David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]

Hyper-Vigilant Attentive Disorder

As I’m writing the newsletter this week, I am also actively, if sporadically, engaged in returning phone calls, answering emails, planning my next trip to see therapeutic boarding schools in Utah, thinking about what I’m going to get for my wife for her birthday, and giving some serious thought to the newsletter for next week. Oh, and there goes a squirrel outside the window. What a beautiful, big, bushy tail she has.

I’m glad I didn’t miss seeing her.

Because if I were afflicted with Hyper-Vigilant Attentive Disorder, I might have been ultra-focused on this one piece of writing and not have seen the squirrel at all.

Engrossed only in writing this newsletter, absorbed in this one task, I might not have noticed the squirrel. Ignoring the squirrel, I would not have reflected how she might have been looking for nuts which, in turn, would not have allowed me to remember how much I like salted cashews. Not flashing on salted cashews would have caused me to forget to consult my list for the market–bread, milk, eggs, raspberries if they’re on sale–where I had jotted down a note about reading some essays that I had promised to some of my college admissions counseling kids. I also got some insight into a personal problem that had been troubling me. I don’t know where the answer came from. I’m just grateful that I don’t suffer from Hyper-Vigilant Attentive Disorder because I could have missed it.


There’s an Einstein story that goes something like this: Einstein spent decades trying to come up with a grand unified theory (GUT). In the six decades subsequent to Einstein’s death, no one has made significant progress on this problem, the invention of high speed computers notwithstanding. Einstein would work on parts of the GUT problem there at his home in Princeton. Wearing rumpled trousers, a sweater, and socks, he would cover black board after black board with arcane equations. And he would get stuck. Twelve or fourteen hours of the greatest pure though guy the world has ever seen thinking about a part of this GUT problem and he’s stuck, S-T-U-C-K, done, throw the chalk at the board, the-heck-with-it, done.

So he’d do what any greatest intellect in the history of the world would do: have a snack and go to bed.

And in the morning, he’d pick up the chalk and write down the answer, the answer that had come to him in the night as he slept, the answer that had come to him while he was thinking about something else entirely.

The point being that–for want of a more articulate explanation–there are “people” living in your head. You don’t know their names; you don’t know their addresses; you can’t “call” on them when you want them, but they’re there. Sometimes you can access these folks and the information they have and sometimes you can’t. Don’t believe me? Think that you’re the one and only captain of your ship? Then why can you sometimes remember stuff and sometimes not? Here’s an even simpler explanation: How come you can usually find where you put your keys?

And sometimes not?


Which brings us back to the problem of what to do with those students among us who are afflicted with Hyper-Vigilant Attentive Disorder, those poor souls who can’t think of more than one thing at a time. It has been suggested that we put them in “special” classrooms with a label on the door that says, “These poor thud puckers think differently.” Then we can “treat” them with “strategies.”


Regular readers will know how often I refer to the facts that women in this country were not allowed to vote until 1920; there were few women in college or university until just a generation ago; the number of women in my dad’s law school class was three. Now there are more women in college and more women in medical school than there are men. But for hundreds of years women were excluded from higher education because they were thought to be unable. As Dr. Johnson said: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

Similarly, aren’t we “throwing away” those who learn differently? You wouldn’t shop in a shoe store with a “one size fits all” philosophy, why do you live in a community where many schools still treat all students as if they all learn the same?

I’d write more about this topic, but I’m off to the store to pick up a few things–salted cashews for example. I’m hoping that along the way, I’ll figure out what to get my wife for her birthday!



Copyright © David Altshuler 1980 – 2022    |    Miami, FL • Charlotte, NC     |    (305) 978-8917    |    [email protected]