, rolled-eyes, a deep sigh, a head shake, a pointed finger. All these send messages to the child or adult who learns differently.

Sad stories hit the news. Really? Do these thoughtless things happen?

Yes. Too often.


Have you had a similar experience with derogatory remarks or actions being made towards you because of your learning differences?


Note: future blog posts will suggest alternative responses that teachers and adults can use in situations where a child’s ADHD interferes with learning–his or her own or others.

*AD/HD is the official DSM-V diagnostic label for children who have attention, distraction and or hyperactivity behaviors to such an extent that they have difficulty with academic and social learning. (The slash is often dropped for ease in writing.)

ADD is an earlier term used for this disorder. It is often interchanged with ADHD, especially with adults where hyperactivity is not the main issue.

New Book on ADD/ADHD

Janice Hall Heck and Bob Ossler are working on a book about the challenges and difficulties of growing up and living with ADD/ADHD. Bob Ossler’s shares stories of difficulties he faced in life with his undiagnosed ADD, the lessons he learned in managing his learning style differences, and where he is today. Janice Heck adds strategies for assisting learning in academic and social settings. Check this website for information about the release of this book, most likely in 2019.


Click here to order Triumph Over Terror on Amazon. This book is about Chaplain Bob Ossler’s experiences at Ground Zero after the 9-11 terrorist attacks.


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A.D.D. GUY: Taming Impulsivity

By Bob Ossler with Janice Hall Heck

Being an impatient person and living in an impatient world caused frustration for me and those around me. As an young adult in the military, my distractibility caused me to go in so many directions at the same time. I was unfocused, unpredictable, and impatient.

My long-term goal was to become a paramedic. I trained and worked in X-ray technology in the military for well over a year.  In my restlessness to learn more, I applied for a position in a military mental health clinic in California to expand my portfolio.

Dr. B., a psychiatrist and my direct supervisor at the clinic, became my personal mentor and friend. He seemed to understand my different learning style and my restless nature. He spent time talking me through my various life schemes.

In our frequent one-to-one meetings, my mind raced in all directions. I had a million questions and competing thoughts and interrupted Dr. B often to mention them.

Yes, I wanted to be a paramedic, but I also wanted to be a pilot, a better tennis player, and a better chess player. I wanted to study pharmaceuticals, collect stamps and coins, make stained glass articles, and play drums in a band. I tried out occupation after occupation and hobby after hobby in my head. They all seemed equally interesting. I wanted to try them all. And I wanted to be the best at everything I tried.

Dr. B. patiently helped me channel my wandering mind and gave advice on the more practical paramedic track.

One day, in my off hours, I rumbled around looking for something to do. I decided to check out the local arts and crafts store. There I found a book on oil painting and flipped through it. Sunrises. Sunsets. Sailboats on water. Lighthouses. Mountains.

Hey, I can do this. It’s can’t be that hard.

I bought canvases, oil paints, brushes, and other supplies and went back to my

Seascape by Bob Ossler

Seascape by Bob Ossler

dorm and started painting.  My very first painting was brush strokes on a canvas–no image in mind. It was awful, so I trashed it. I didn’t like oil paints They took too long to dry. I was much too impatient. I wanted instant results. I switched to acrylics and liked that better.

I learned by trial and error. If I didn’t like the way something turned out, I just threw it away and started on the next painting. I loved the challenge of reproducing a scene that people could recognize. Despite the noise and movement of others in the dorm, I found comfort in painting. I hyper focused on my work and shut everything else out.

After seascapes and sunsets, I ventured out into farmland scenes and river scenes. I found I could look at other paintings and reproduce them.  People complimented me on my work, and I made a few bucks here and there selling the paintings.

With my new-found talent, I was ready to chuck my long-term goal of becoming a paramedic to become a full-time artist. But even then, reality dawned. I knew I would never be a Picasso. I could hear Dad’s voice in my head, “Bob, you need a real job with a steady paycheck.” I had better keep my original goal.

I did stick with the painting but only in my free time. Painting tamed my jumbled mind and brought a measure of calm into my life.  For once, my impulsivity led me to a new, satisfying creative outlet which other people seemed to appreciate. My impulsivity was not always so kind to me.

How about you?

What do you do to tame your impulsivity?

Has your impulsivity led you to a new creative outlet?

I’d love to hear from you.


