Last week, we discussed some of the obstacles faced by students with ADHD or ADD. And while these are very important realizations to establish, it needs to be taken a step further to discuss ADHD in its entirety. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is often characterized by the struggles these students go through, but ADHD also comes with a lot of potential gifts that parents, teachers, and mentors can nurture. If we choose to look at these students as disabled, disruptive, and incapable, that’s what they will become. If we choose to ignore their unique struggles, we are also setting them up for failure. So what’s the balance here?
The most successful perspective I’ve been able to take on this “disorder” is to think of it as a personality type. Despite his difficulties, my husband is a successful engineer with a few rental properties, potentially lucrative inventions, and one of the most powerful entrepreneurial spirits I’ve ever come across. He’s owned over 150 cars, multiple recreational vehicles and toys, and has provided a lovely home for his family. He doesn’t have a degree, but he had an influential and powerful mother. I attribute my husband’s success to his hard work, but I don’t think I can ever overestimate the effects his mother had on his life by giving him the space he needed to grow differently than a lot of the society around him. She studied ADHD extensively to know how to give him the best possible environment to succeed.
Struggles and Gifts
Students with ADHD are just like everyone else in important ways. They face struggles and have gifts; it just so happens that these struggles and gifts tend to be different than those of their peers. But their gifts are so important to the success of this world. Just to give you an idea, there are multiple society contributions made by people with ADHD. To list off a few names you may have heard, we have Albert Einstein, Michael Phelps, Sir Richard Branson (founder of Virgin Airlines), Paul Orfalea (founder of Kinkos), Simone Biles, Glenn Beck, Pulitzer Price winner Katherine Ellison, and Cameron Harold (grew three companies past the $100m mark).
People with ADHD are 300% more likely to start their own companies.
Forbes Magazine calls ADHD the “superpower” of entrepreneurs.
ADHD Personality Traits
The world needs people with ADHD, and your ADHD student needs you. In a world that is currently trying to medicate ADHD away, we need people to stand and nurture their gifts. So let’s talk about some of the traits we discussed last week and how we can view them as “personality traits” in comparison to symptoms of a disorder.
Impulsivity is multi-dimensional. It’s easy to view impulsivity as students who can’t control their hands in a classroom, constantly putting one’s foot in one’s mouth, or buying too much on Amazon, but it’s so much more than that. Impulsivity leads to action. People with ADHD tend to plan very poorly, but they are so very good at acting immediately. If someone were to come to me with a business proposition, I don’t know that I would ever be able to jump on the opportunity because there’s never enough information to guarantee an income. People with ADHD act now and think about it later, and therefore, they tend to take advantage of opportunities that no one else would jump on.
Impulsivity also means less fear.
Because impulsivity means acting quickly, it also means less fear. What’s ironic is “less fear” can often be terrifying for parents who want their children to succeed. It’s a hard mindset to feel comfortable with your child to act out of the norm and do something risky, but that is exactly what our list of famous people with ADHD had to do.
When we think about our children, we are just fine with them being multi-millionaires (to put it in mild terms), but we want it to happen without them having to be destitute in the meantime. A lot of us would prefer a steady job with a steady income instead of the highs and lows of the entrepreneurial world. Unfortunately, the steady job with a steady income doesn’t come to most people with ADHD. They often find themselves in the throes of destitution regardless because they can’t hold down a job like most other people. Only 5% of students with ADHD will graduate with a college degree. That statistic is staggering to me. Be brave enough to play to their strengths, and be brave enough to let them take risks and fail sometimes.
Hyperactivity is another aspect of ADHD that can be harmful or helpful. While it’s not the most desirable trait in the classroom, it can be very useful in other dimensions of life. We spoke of motivation last week in the first post on ADHD, and I’m going to address it very quickly here. People with ADHD have problems with dopamine in their brain; this translates to a severe lack of motivation in some areas. Even when they know it’s due immediately, even when they know it’s crucial (like bills or job applications), they hit a physical limitation in their brain when it comes to motivation because of the lack of dopamine.
Hyperactivity + Hyperfocus
However, when it is something they truly desire, no one can work better than they do. Hyperactivity, when paired with true motivation, leads to a dramatic increase in work ethic. By dramatic increase, I’m speaking of “hyperfocus.” To label ADHD as a complete deficit in attention is inaccurate. ADHD is more a problem of being able to direct attention and so when people with ADHD have something they’re motivated about, they can become completely absorbed.
Hyperfocus comes with its own challenges as many find their loved ones become so completely absorbed that they miss out on other chores, assignments, and even eating. While this may lead to difficulties in that regard, hyperfocus can be incredibly useful. People in hyperfocus can work for hours and hours without looking up to notice a clock. They accomplish immense, insurmountable tasks. They invent things, practice harder and longer than anyone, and create impressive companies. Hyperactivity and hyperfocus definitely come with its limitations, but when you take the time to see it as a personality trait instead of a disorder, you can see that these people can succeed. They can succeed as themselves and not just as medicated students who are pushed through the system.
It’s easy to see ADHD as a disorder; I know firsthand both as a teacher and as a wife. As a teacher, it requires a different kind of patience and understanding. It requires recognizing the normal problems students face and comparing it to the problems faced by ADHD students. They’re different; it’s just easier to swallow the problems and weaknesses of regular students because we’ve faced them personally. It’s harder to find compassion for a student who seems lazy or indifferent towards grades, homework, and classroom management.
As a wife, it can be difficult to understand why my husband can’t bring himself to break away and join us for dinner some nights. However, when we indulge in understanding and take the time to do the research, it makes it so much easier to have compassion. Extending beyond compassion, it makes it easy to see what they’re capable of and to truly appreciate their differences. When we can appreciate them, we can become influential and irreplaceable in their lives. They will always face obstacles from those who are ignorant or impatient, but they can be resilient if they’ve got a mentor or team to remind them that they’re not broken. They’re different, and this world needs different. It needs the normal students who can complete bookkeeping, and it needs the innovators.
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak Personalities
To give one specific example for the need of all kinds of people is to look at Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Steve Jobs is a household name, but who was Wozniak? Wozniak was actually the one who did the inventing; Jobs merely brought Wozniak out of his basement. When I first heard about Wozniak, I was frustrated. How could it be fair that Jobs went on to receive so much credit while Wozniak faded into the back?
As I’ve come to think about it more, I’ve come to appreciate that both men were crucial to the venture, and therefore, to the technology that has come to shape the world we live. We needed Wozniak’s inventions, but we also needed Jobs. Wozniak would have literally kept his inventions in his basement until he died in obscurity without the loud leadership of Jobs. We needed both men. We have both men to thank for all the technology that was brought about.
The world needs its ADHD students. It needs their strong, creative, innovative personalities to shape the future and solve problems. It needs their lack of restraint and lack of fear to build companies that employ countless numbers of people. They are crucial personalities in our society.