Positives of ADHD
I am going to suggest that there are some potential benefits to having ADHD. Symptoms that can be impairing in some situations can work for me in other situations. However, before we dive into this…A Caveat. A Clarification. A Disclaimer.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is not a gift.
It is not a blessing. I’d never suggest it is wonderful. Nor am I suggesting others be envious if they don’t happen to have faced a life-long struggle with focus, attention, restlessness, follow-through, distractions, memory, procrastination, regulating emotions, etc..
ADHD: Is it a Disability?
Again, to be clear, ADHD is considered a Disorder. Not a Quirk, or Annoyance. Undiagnosed and untreated, it can sabotage every area of your life: your career, marriage, parenting skills, and your dreams. It’s that bad. And complex. Every person with ADHD struggles with a unique combination of symptoms and challenges. Procrastinating, over-committing, impatience, noisy rooms… Those are challenges for me.
Yes, I know, EVERYONE loses things, forget names, or wonders why they went to the kitchen, now and then. We are all living a high-stress, overwhelming, distraction-filled world. But for approximately 4 to 5% of adults, the symptoms are at the point where they are severe and impairing. Bad enough to have us seeking help from a doctor. Usually, arriving confused, and asking, “What’s wrong with me?”
Coexisting With An ADHD Brain
However, once you’ve been to the doctor, and hopefully were not misdiagnosed, everything changes. The relief can be intense, because once you know what’s going on, it is possible to dramatically reduce the downside of ADHD, and learn to handle the challenges. And then, somewhere along the way, something amazing might happen—you may discover there are things about this “mindset” that you can use to your advantage. At least in certain situations. (Damn! Another disclaimer!)
5 ADHD SUPERPOWERS
In no particular order, here are five potential ADHD superpowers. Use them wisely!
- Super In A Crisis
A recent study found that the ADHD brain tends to produce more Theta waves than the brains of average folks. Theta waves are the ones you produce as you’re nodding off to sleep. Or listening to your father-in-law share stories about bass fishing. They indicate a state of deep relaxation.
So when something goes boom!—a disaster, a crisis, or even something thrilling—and most people’s brains overload, ours can jump up to… “normal”.
As one of the doctors in ADD & Loving It?! says, in an emergency situation, we turn to “The ADDer”. Several doctors have told us that they see a lot of ADHD among E.R. doctors and nurses, police officers, fire and rescue personnel, journalists, stock traders, professional athletes, and entertainers.
When others are in crisis, we can be cool, calm, and under control.
The downside? When life is calm and cool and under control, we’re in crisis. The staff meeting drones on into its second hour and we’re ready to explode.
This is likely why adults with ADHD often end up involved in dangerous, high-risk activities—it wakes up the brain. ADHD coach Alan Brown talks about making sure you make smart choices about how you get your thrills. He used to feed his need for speed with drugs, now he races. As for me, I’m calmer onstage in front of 1,000 people than I was before I sat down to write this blog.
- Super Creative
A study done at the University of Memphis confirmed what many experts have told us, and many ADHD books claim… People with ADHD tend to be more creative than their non-ADHD peers. On average. Not everyone with ADHD is Da Vinci. Though there is some strong evidence that Da Vinci was ADHD.
In the study, thirty ADHD students scored higher than their peers on eleven different tests for creativity. (Who knew scientists could test creativity?!) However, since then other studies have not found a link between creativity and ADHD. Or at least, productive creativity. As opposed to endless ideation and day-dreaming.
Here’s a possible explanation. Students with ADHD have a much higher rate of being held back a grade, dropping out, and being suspended. The creativity study was done on students who had made it into university. So, perhaps the message is that those who made it to college that have ADHD found creative ways to get by and navigate an educational system that is not designed for this mindset. However, to be fair, schools are making progress in offering accommodations that can level the playing field.
