How does ADD impact creative people?
“I have always had a bit of a difficult time focusing on things that aren’t interesting to me…”
Journalist Lisa Ling added, “I get really, really anxious before taking any kind of test or having any kind of evaluation. As a journalist, when I’m immersed in a story, then I feel like I can laser-focus.
“But if I’m not working, my mind goes in every direction but where it’s supposed to go. I’ve been like that since I was a kid.”
In high school, Ling recalls, “I could go through an entire period and not retain a sentence if I [wasn’t] interested in the topic or the subject matter.”
While researching a story on the topic, an expert diagnosed that she had ADD.
From article: At 40, Lisa Ling Gets Surprising Diagnosis Of ADD.
In my article Robert Toth on ADHD and Developing Creativity, the artist makes a comment like Ling’s:
“I found I didn’t have an attention deficit disorder when I could focus my attention on what I like most.”
What do experts say about ADD / ADHD?
Daniel G. Amen, MD is a prominent speaker and author on the topic. A page on his site summarizes:
“Attention deficit disorder (ADD), often referred to as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is the most common psychiatric disorder in children and adults, affecting between 5-10% of the population.
“It is characterized by:
Persistent short attention span
Forethought and judgment problems
Impulse control problems (in some, but not all)
Hyperactivity (in some, but not all)
From Amen Clinics page.
Book: Healing ADD: The Breakthrough Program that Allows You to See and Heal the 7 Types of ADD by Daniel G. Amen, MD.
The brain graphic comes from a page for an audio interview with the authors of the book: The ADHD Explosion: Myths, Medication, Money, and Today’s Push for Performance by Stephen P. Hinshaw, Richard M. Scheffler.
“*Why are one in nine children and adolescents in the U.S. now diagnosed with ADHD, with projected rates still rising? Why are nearly 70% of those diagnosed with ADHD prescribed medication? What is causing the fast-rising diagnosis and medication of adults?” [From Amazon.com summary of the book.]
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Not a Disorder
William Dodson, M.D. is a psychiatrist who has specialized in adults with ADHD since 1994.
He writes in an article about this topic:
“Almost every one of my patients and their families want to drop the term Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, because it describes the opposite of what they experience every moment of their lives.
“It is hard to call something a disorder when it imparts many positives.
“ADHD is not a damaged or defective nervous system. It is a nervous system that works well using its own set of rules.
“Despite ADHD’s association with learning disabilities, most people with an ADHD nervous system have significantly higher-than-average IQs.
“They also use that higher IQ in different ways than neurotypical people.
“By the time most people with the condition reach high school, they are able to tackle problems that stump everyone else, and can jump to solutions that no one else saw.
“The vast majority of adults with an ADHD nervous system are not overtly hyperactive. They are hyperactive internally.”
From his article (for ADDitude Magazine) Secrets of Your ADHD Brain.
Creative Minds and Learning Differences
In his book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman notes:
“People with attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also tend to show increased mind wandering and a lack of default network suppression with increasing task difficulty.
“At the same time, people with ADHD tend to score higher on tests of divergent thinking, creative style, and creative achievement.
“Bonnie Cramond has noted the incredible similarities between the behavioral manifestations of ADHD and creativity.”
[Scott Barry Kaufman is “Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute and a researcher in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, where he investigates the nature, measurement and development of imagination.” From bio on his site.]
Photo of Kaufman also used in article: The Creativity Conference with David Burkus, which includes an audio clip.
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Overexcitabilities and creative people
A Polish clinician and theorist Kazimierz Dabrowski, M.D., Ph.D., often cited in literature on gifted and high ability people, wrote that persons with “overexcitabilities” are “hyperreactive” or have unusually intense nervous system functioning in the following areas:
[Poster image from article: Dabrowski Excitabilities – Michael Jackson.]
A page by Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D., Ph.D. declares
“These signs are common in creative people. People diagnosed with ADHD score higher on measures of creativity, and highly creative people are more active than the norm.
“Do the underlying neurological processes associated with ADHD also foster creativity? Supportive of this hypothesis is the fact that the brains of creative persons and ADHDers show similarities.
“Studies have shown that the following personality traits associated with ADHD are also associated with highly creative people:
inattention and daydreaming
inability to finish projects
enthusiasm and playfulness
deficient social skills
hypersensitivity to stimulation
use of imagery in problem solving
From Creativity and ADHD [section of a longer page: “Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)”].
Do you relate to any of these qualities? I certainly do.
But note, the traits are listed for both ADD and highly creative people – but this does not mean having ADD makes you more creative.
Also, you can’t diagnose yourself as having any mental health disorder or learning difference just from a list of traits.
For more on Kazimierz Dabrowski, M.D., Ph.D., see my page: Dabrowski / advanced development.