Bob Ossler is coauthor with Janice Hall Heck of Triumph Over Terror, a book about Ossler’s experiences at Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City.

Triumph Over Terror is available on


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Ten Tips for the A.D.D./A.D.H.D Writer

How does a person with ADD or ADHD end up writing a book?

Don’t these children, teens, and adults with ADD/ADHD have difficulty completing

Don't Give Up

Will we ever finish?


Don’t they jump from project to project based on their rapidly changing interests?

Aren’t they inattentive, distracted, and perhaps annoyingly active?

How do they sit still long enough to write a multiple award-winning book?

What happens when the ADD person gets overwhelmed and maybe discouraged, wondering,

“Will we ever finish this book?”


We finished our project….and now we have multiple awards.

Strategies to Get You Over the Finish Line

Here are some strategies that Bob Ossler and I used to write Triumph Over Terror, a book about Bob’s experiences at Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in September of 2001. Bob Ossler had a story in his head and heart, but he couldn’t get the words down on paper because of his ADD. Janice Hall Heck, former teacher of children with special needs, became his writing buddy.

  1. Find a writers critique group in your area.
  2. Find a writing buddy in the critique group.
  3. Start writing emails about your experiences to your buddy…don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, or even organization. Your writing buddy can help you with all that. Just write.
  4. Keep writing. Collect the emails and sort them into logical categories that you discover as you read.
  5. Share your written experiences with your critique group and listen carefully to their feedback. Incorporate feedback into the writing if it seems applicable. When you get seemingly conflicting advice, think it through and accept what seems reasonable and applicable to your purpose.
  6. Keep writing. Keep sharing. Massage your outline. Use good key words (Search Engine Optimization) in the outline and table of contents.
  7. Write a short proposal (1 page describing your writing project: a summary, a brief comparison with other books, your market and marketing ideas, brief bios, and expected length and completion date.
  8. Go to writers conferences and share your writing with the experts: publishers, editors, other writers, and fellow conferees. Conferences are always a hubbub of activity–all focused on helping writers succeed. We went to the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference, organized by Marlene Bagnull, several years in a row and got excellent feedback on our project. We also met our publisher there!    (The next GPCWC will be July 26-28 in Lansdale, PA )
  9. Look for writers conferences in your area, or in an area you would like to visit.  You can find them all over the country. The Florida Christian Writers Conference is in January, 2019. A great time to visit Florida.
  10. Don’t give up. Pray about your work and be diligent in your efforts. You will succeed.

Read Triumph Over Terror, a multi-award-winning book about Chaplain Bob Ossler’s interactions with suffering people in New York City’s Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. His stories will touch your heart and fill you with compassion for those emergency services workers, search and rescue workers, recovery workers, construction crews, and volunteers who served there in impossible conditions. #NeverForget this time in US History. Read the message of hope in this book.

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Hyperfocus on Mission to Defeat ADD/ADHD

Good morning my friends.
Let’s face it, life just gets way too busy for all of us. Looking for jobs, taking calls, taking

Bob Ossler Chaplain

Walking my elderly friend to his doctor’s appointment in Philadelphia.

care of family, trying to eat right. There’s always something going on. It never stops.

          As Janice Hall Heck and I work on our rough draft of our book on Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD), I realize how much I miss the simple things in life. Like taking my old buddy to a medical appointment in the heart of Philly.
          Growing up with ADD in a PreADD world was truly a challenge for me. Concentration was not in my vocabulary. Teachers thought I was a daydreamer and a space cadet. They often played “gotcha” when they knew I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on in class. Classmates joined in the fun and laughed at my embarrassment. Name-calling after class became the norm.
          But what was going on in class was BORING. My daydreams were far more interesting–I was off saving worlds from destruction, rallying my troops to defend the nation, simply naming picture clouds in the sky, or playing my drums and snares with the Beatles live in concert.
          My ADD and listening problems still occur today as an adult, but I’ve trained myself to hyperfocus and take on the challenges of my ministry. Connecting with people with love and kindness and God’s love is my mission. People touch my heart when they share their troubles with me. I honor and show respect for them with my full attention. I can do nothing less.
          Our yet-untitled ADD/ADHD book will teach others who struggle HORRIBLY with life’s distractions. I show situations in which ADD addled me, and how I coped with each battle as it presented itself.
          Even now, there are days that I just get so frustrated and caught up in what needs to be done first that I wallow in inaction.  But then I focus on my ministry and my purpose in life, and that keeps me sane. Other people’s needs come first.
Let’s reach out to others. God bless your day.
          Read Triumph Over Terror, by Chaplain Bob Ossler and Janice Hall Heck, a multi-award-winning book about Chaplain Ossler’s interactions with suffering people in New York City’s Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. His stories will touch your heart and fill you with compassion for those emergency services workers, search and rescue workers, recovery workers, construction crews, and volunteers who served there in impossible conditions. #NeverForget this time in US History. Read the message of hope in this book.