So, the debate over creativity is ongoing, but with the right accommodations, any company that wants to be on the cutting edge of innovation would be wise to hire some ADHD folks to generate breakthrough ideas. And then hire a bunch of people who are great at follow-through, and details to actually make it happen. The downside? “Wait, I have another idea about how you could do it… And another. And three more…”
Creativity needs limits and structure. As Dr. Ned Hallowell explains, “Make friends with structure, make friends with organization. We tend to see them as the enemy because, because we think that is going to inhibit our creativity. And so we resist structure. Oh no, that’s for boring people that have attention surplus disorder. I’m free; I have ADD. Big mistake. Structure, in fact, potentiates creativity. Structure sets you free.
My favourite examples are Shakespeare and Mozart — two of the most creative geniuses who ever lived. Shakespeare wrote within incredibly tight forms, blank verse, iambic pentameter, de da, de da, de da, de da. Within that structure he created infinite variety; he created extraordinary variety but, but he needed that structure.”
- Super Intuitive
Some ADHD adults claim they have ‘Spidey Senses’ or intuition. Some swear they have ESP. There may be a simpler explanation, and it has to do with filtering.
The average brain manages to sort and filter down all the incoming sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and touch sensations to a manageable 40 bits of information a second.
The ADHD brain has an overload of sensory input, plus issues with what are known as Executive Functions. That is, sorting, filtering, deciding, discarding, prioritizing, following through, checking details, tracking progress, following procedures.
I know you’ve experienced the downside of this… But, just for a moment, consider the upside. When your brain lets in a lot of what some folks might consider irrelevant noise, it can show up in odd ways: Sometimes, we are able to notice things that others naturally filter out. Which is why many ADHD adults will swear they are intuitive, almost psychic, at picking up certain things.
- Super Starter
Okay, sure… sometimes a little forethought goes a long way, and saves a lot of time. Sometimes it’s better to take 73 seconds and actually read through the instructions that came with that kit for the garden chair. But we…
- Are quick starters
- Jump right in
- Don’t worry, stew, and waste time doing endless research
When folks are resistant to risk, resistant to change, hung up on process and procedure, it can take forever to get anything done. People will stick with systems that don’t work, and get stuck in analysis paralysis.
- Laser Vision
It took me a while to start this blog. Stall. Delay. Check e-mail. Create a funny meme. View a video we’re editing. Coffee. Cookie.
Then it was either start writing, or re-sharpen the pencils. So I thought, “I’ll write for 3 minutes. Just 3 minutes. So at least I have started.” And then? It spent way more than 3 minutes, though I couldn’t tell you how much more.
Welcome to hyper-focus!
In the zone. Experiencing flow. The super-powered opposite of drifting, lost in thought, day-dreaming, butterfly fluttering.
The vague restlessness, and agitation that had me doing everything but what I should be doing, namely writing, was suddenly—poof!—gone.
The downside? Instead of hyper-focused on taking an exam, writing a blog, or finishing a project we can be hyper-focused on the wrong thing, like spending four hours creating a personalized birthday card… and then arriving late for the party.
THE INJUSTICE LEAGUE
By this point, you may be wondering… If we have these amazing powers, these powerful potentials, why don’t ADHD folks rule the world?
Well, in some ways we do.
Talk to ADHD experts and they will tell you they have clients who are among the most successful people in the world. Award-winning athletes. Brilliant entrepreneurs. Famous entertainers. Top salespeople.
But most adults with ADHD are struggling. Yes, even the successful ones.
While we may have these potential abilities, they are usually not under our control. If they were, I would have started this blog three months ago, when I had the initial idea. And I would be able to sit and carefully proofread it.
But even now, I can feel my burst of hyper-focus starting to slip.
I’m in my own ‘Fortress of Solitude’, and it’s only now, as I come out of the magical spell, that I notice the sound of our editor leaving for the day, the furnace coming on, the smell of coffee. They are penetrating the hyper-focus, disrupting the invisible energy field that envelopes me when I’m in the zone.
Luckily, like many superheroes, I’m part of a team. If it were left to me? This blog would make it to the website three months from now. Or maybe never.