Why ADHD Can Be a Creative Gift

November 10, 2014 by Dr. Yannick Pauli

Once, a parent confessed that it was almost impossible to mention her son’s ADHD to friends, family, or teachers without invoking negative stereotypes of a defiant child who cannot sit still. It’s hard to break away from these connotations when the American Psychiatrist Association labels it a “mental disorder”. There is a lot of debate as to whether or not doctors are too quick to medicate children diagnosed with ADHD, or if ADHD should even be considered a “real” disorder. At the end of the day, most people think an ADHD diagnosis is a bad thing.

As someone who has helped different kids overcome the limitations of their symptoms, I can say with confidence that having ADHD is not a bad thing. In fact, I believe it can be a gift – particularly a creative gift.

In his book Creativity is Forever, Gary Davis looked at studies done between 1961 and 2003 and narrowed down 22 traits of creative people. These include 6 negative traits (argumentative, hyperative, impulsive) and 16 positive traits (risk-taking, humor, independent, high energy). In a similar review of creativity literature, Bonnie Cramond discovered that many of these characteristics are aligned with behavioral descriptions of ADHD.

Since then, various research supports the idea that kids and adults with ADHD symptoms are more likely to climb higher levels of creative thought than people who don’t have these characteristics. Researchers in cognitive neuroscience also discovered a link between ADHD and creativity. Both creative thinkers and those with ADHD have a hard time suppressing activity coming from the brain’s “imagination network“, which is responsible for “constructing dynamic mental simulations based on personal past experiences such as used during remembering, thinking about the future, and generally when imagining alternative perspectives and scenarios to the present.”

Whether or not this creative streak in ADHD kids is positive or negative depends on how it is harnessed. Being able to control attention is certainly valuable because it encourages out-of-the-box solutions to challenging problems. Equally valuable is the ability to switch on an inner stream of daydreams and fantasies for creativity. By automatically treating ADHD like a mental disability, as it is often done in a medical and educational context, many artistic kids never each their full potential.

Kids with ADHD need structure, routine, and guidance so they can find the focus needed for their creative passions. They also need support from family to pursue activities that are deeply meaningful for them, and help turning hobbies into useful and entertaining outlets. By looking at ADHD as an opportunity instead of a problem, your child has a better chance of success and leading a fulfilling life.