A Better Way To View ADHD

A recent article entitled How ADHD is Radically Mistreated discusses research that “shows that children with ADHD are often extremely creative” and puts forth the premise that institutions, as they currently function, are failing these children. Twenty-two personality traits of creative people have been identified – 16 “positive”, and 6 “negative.” The positive traits include: independent, high energy, curious, emotional, artistic, and humorous, just to name a few. Argumentative, impulsive, and hyperactive are half of the traits considered negative. Many of these creative traits can overlap with behavioral descriptions of ADHD, such as: tendency to daydream, sensation or stimulus seeking, high levels of energy, impulsivity, and idea generation.

Research seems to reinforce the view that higher levels of creative achievement and thought occur in people with ADHD characteristics than those without. In addition, cognitive neuroscience indicates that there is a connection between ADHD and creativity, where people with ADHD and creative thinkers show difficulty in suppressing brain activity coming from deep inside the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe of the brain.

Whether the traits of ADHD students are viewed positively or negatively depends on context. The ability to sustain attention is valued in the classroom setting, as well as in many other situations outside of school. Challenges to managing the “inner mind” can be a problem when a person is required to pay attention to a boring classroom lecture or concentrate on a challenging problem. However, the ability to keep that inner stream of fantasies, imagination, and daydreams available when needed is very conducive to creativity. In an educational setting, we often treat ADHD characteristics as a disability, so all too often, many competent and creative students can be shut out of gifted and AP programs, placed in special education classrooms, held back, or suspended from school.

This article suggests that problem-based learning, which is student-centered learning through the experience of problem solving, allows students with ADHD to be active learners, rather than passive observers, and engages them in the full learning process. Project-based learning allows students to demonstrate the knowledge via a variety of methods. We should view ADHD as a creative gift, rather than a learning impediment.

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