Does having ADHD optimise creativity?

Meanwhile, physician and ADHD-er himself Gabor Maté argues that any correlation between ADHD and creativity can be put down to the heightened sensitivity of those with ADHD. Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD), an intense emotional sensitivity prompted by perceived or real rejection or criticism, is common in those with ADHD, while those of us with the condition have also be found to be “more attuned to sensory input such as sound, colour or musical tone”. Trust me when I say neurodivergent people keep the noise cancelling headphones industry afloat.
As told by one ADHD-er Tony Lloyd, Chair of the ADHD Foundation, “having ADHD is like looking through a kaleidoscope rather than binoculars”. Essentially, we are walking, talking random number generators except, rather than numbers, we’re making stuff (just check out my drawers of unfinished crochet, jewellery and clay projects). As Pina, the illustrator behind the iconic The ADHD Alien shared with me, “I often come up with the wildest connections between things within the shortest amount of time. I can brainstorm so many different areas at once and create connections between them, that I’m always sure that I can come up with something fresh and unique to me”. Other people, she explains, often see this as randomness, “but it’s actually a very structured chaos in my head”. Any ADHD-er will tell you the great irony of the name Attention “Deficit” Hyperactivity Disorder when, in fact, the condition is experienced as a surplus of attention for… everything at once!
Researchers have also found that highly creative individuals struggle to filter out both internal and external stimuli – something most ADHD-ers can relate to. At times, the inside of my brain can feel like a laptop with 15 tabs open; my focus zips around as I make connections between them while simultaneously trying to listen to a conversation with people over lunch. It makes sense, however, that this optimises creativity, since my inability to tune anything out, or produce any kind of boundary whatsoever, makes me far more open, or one could say vulnerable, to a broader range of sensory information. As a result of this conceptual expansion, ADHD-ers are statistically more likely to come up with a unique combination of information – what academics call “imaginative divergence” – and, therefore, unique creative output.
However, when it comes to creating something useful, as the popular, modern definition of creativity includes, those with ADHD appear to be less successful. In one study, though children with ADHD invented more original objects, their creations were far less functional, practical or usable compared to the control group. Similarly, a recent article in Brain, which argued the case that the great polymath Leonardo Da Vinci had ADHD, noted that “many of his architectural and engineering ideas were disregarded for being too unrealistic and impractical”. Like Icarus, some of us with ADHD may have a creative imagination as bright and powerful as the sun, but produce alien fruits as functional as wax wings (or, as one of my favourite sayings goes, as useful as a chocolate teapot). That being said, some of the most original, non-conforming and trail-blazing inventors of all time have, or are suspected to have had, ADHD: Steve Jobs (inventor of the very useful touch screen), Thomas Edison (first to patent the lightbulb – where would I be without my SAD lamp) and Alexander Graham Bell (first to patent the telephone – I prefer to text, but yeah).

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