The truth about what exactly ADHD is and what it means for those diagnosed with it can be confusing.
There are many interpretations out there each claiming to be the right one: ADHD is a disability, ADHD is a brain type. ADHD is an executive function disorder… So how does one navigate the confusing waters of these competing definitions? How do you decide which claim is the most widely supported and bears up to the scrutiny of research and the medical community?
I have spent a life time coming to terms with “attention deficit disorder” which was called “minimum brain dysfunction” when I was growing up. At this stage of my life and my career, I can look back on having been professionally involved with thousands of children and adults who needed to make sense of their brain and their behavior. During that time, my clients have taught me many things about who they are, what they can and cannot do, and why. Almost all of these adults and children have shared similar characteristics and have had the same life experiences and emotional issues as a result. The majority of them have been very bright, creative and gifted people with exceptional problem solving skills and the ability to compensate for what they lack. From them I learned compassion, patience, perseverance, strategy, solutions, inventiveness, and love. Yes love. Working with them taught me to love myself so I could appreciate and love them in return.
So what have I learned as someone with ADHD, a masters degree with a thesis on Autism, a wide background working in clinical and special education settings in schools where I co-founded and ran programs, along with the last 14 years working with adolescents, college students and adults? The only way I can sum I up is to say that by and large ADHD, as we now refer to it, is an asset. That does not mean there no behavior issues associated with this brain type. It does not mean that people with ADHD are not at times annoying, clueless, impulsive, distractible and bad communicators with accompanying anger issues, depression and anxiety. People with this brain type can have some or all of these to varying degrees.
However, what I have found to be truer than not is that people with this brain type are smart and quick to solve problems; big problems like the vaccination for polio, how the universe really works, and how to harness electricity.
They were not afraid to be the first to fly across the ocean, become president, invent the automobile, create Disneyland, build corporate empires, write books that have become classics, and become some of the most famous composers of all time. They have been Olympic gold medal winners and many of our best singers and musicians, funniest comedians, and most accomplished actors.
To me it is obvious that people with this brain type can accomplish great things in spite of their struggles with impulsivity and organization. In fact it is often because of these traits that they excel in the things that really matter to them and ultimately the world. Trying to find a cure to polio using a linear designed thinking mechanism may not have worked for Jonas Salk. On the flip side, setting up support structures in the environment of people who have issues focusing and staying on task is not really difficult to do. It’s a matter of understanding what is needed and then putting it in place. I’ve seen it work over an over again with well-informed and understanding managers, co-workers, supervisors, and colleagues. With the right schedule, good communication and permission to use their skills in ways that allow them to be great performers, people with so called “ADD” excel.
By not learning more about this brain type and by continuing to shame, embarrass, and devalue those who possess it, we are cutting off our nose to spite our face. We are not only missing the boat on some major accomplishments in industry, medicine and science, we are stifling the possibility of solutions to important world problems. People with this brain type can be shown how to develop better habits and skills for their personal and professional lives with the help of Coaching and Counseling from trained experts. The rest of us can learn how to support and communicate successfully with them by getting educated on what exactly this brain type is and how it really functions.