'Dancing' pro brings adult ADD to light

PHILADELPHIA, PA.; September 22, 2009

/*Karina Smirnoff*/ moves across the dance floor in "Dancing With the Stars" with a precision that shows hours & hours of practice.

That's not easy for someone with attention deficit disorder - ADD.

"I was always a hyper child. My parents put me into every activity you could think of - figure skating, gymnastics, and ballet, to dancing, eventually," she told us.

She stuck with dancing, although the endless repetition of rehearsals was a challenge.

Like many adults with attention deficits, Karina went for years, not realizing what the problem was


Patrick Cavanaugh didn't realize that he - AND his wife kelly - had A-D-D until one of their children was being evaluated.

Kelly remembers, "I went through the checklist, and probably had 15 of the 18 things listed there."

The list included symptoms like:

Forgetfulness - or "mis-hearing" information

Difficulty organizing and completing tasks

Poor time management, or losing track of time

Avoiding tasks that require sustained attention

Getting easily distracted by minor matters.

"It was one of those light bulb moments," says Kelly. "All those years, and this is what it is."

Before then, the cavanaughs thought THEY were bad parents for problems like mealtime chaos, or never getting to church on time.

Gina Pera, who has written the book, "Is It You, Me, or Adult A-D-D?", and manages several support groups, says science shows ADD doesn't end after childhood.

"About 80 per cent of kids with AD/HD do not grow out of it. We used to think they did," she says.

And it's an INHERITED condition.

The three eldest Cavanaugh children have it, and looking back, Kelly believes her late father did, as well.

Studies show the problem is in the frontal lobes of the brain.

That's where we hold short-term memories, keep track of time, and prioritize our thoughts and actions.

Cell receptors there, process the chemical dopamine too quickly, & when dopamine is off-balance, we seek out more & more stimulation, making it harder to focus on, and complete, one task.

Pera says of A-D-D adults - "They have to work 10 times as hard for half the result."

Sufferers feel a lot of frustration, and have higher rates of divorce, bankruptcy - and auto accidents.

Adults need a combination of medications, AND behavioral therapy to develop coping skills and to manage stress.

Karina Smirnoff takes medication, and she takes frequent breaks in her training with partner Aaron Carter for "Dancing With The Stars." She says she told Carter about her attention problems from the very beginning, and he has been understanding.

The Cavanaughs say family sports help burn excess energy before homework time.

They see a silver lining to ADHD in their children - creativity.

Patrick proudly says, "When they get in the groove for what they really want to, the passion is really amazing."

Karina Smirnoff has dual college degrees in economics and information system programming.

And history reveals many names of people who achieved great things while dealing with A-D-D, among them Albert Einstein, Leonardo daVinci, the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Vincent Van Gogh and Ben Franklin.

All people known for their genius of "thinking outside the box."

For information from the National Resource Center of the Children and adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or CHADD.

More HealthCheck related links:

Copyright © 2022 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.