ADHD: Is It Really a Superpower?

ADHD. It stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. But some folks with ADHD will fight you over the “disorder” part. What we are about to explore applies much more to adults wit...
ADHD: Is It Really a Superpower?
Written by Mike Tuttle
  • ADHD. It stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. But some folks with ADHD will fight you over the “disorder” part. What we are about to explore applies much more to adults with ADHD — who, by definition, were once kids with ADHD.

    While parents of children diagnosed with ADHD may not see it at first, some say there are certain pluses to the “disorder.” While there are varying degrees of the symptoms, many adults with ADHD have learned to look at the capabilities that it can give them. They believe that it should not be viewed as a debilitating impairment, but a difference that must be handled and even appreciated.

    “Many scientists, writers, and artists with ADD have had very successful careers, in large part because of their ability to focus on what they’re doing for hours on end,” says Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D.

    That may sound odd to someone who only knows about ADHD from passing conversations, comments from comedians, or urban legends. Since when did “ability to focus” become part of the ADHD description?

    Actually, one of the most common elements of ADHD is what is called “hyperfocus.” Many times, once a person with ADHD finds something that catches their interest, they can “tunnel in” on that task or topic for sometimes hours. In fact, that hyperfocus is often paired with another executive function difference, commonly called “time blindness.” ADHDers may lose track of time in ways that can cause difficulty in many aspects of their lives. This can include relationship strain, financial difficulties, and even health issues like obesity.

    Something that is commonly difficult is “shifting gears” — moving from one task to another. Adults with ADHD do have to give particular attention to how they handle their calendars and clocks. Smart phones, tablets, and other technological tools are a real boon to ADHDers. If they master managing the drawbacks of their ADHD symptoms with these and other tools — possibly including medicine — there is no reason that they can not live full lives, perhaps even exceptional ones.

    In fact, the list of extremely successful people who count themselves among the ranks of ADHDers is impressive.

    Actor Channing Tatum has spoken about dealing with ADHD.

    “You get lumped in classes with kids with autism and Down syndrome, and you look around and say, ‘OK, so this is where I’m at.’ Or you get put in the typical classes and you say, ‘All right, I’m obviously not like these kids either.’ So you’re kind of nowhere. You’re just different.”

    But Tatum has handled his symptoms in such a way as to become a mega-star.

    Olympian Michael Phelps uses the power of ADHD hyperfocus to win a chest full of gold medals.

    James Carville — the Ragin’ Cajun — has spoken of how his ADHD caused him to initially flunk out of college. But once his discovered his passion for politics, he developed a razor-sharp focus that made him a sought-after strategist.

    JetBlue founder David Neeleman said, “If someone told me you could be normal or you could continue to have your ADD (the original name for what is now called ADHD), I would take ADD.”

    Billionaire Richard Branson joins Neeleman on the list of those who have turned the expectation of an ADHD “diagnosis” on its head and seized their superpower.

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