ADD and Invertebrate Anatomy:
Coping Styles in ADD Adults
Carol E. Watkins, M.D.
Whenever I go
hiking in the State Park near my home, I am struck by the variety and tenacity
of the forms of life around me. There are the familiar denizens, such as the
white-tailed deer, the fox and the box turtle. Often, though I am most
fascinated by the smaller plants and animals that have found a tiny, unique
niche suited to their own particular needs and vulnerabilities. The creatures
that live under a rock or at the mouth of a small cave have often worked hard to
establish and defend their special place.
One sunny afternoon, after looking under a particularly interesting rock, I
began thinking about coping skills. Many of us, like these invertebrates, have
developed creative and clever ways of coping with a harsh environment.
The vertebrates are an order of animals that have an internal skeleton
(endoskeleton) and a central vertebral column. Vertebrates include reptiles,
mammals and others. Invertebrates are all the other animals. The larger
invertebrates have had to develop an external armor of find another means of
support and defense.
Most individuals have the internalized ability to focus and stay organized. This
ability is like the internal skeleton of the vertebrates. The internal skeleton
is invisible and grows as the individual grows. It prevents the soft parts of
the body from collapsing and allows the body to move smoothly through the
Those with the disorganization and impulsivity of ADD are the invertebrates.
Lacking the vertebrates’ endoskeleton, they devise different types of coping.
See if you recognize yourself:
The Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus Rathbun): The blue crab protects itself with
a rigid outer shell and with its sharp claws. The shell cannot grow with the
crab, so it must periodically molt. It is vulnerable until it grows a new, hard
shell. Those who go crabbing know the other time of vulnerability. To the casual
observer, the Blue crab person often does not appear to have ADD. This is
because she has set up an elaborate and rigid structure around herself. The car
is always parked in the same place so she will not lose it. She hires extra
office staff who, on pain of her extreme displeasure, keep things running
exactly on time. She becomes annoyed and a little anxious if her schedule is
altered. A job or family change is akin to molting. She is quite disorganized
and vulnerable in such times, and may resort to the equivalent of hiding in the
mud. Eventually she grows a new shell to fit her new situation.
The Jellyfish (Polyorchus pencillatus) In most cases, this creature does not
develop a rigid covering. Instead, it allows the ocean tides to carry it along.
Although its movements are passive, it has formidable stingers. In its own
element, the jellyfish is breathtakingly beautiful. If the tides happen to wash
it up on shore, it is helpless and loses its beauty. These charming people tend
to “move with the changing tides.” In many ways, they are the opposite of the
blue crab people. While some might label them as insincere, they have actually
just lost sight of the previous topic and moved on to another situation. Their
capacity for verbal stingers is only used defensively. When they are washed out
of their element, they can become helpless unless an external force helps them
get back into their element.
The Earthworm (Lumbricus terrestis): These creatures spend much of their time
underground. While they may not appear glamorous, they perform the useful task
of enriching the soil and breaking garbage down into rich compost. Many
predators value worms as a food source, so the earthworm has become adept at
feeling the vibrations made by predators. Over the years, these individuals have
internalized others’ negative views. They have learned to flee criticism and
aggression. They may be performing valuable functions as a mother or in a job,
but do not seek proper credit for this.
The Cricket (Orthoptera: Gryllidae) These small creatures have compound eyes
that allow them a wide range of vision. Although they sometimes eat plants, they
can also be hunters. They are able to jump rapidly in different directions. This
ability for unexpected, rapid movement helps them hunt and helps them get away
from their own predators. This type of person takes advantage of her high
activity level and ability to think flexibly. However, the lack of stingers or
hard, external armor makes her vulnerable to certain predators.
I am in awe of the kingdom of nature. So many living organisms have found their
own unique ways to thrive in often forbidding niches. In the same way, I am
humbled when I see how people have found creative ways of coping with difficult
situations. As with these animals, when one looks deeper, one often finds that
the sharp or unattractive parts are there for a reason. A person’s coping style
is often unique. Some people decide that their coping style has become too rigid
or no longer fits their situation. One should not try to jettison all defenses
without first attempting to understand why they are in place to begin with. At
this point, an individual can begin to actively choose both internal and
external structuring techniques.
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County Psychiatric Associates
Offices in Monkton and Lutherville,
Postal address: We have two locations in Baltimore County
Monkton Office16829 York Road/PO Box 544/Monkton, MD 21111
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Email: [email protected]
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Carol Watkins, M.D.
Glenn Brynes, Ph.D., M.D.
Copyright © 2001 Northern County Psychiatric Associates
July 04, 2007