Twitter: @bobosslerchaplain    @janiceheck

Facebook: Bob Ossler Chaplain    Janice Hall Heck



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Excerpt from Triumph Over Terror: “Sweeper Man”

Multiple award-winning, Triumph Over Terror, by Ground Zero Chaplain and Janice Hall Heck, recounts Ossler’s interactions with heartbroken victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Used by permission of Blackside Publishing.

Sweeper Man’s Hopeless Task

“I must lose myself in action, lest I whither in despair.”  –Alfred Lord Tennyson

Soon after our introduction to St. Paul’s Chapel [where volunteers were housed], another volunteer offered to take us on an orientation tour of Ground Zero.

view of pile

As I walked with about twenty other chaplains toward the smoky, smoldering, stories-high wreckage of buildings and souls, we passed a fatherly-looking figure pushing a long-handled broom. A dirty sweatshirt barely covered his protruding belly. White chalky ash shrouded his pant legs–the pulverized cement of the collapsed buildings intermingled with ashes of cremated bodies.

Engulfed in the stench of death, this man swept and pushed, swept and pushed at piles of dust-fine ash and dirt, twisted metal and broken glass, chunks of concrete, tangled wires, and papers blown from the demolished towers. Debris stretched as far as the eye could see, but Sweeper Man swept and pushed, swept and pushed.

St Paul's church yard after 9-11

St. Paul’s Chapel with trash from collapse of Twin Towers

To restore order to his street, one man faced the greatest physical and emotional challenge of his lifetime. He picked up his broom to do something, anything, no matter how small.

Swoosh, swoosh. Swoosh, swoosh. A symbol of hope. He pushed his long-handled broom slowly but steadily, shoving away the rubble and ash of shattered buildings and lives.

As our group of chaplains walked by on Sweeper Man’s newly created path, he stepped aside. We greeted him, and he nodded. After we passed him, I looked back. He leaned on his broom, lowered his head, and began to cry. In that overwhelming mess, he looked so forlorn trying to clear his patch of the city he loved. Seeing him weep over his broom broke my heart.

I walked back and embraced him. He grabbed onto me and sobbed on my shoulder. “I’m exhausted from trying to clean up this mess. It’s hopeless. Hopeless. Hopeless.”

I hugged him harder and complimented him on his nice, clean area, and how much I appreciated the time and effort he invested into clearing the trash and junk away. Before I moved back to the group of chaplains, I offered to share a prayer with him. He accepted, so we prayed together and asked God for strength in these terrible times.

Sweeper Man thanked me for the hug, the prayer, and the encouragement. After I turned to catch up to my group, he went back to work with his broom to make his path wider–sweeping, sweeping,

A tragedy of unspeakable proportions left his little corner of New York City totally trashed, but he persevered in his work.

Steady. Reliable. Crushed in spirit, but buoyed with enough encouragement to begin again, to take one more step, to push the broom one more time, to sweep away at the ruins threatening to bury all hope.

I was glad I’d turned back to acknowledge his pain. After all, that’s why I left home and journeyed to New York City: to bring a touch of God’s love to the brokenhearted.

I remembered something Henri Nouwen wrote in his book, The Wounded Healer. “One eye movement or one handshake can replace years of friendship when a man is in agony. Love not only last forever, it needs only a second to come about.”

Even though I may never see Sweeper Man again, for one moment in time, our lives connected, and God’s love touched us both. I’ll never forget him.

Sweeper Man reminded me of an important lesson that day: No matter the job, every single person who works in disaster cleanup is important and needs to be appreciated and recognized for their effort.

tot-new-cover-5-2018IBAfinalistJPEGsmallbookfest finalist

Order Triumph Over Terror on Amazon

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