Thanks for the AD/HD!

A diagnosis of AD/HD comes with a lot of can’t s and bad-at s: can’t sit still, bad at getting places on time, can’t focus, bad at finishing projects, and so on. But it comes with plenty of strengths. Sometimes a weakness in one context is a strength in a different context. An example of a deficit of executive functioning in some ADDers is difficulty following recipes or building furniture from a kit with instructions. Grasping the relationship between one step and the next can come slowly, and the experience of having to go step by step can be excruciating. But give these same ADDers a box of Legos and—stand back! Mansions, whole city blocks, Model T’s, cruise ships, flying saucers, crop circles, dinosaurs.… All of a sudden what was a deficit in relating one piece to the next becomes a talent for putting pieces together in unexpected ways.

I sometimes describe the experience of AD/HD thinking as a mental landscape of pools. Thoughts and images sit in pools in the minds of us ADDers, but these pools don’t connect with each other automatically. When we’re kids our mother can march us to the threshold of the disaster area that is our room, and when she says, “Okay, get started, and soon I’ll come help you,” we look at her quizzically and ask, “Get started with what?” We didn’t see a mess, we saw clothes and games and paper and a hockey stick and pillows and cards and legos on the floor. A mess was only one of the many possible ways of seeing the room. We have to intentionally connect the dots, irrigate between the pools, create canals. This requires more effort than if we had a mental matrix of streams and rivers which flowed from one place to the next in a definite from-upstream-to-downstream order. On the other hand, we can link our pools any way we want. We can also see many of them simultaneously; ADDers can be great synthesists, intuitively grasping complex holistic pictures very quickly.

David Giwerc and Barbara Luther, Master Certified Coaches at the ADD Coach Academy, note that “ADHD can… be a strength and gift in the right context.” They have come up with this top ten list of reasons they love their AD/HD coaching clients:

  • They think and function outside the box, which makes them interesting and fun.
  • They are incredibly creative, non-linear thinkers and love to brainstorm.
  • They usually have high energy and enthusiasm.
  • They are quick and spontaneous, often living in flow rather than in the artificial structure of minutes and hours.
  • They make intuitive leaps and connections that make for very interesting ideas and projects to work on within coaching.
  • They absolutely thrive in partnerships.  They can be quite charismatic and empathetic, and they are truly appreciative of a thinking/listening partner.
  • They are usually very bright and interested in many things, so they can be fascinating to talk with.
  • They can concentrate intensely on things they care about, and they usually work well to deadlines they’ve committed to.
  • They may thrive in chaos and change, and they may be very good at juggling multiple tasks at once.
  • They work hard, are adventurous, and are often quite driven.

The deficits in “Attention Deficit” are contextual. This is not to say that the deficits are illusory. (If they were, I would have finished this post hours before 2:00 this morning.) But they tend to be deficits in the context of time-sensitive, linear, pre-defined task-oriented situations. In other contexts which prioritize cognitive feeling, intuition, creativity, imagination, analysis, synthesis, idealism, and the kind of moral sensitivity that revolts at soulless bean counting, executive management deficits can metamorphose into salt-of-the-earth gifts.

And for these gifts, I invite you to join me in giving thanks. May your Thanksgiving be joyful this week on—whatever day it’s on.

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