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ADHD Diagnosis and Understanding

By Dr. Kirsten Milliken and Kris Mitchell

Dr Kirsten Milliken photo
Dr. Kirsten Milliken

When someone receives a diagnosis of ADHD, it naturally sparks all sorts of anxiety and a million questions:

  • What does this mean about me?
  • What caused it?
  • Is that why I struggle with X, Y or Z?
  • Can it be cured? 
  • Am I stupid?
  • Can I still be a doctor, lawyer, artist, … if I have ADHD?

Not much about the experience of being diagnosed with ADHD inspires joy, hope, or optimism.  Few people react to the diagnosis by saying “Yippee!”  Instead, getting a diagnosis is commonly the point when people say, “Ah, now it all makes sense,” as they reflect on the struggles they have had in school, at work, and in relationships.  They attribute many of their problems to having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Adult ADHD Diagnosis

It can be a relief to get a diagnosis because it provides a kind of “roadmap” for understanding struggles that are associated with ADHD. Qualities such as inattention, impulsivity, and distractability, can cause significant problems in today’s structured world.  But they don’t paint the full picture. 

People rarely get diagnosed with ADHD and immediately think to themselves, “Oh, that explains why I am so creative, make impressive intuitive leaps, have high standards, work really well if I have a deadline, and am so darn empathic!”  

ADHD in Adulthood

The truth is, a diagnosis of ADHD can also be a template for learning to recognize and capitalize on all the awesome aspects that come with having an ADHD brain.  Qualities like creativity, risk tolerance, being energetic, hyper-focus, resilience, and spontaneity are all on the list of fantastic aspects of ADHD makeup.

Challenges that accompany ADHD are real. But, for every challenge associated with ADHD, there is typically a situation, task, or time when that same quality gives you an advantage over your neurotypical peers.

For instance, your co-worker may complain that they can’t get your attention to get you to an important meeting, but your ability to hyperfocus can keep you on task and interested in a critical project for hours. 

You might procrastinate on a project you knew about waaaay in advance, but when those last minute tasks come in, everyone turns to you to save the day!  

Distractibility may make you forget the last thing on the grocery list (of 3 items), but you might come up with an idea that could save the world because something new came to mind!

While parents, teachers, co-workers, bosses, your kids, and friends may complain about some of the “quirks” of your ADHD, likely they have also benefited from some of your gifts.  Learning to take on tasks, adopt an optimistic attitude, and set up your environment in a way that takes advantage of these talents can make you an ADHD Superstar.   

ADHD is Awesome

Consider this:  what happens when you combine hyper-focus with something like creativity and high-risk tolerance?

ADHD is Awesome
ADHD is Awesome

This is the arena where many people with ADHD shine.

There are people with ADHD who have become successful entrepreneurs, top-performing athletes, genre-changing artists, explorers, award-winning scientists, famous musicians and performers, inventors, and otherwise incredible human beings.  By focusing on their strengths and applying them to goals they developed their ADHD superpowers.  

The Upside of ADHD

Are there examples of how ADHD strengths have manifested to superhero level accomplishments?   Oh yes, there are. Each of these people has ADHD:

  • Avril Lavigne, singer. Diagnosed when she was young, Avril was known for being a “wild girl” and being kicked out of classes.  Avril focused on her love of singing from a young age. When she was 15 she won a contest and sung on stage with Shania Twain.  She released her first album at age 17 and has continued to be a top recording star since then. 
  • Jim Carey, Actor, comedian, artist.  When he was young Jim would finish assignments quickly and then disrupt other students.  His high energy and creativity served him well as he got older and channeled this into the numerous comic roles he has played on television and in movies.  Jim has also developed his talent as an artist in more recent years. 
  • Of course, Rick Green.  Actor, comedian, author.  If you are part of this community you know the awesomeness of Rick!  His humor, creativity, capacity for empathy, and overall sparkly nature.  And you know he has ADHD.  
Photo of Dr. Kristen Milliken with Rick Green
Rick Green & Dr. Kirsten Milliken

This is just a sample of people known to have ADHD.  You can find a non-exhaustive list of people hypothesized to have had ADHD (like Albert Einstein) and those who have publicly stated that they are part of the ADHD tribe, here or by googling ADHD celebrities (singers, authors, scientists….)

Be Patient with Yourself & Your Child

Please keep in mind that it may take some time for a young person to hone their skills, learn their strengths and channel their abilities to become the rockstar they are meant to be. 

Even Albert Einstein was not thought of as a genius when he was in school. For real, he’s hypothesized to have had ADHD!  Einstein was known for being frequently disciplined at school and college for not paying attention, being rebellious in the way he often opposed his school teachers and college professors and being impulsive.

Einstein also had exceptional creativity and capacity for hyper-focusing on projects. But these did not pay dividends until he was in an environment that allowed him the freedom to follow his passion and capitalize on his talents.   

People with ADHD often struggle to show their true potential and express their talents in traditional learning, occupational and social environments.  While they may have the sense that they have greatness within them, they struggle to express this because of external pressures to conform- follow the rules, act like everyone else, do things in a certain way. 

Their unique way of thinking and acting is not always appreciated and incorporated. When people with ADHD are “seen” for who they are and how they are, then they can express outwardly what they feel inwardly- Awesomeness!  

About The Author

To learn more about Dr. Kirsten Milliken and Kris Mitchell, visit WorldOfADHD

In lieu of our biography statements (which you can find on our website), we want to share a funny story about how we met.  In the Fall of 2019, both Kirsten and Kris were attending the International ADHD conference in Philadelphia. 

Kirsten noticed in the program that someone else was doing a class on “Fun Theory.” Kirsten has historically offered classes on “PlayDHD.”  She immediately messaged the presenter (Kris) on the conference app and they met for lunch. 

Kris Mitchell Photo
Kris Mitchell

During this first meeting, Kirsten and Kris talked about ADHD, fun/play, and broached the subject of writing and presenting together.  It was obvious this was going to be the start of an amazing friendship. 

Some of the coincidences were just too good to go unnoticed- we are both KM.  We both lived in Portland (Maine and Oregon). And, of course, we were both focused on the value of using play or fun to manage ADHD. Since then we have built a campaign to show the world how much people with ADHD make the world a better place to live.  We hope you will join us in this campaign by submitting your written or artistic representation of the awesomeness of ADHD.  You can find more on our website at WorldOfADHD.com

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  1. Otterbear July 3, 2020 at 10:59 pm

    Well said, Dr. Kirsten Milliken and Kris Mitchell.
    It is very helpful to keep in mind that we do have something to offer on days when we feel excessively needy, or when we feel as though we do not contribute as much as we could/should.
    I will be re-reading this blog quite a few times.
    Thanks for posting.

  2. erikredford July 4, 2020 at 11:01 pm

    Thanks for the post Dr. Kirsten and Kris. It’s inspiring to see how many people became great despite having ADHD and how it may even be an advantage in some situations.

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