UVU ADD symposium features comedian

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OREM– His sleeves were rolled. His eyes were laughing. His bearded face was beaming.

It didn’t take long for Patrick McKenna, the actor who played Harold Green in “The Red and Green Show,” to get comfortable in front of the crowd.

Maybe it was his 15 years of comedic acting on the show that left the audience in non-restrained laughter. Or maybe it was the ADD that made his boisterous jokes crack, never missing a beat.

McKenna took to the stage at the ADD/AHDH symposium September 28th at UVU. People of all ages packed the ballroom. The daylong event featured  workshops and 11 speakers with McKenna keynoting the event. Sponsors wanted to expand awareness and further understanding of the disorders.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly referred to as attention deficit disorder, affects 3 to 5 percent of children, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Symptoms include a lack of attention, impulsiveness and in some cases, hyperactivity.

David Bowman, a junior from Kansas City, Mo., has ADD.

“It affects pretty much every aspect of my life,” he said. “I struggle with organizational things and keeping track of assignments and spacing out in class.”

Yet, having what he calls a divergent mind has also helped Bowman in his graphic design major.

“I think in a lot of ways it has almost been an advantage in some degree in the creative work that I do,” he said.

Bowman’s parents knew early on he had some sort of attention disorder, but he was not diagnosed until high school.

Patrick McKenna, on the other hand, didn’t have a name for his condition until the middle of his adult life when he recognized his son had similar traits as himself. McKenna was diagnosed as part of a PBS documentary called “ADD and Loving it” shortly after his son was diagnosed.

“When you don’t have a name for it, you’re just kind of living with all these issues of this is who are you and it’s your fault,” McKenna said, “When I got diagnosed, I really had to rethink my life a little bit; what part was ADD and what part was me?”

Childhood was a struggle for McKenna because he was blamed by others and himself for every wrong act he committed, like interrupting his teachers with dirty jokes. He felt it was nothing he could control, but when the nuns at his elementary school beat him with a meter stick for misbehavior, it became engrained that it was his fault.

“I basically spent my childhood running away from people all the time and apologizing because I didn’t know what it was,” McKenna explained, pausing on stage to look at the audience. “I didn’t know why I was being so bad.”

By the time high school came, McKenna discovered he had dyslexia as well. He could hardly read. He struggled socializing. He knew he would probably not attend college. It is for these reasons he almost dropped out of high school, and it is these same reasons he became involved with alcohol and marijuana for a short season.

“That’s a really dangerous time because you’re a teenager; you’re just living in that moment,” McKenna said. “You have impulsivity plus hormones–you’re in trouble. So many things come out of those four years of high school during that time when you have hormones and ADD/ADHD going on at the same time.”

But opportunity stepped in just when life seemed to be sliding downhill and out of control.

One of McKenna’s high school teachers noticed McKenna’s comedic talent, even if it came in the form of outbursts during class. His teacher brought him to the Second City in Toronto, a theater performance house. It was there the bright-eyed 15 year old found what he had been looking for.

“I was blown away because I saw something I could do,” he said.

A few years later, McKenna was a night manager at Second City and after auditioning, started on-stage improvisation acting.

He later married his sweetheart, Janis, and continued working at Second City until a new doorway opened. Steve Smith, the creator of “The Red and Green Show” was at Second City one night where he watched McKenna performed. Smith immediately knew McKenna was the perfect person to fill the nerdy role of Harold Green for the show.

It was an unexpected surprise for McKenna who had been told from another employee that he would never obtain a real acting job.

Years later when McKenna was diagnosed with ADD, life took a turn once more.

“Everything changed in a day,” he recalled. “Now I knew what it was; it had a name. I’m not a bad person. I’m not a lazy person. I’m not a stupid person.”

McKenna was still on a humorous kick as he concluded his remarks Friday at the symposium. His hair might have been a little more tousled and his legs might have been a little tired from hopping across stage during his address, but his message resonated with attendees at the event.

“I thought it was very informative,” said John Carlsen, a UVU student with ADD. “This is a disorder that is not very well-understood. It is going to work out. . . the more people like Patrick (McKenna) try to get people informed.”

Others with ADD/ADHD also feel the need for increased awareness of the disorders.

“It (ADD/ADHD) has a very negative connotation in general,” Kat Robertson, a BYU geology student from Olympia, Wash. said. “People usually associate it with one type when in reality there’s multiple types, so a lot of people don’t realize what they have.”

As in the case of Patrick McKenna, not knowing he had a disorder was a frustrating experience, especially as a child. His understanding of who he was different after he learned the problem wasn’t his fault. It was different when he started taking medication. It was different on the day he could finally answer the following question:

“Was it me or the ADD that made all these choices in my life? The answer was yes; it was both of them. That’s who I am.”

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