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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder affects millions of people. As of a few years ago, 11 percent of children — or 6.4 million kids — ages 4 through 17 had been diagnosed with the brain-based condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many more parents, siblings, spouses and friends are touched by ADHD, the preferred medical term for what was once called ADD. The condition has many well-documented downsides. They include:
- Difficulty focusing
- Problems heeding the long-term consequences of immediate actions
All of these can have profound effects on success in many areas of life.
However, the disorder also offers some gifts. The ADHD traits that can be problems in some settings are profound advantages in others. In fact, some people see ADHD not as a “disorder” but as an individual difference.
These people say the negative stigma of ADHD stems from a surrounding culture that prefers buttoned-down, compliant behavior. Focusing on the gifts lets people with ADHD see themselves not as broken, but as having unique advantages.
Following are eight surprising benefits of ADHD:
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Many of the positive traits associated with ADHD overlap with the characteristics of highly creative people, according to Scientific American.
History’s creative individuals, extraordinary thinkers, and brilliant inventors and pioneers often show signs of having had ADHD, according to author and radio commentator Thom Hartmann, who has written widely about ADHD.
People with ADHD may be among “our most creative individuals, our most extraordinary thinkers, our most brilliant inventors and pioneers,” Hartmann writes in the book “The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child” (Park Street Press, 2003).
Hartmann proposes that people with ADHD may carry genetically coded abilities that once were — and may still be — necessary for human survival, and that contribute richness to the culture.
He was the first to describe people with ADHD as “hunters in a farmer’s world.” By that, he means that traits like restlessness, hyperactivity and obsessive curiosity once helped protect, feed and enrich a hunter-gatherer culture.
By contrast, today’s society requires us to adapt to more routine and repetitive work done indoors.
2. Thinking outside the box
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Something about ADHD allows people to easily grasp patterns, interrelationships and possibilities that others can fail to see.
People with the condition typically prefer to multitask, and they resist focusing on one strand of thinking or work at a time. They need to take a broader view and see connections among disparate subjects. Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s, tells ADDitude magazine in an article about entrepreneurs with ADHD:
“With ADHD, you’re curious. Your eyes believe what they see. Your ears believe what others say. I learned to trust my eyes.”
So when customers came into Orfalea’s store looking to use a computer — instead of to copy documents — Orfalea saw an opportunity to expand Kinko’s to include computers.
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High spirits and infectious enthusiasm are two great attributes that people with ADHD bring to the table, inspiring those around them with the ability to see the fun and possibilities everywhere.
“If a left-handed person has a job cutting origami with right-handed scissors, that doesn’t mean they have a disability; they have context disorder,” Hartmann explains in an MSN article archived at Winthrop University. “Short people trying to play basketball have a context disorder.”
4. A rich flow of ideas
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David Neeleman, the inventive founder of JetBlue Airways, sees his ADHD as a huge asset. He tells ADDitude magazine:
“I can distill complicated facts and come up with simple solutions. I can look out on an industry with all kinds of problems and say, ‘How can I do this better?’ My ADHD brain naturally searches for better ways of doing things.”
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People with ADHD can be chatty and outgoing, making it hard for them to rein in their friendliness. Lara Honos-Webb, author of “The Gift of ADHD,” writes in Psychology Today:
I remember the look of awe on one of my teen client’s face when he realized that he could make a living doing precisely the things that got him into trouble at school. As a physical therapist, he could spend all day talking with other people and being physically active — and drum roll please — make a living at it rather than getting in trouble for it. His gifts of exuberance and interpersonal empathy would now help transform other people’s lives.
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People with ADD/ADHD are so focused on the here and now that they tend not to consider the consequences of their actions. Laurie DuPar, an ADHD coach who helps people manage their condition, says:
“This is a benefit for the entrepreneur since it means they will act on an opportunity rather than miss it due to over analyzing their actions.”
7. Deep focus
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It’s not that people with ADHD can’t focus — they can focus deeply: It’s called “hyperfocus.” However, they have trouble entering and leaving a state of focus. Scientific American says:
People with ADHD often are able to focus better than others when they are deeply engaged in an activity that is personally meaningful to them. Recent research suggests that the brain network that people with ADHD have difficulty suppressing (the “Imagination Network”) is the same brain network that is conducive to flow and engagement among musicians, including jazz musicians and rappers!
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People with ADD tend to have many creative talents (usually underdeveloped until the diagnosis is made) and a highly original, out-of-the-box way of thinking. As highly intuitive people with a special “feel” for life, they can possess an almost “sixth sense” that lets them see straight to the heart of a matter instead of having to think it through methodically.
Do you know of someone — including yourself — who has ADHD and is thriving? Share your story by commenting below or on our Facebook page.