ADHD and Creativity: Another View

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • Creativity: - noun: the ability to transcend ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.


    There has been an ongoing debate as to whether people with ADHD are more creative than those without ADHD. Those personally involved are generally emphatic that they or their ADHD child are indeed more creative than their peers. They point out the famous artists, musicians, entrepreneurs and athletes who have been formally diagnosed with ADHD. But are the numbers statistically significant?

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    Researchers who have studied the relationship between ADHD and creativity (and admittedly, they are few), say there are no data to support such claims.


    I have a different take on this.


    I believe the type of creativity those of us with ADHD are talking about is difficult to measure, but it is there. We may not be the Picassos, Mozarts or the Bill Gates of the world, but we definitely seem have a unique view of the world.


    Let me explain my theory.


    Since the majority of people with ADHD struggle with procrastination, distractibility, hyperactivity, memory issues and the like, we learn from an early age that in order to get by in life, we've had to come up with creative strategies to keep up with the rest of the world. If we're constantly late, for example, we figure out ways around it. Maybe it's by putting multiple alarm clocks throughout the house to help us get out of bed. When we're late to work, if we want to keep our jobs, we come up with unique explanations for the tardiness (I am not condoning lying, of course). If we can't get dinner on the table and it's already 9pm, I'm sure there are some interesting cooking strategies going on.


    I think we come into adulthood with a unique way of seeing the world because we have to, not necessarily because we were born with more creativity. Because of this unusual way of seeing the world and dealing with nearly daily ADHD collisions, we are more prepared to tackle problems in ways that perhaps those without ADHD are less likely to utilize...simply because they don't have the constant need to use such skills.


    Combine this with the fact that most with ADHD hate, absolutely hate being bored, and you have a recipe for a creative thinker. We "become" creative just because...we have to.


    Further, it is very hard to study creativity. What defines it? There are formal tests used to measure creativity, but even many of those can be seen as controversial and somewhat subjective. Perhaps the type of creativity seen in ADHD does not fit the confines of what researchers look for and study. So though there may not be more artists, filmmakers, writers, dancers and the like with ADHD (though I think there are, but that is just my personal bias), maybe, just maybe the researchers aren't looking at expanding their definition of creativity.


    Survival of the Fittest


    You've heard of this term, but what does it mean? Survival of the fittest is the concept that the strongest survive.

  • But for people with ADHD, it means that in order to fit in this non-ADD world, we need to figure out ways to adapt in ways that others know how to do so intuitively. How do we stay connected with people when our minds are racing in all different, interesting directions? How do we get our work done in time? How do we begin, let alone finish our chores? Often times, we need to dance 10 times faster in order to stay in step with our non ADHD counterparts. The amount of energy expended is enormous, which is why we have a tendency to be extremely stressed out and exhausted at the end of each day. Additionally, to compensate for our lack of innate abilities to be organized, on time, etc., we come up with our own strategies which often happen to be...creative. So in a sense, folks with ADHD, in order to survive in this world, *need* to be creative.

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    ADHD or Creativity?


    To complicate matters, highly creative people often *look* like they have ADHD. They tend to be unconventional, distracted, lost in ideas and often are hyperactive/impulsive either motorically, mentally or both. In fact, leading ADHD expert Dr. Ned Hallowell, co-author of Driven to Distraction and author of other books on ADHD, has defined creativity as "impulsivity gone right."


    I have yet to meet a young child who is not creative. In the context of learning about their world, children use new experiences, materials, thoughts, relationships, feelings, etc in order to create an understanding of their world. Similarly, my experience has been that many if not most adults with ADHD tend to have a childlike playfulness to their personality. Is it because we delight in the novelty of things that others take for granted? Is it a creative way of seeing the world because we're always needing to figure out things that others innately seem to understand? I'm not sure.


    On the other hand, almost all children "look" like they have ADHD. They are active, impulsive, distracted and often disorganized. To further complicate things, every adult with ADHD that I personally know, were unusually creative as children and teens. Is there a study showing this correlation? I don't believe so.


    All in all, it is an interesting topic worthy of further discussion and research; so little is known about the connection- if any- between ADHD and creativity.

Published On: February 20, 2008