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In the documentary ADD & Loving it?! [DVD], host and actor Patrick McKenna notes that Hollywood (and by extension, the arts in general) is one place that unusual, even eccentric, people – many with ADHD, like himself – can be accepted and creative.
Lists of prominent creative people who show trademark signs of ADHD include Ansel Adams, Anne Bancroft, Beethoven, Hans Christian Anderson, Lewis Carroll, Leonardo da Vinci, Walt Disney, Cher, Thomas Edison, Robin Williams, Henry Winkler, Stevie Wonder, and many others.
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Stephanie S. Tolan, co-author of the book “Guiding the Gifted Child,” comments in the article Are you ADD — or just gifted? that “ADD is now the current ‘in’ thing to be as an adult…Very many creative people go around now announcing they are ADD.
“I could announce that I am, too. But I happen to know that I’m not; I’m just highly creative.”
In his article Mis-Diagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children, James T. Webb, Ph.D. notes, “Many gifted and talented children (and adults) are being mis-diagnosed by psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, and other health care professionals” as having ADHD, OCD, Mood Disorders and other conditions.
See more in my article ADD/ADHD and Creativity.
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Actor, writer and producer Jim Carrey “has always been open about his ADHD disorder and other depressions and said that he has been undergoing treatment since childhood.
“As a student, Jim used to be a restless child. JimCarreyWorld.com quotes the actor as saying: ‘My report card always said, Jim finishes first and then disrupts the other students.’
“He used to disturb his class once he was done with his own thing with his class clown act.”
[From Jim Carrey’s life with ADHD.]
Another article comments:
“Carrey has undergone treatment since childhood. As an adult, he has also used some of his ADHD symptoms to his advantage — becoming famous, in part, through his creativity and high energy level as a comedian.”
[Famous People Get ADHD, Too By Chris Iliades, MD.]
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How could ADD help creativity?
The Eide Neurolearning Blog post ADHD, Creativity, and Reduced Inhibition comments, “ADHD may have negative consequences for academic achievement, employment performance, and social relationships. However one positive consequence of ADHD may be enhanced creativity…
“Using the Remote Associates Test as a measure of convergent thinking and Unusual Uses Task as a measure of divergent thinking, White and Shah found that college students with ADHD scored higher than their non-ADHD counterparts on the Unusual Uses Task (fluency, flexibility, and originality), but lower than the control group on the Remote Associates Test.”
In their book The Mislabeled Child, Drs Brock Eide and Fernette Eide caution:
“A label should never be used as a shorthand for a child’s whole existence. Statements like ‘He’s ADHD’ or ‘She’s Asperger’s’ leave far too much unsaid to convey a complete or accurate picture…”
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How do you respond to sensory input?
According to research, some of us are more likely to be augmenters, or have nervous systems that amplify or increase sensory stimulation (which may help explain the trait of high sensitivity), and other people are reducers, who dampen or decrease sensory input, and find a need to pursue stronger and more intense forms of stimulation to “wake up” their nervous systems, and are possibly sensation seekers.
In her article High Sensation-Seeking and Creative Living, psychotherapist Susan Meindl writes about the connections with creative expression:
“Flexibility of performance, generation of performance variety, novelty, complexity, and so on are important attributes of creative performance,” she writes.
“Dr. [Bonnie] Cramond identifies several studies which describe creative people as having unusually high energy levels… as do individuals diagnosed with ADHD. High energy also characterizes sensation-seeking individuals.
“Research concludes that Sensation-seeking is implicated in the symptoms of the childhood disorder of hyperactivity (ADHD).”
[Book: Fostering Creativity in Gifted Students, by Frances Karnes, Bonnie Cramond.]
From my article Sensation-seeking and ADHD and developing creativity.
[The photo is a fictional sensation-seeker, in the movie Crank (2006): hit-man Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) who gets poisoned with a drug that will kill him unless he keeps pumping up his adrenaline to stay alive.]
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In my article How Many Uses for a Shoe? Divergent Thinking, ADD and Creativity, I noted that as a child, when Einstein was introduced to his newborn sister, he supposedly asked, “Where are the wheels?”
It may not be the best example of divergent thinking, but it is so fun I’m using it anyway…
A ScienceDaily news story reports on a study showing that young adults with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) displayed more creativity compared with those without the condition.
The article says, “Researchers at the University of Michigan and Eckerd College also found that ADHD individuals preferred different thinking styles.”
A final quote by David Neeleman, former CEO of Jet Blue Airways. In 2000, he disclosed that he has ADD.
“In the midst of all the chaos in your mind, and all of the disorganization, and all the trouble getting started, and procrastination, your brain just thinks a little bit differently. And you can come up with things.”